OxBow in Napa and Liberty Station in San Diego are two markets that are home to various vendors and promote community in their respective cities, and San Luis Obispo didn’t have anything similar – until now. 

In early December, the San Luis Obispo Public Market had a soft opening for a few of their businesses and since then, they have been slowly introducing more options for the community. Once everything is open, the market on South Higuera will have over 20 different businesses spanning from dining venues and a distillery, to a dance studio and a general store. 

After going to school in San Diego and loving Liberty Station, SLO General Store owner Tara Smith knew she wanted to be a part of something similar in San Luis Obispo. 

“There’s just such a unique culture here for small business. It’s very supportive, very encouraging,” Tara Smith said. “If you own a small business you can find a whole community of people to support you. So once I got into that, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.” 

Currently 15 businesses are open and the goal, according to the market’s owner and developer Taylor Judkins, was to bring food to that area of San Luis Obispo. 

Tessa Hughes and Nico Vinuela | Mustang News

“In San Luis –– you have the downtown area and the Cal Poly area and then on this side of town there’s not that much in terms of dining, even though all the development growth is out this way,” Judkins said. “We want to be a revolving door of vendors.”

The Public Market’s multi-storefront set-up is what is bringing vendors from all over the country to set up shop in San Luis Obispo. 

Charles Pokpoonpipat, owner of Baht Thai in the market, moved from New York to bring traditional Thai street food to San Luis Obispo locals.

“We want[ed] something quick, street food, giving the customer all the options for a taste of street food from Thailand,” Pokpoonpipat said. 

Pokpoonpipat said that patrons can choose from various noodle, sauce, vegetable and meat types, and can customize their dishes to their own desire. 

“I think the excit[ing] thing, you know, we’re going to have a lot of special dishes that not so many places are serving,” Pokpoonpipat said.

What Pokpoonpipat said is something that resonates among many of the market’s vendors. Many of them are offering things people can’t find anywhere else in town, like Alexa Smith’s personalized sugar cookies. 

Alexa Smith is the owner of Night Shift Cookie Co. and sells macaroons, drop cookies and sugar cookies. She even offers her sugar cookies in what she calls “favorite thing” sets and are her most popular orders. 

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“Every cookie is different.. so one will be like a music artist, one will be like a clothing brand, so that’s fun,” Alexa Smith said. “People really appreciate the custom thing for their birthday.”

Prior to opening in the Public Market, Alexa Smith worked a full-time job and made cookies for her friends and family at night when she got off work. However, due to the design of the market, she decided to “jump in” and sell cookies full-time. 

“It’s been really great so far… people have been stopping in, you know the market’s getting busier and busier,” Alexa Smith said. “It’s cool to have this storefront to the public.”

Another driving factor that brought businesses into the market is its prioritization of local businesses. In the SLO General Store, Tara Smith said she works to be a one-stop-shop for local makers and growers. About 80% of their products are locally sourced and she said she’s working to increase that number. 

“I’m trying all the time to get new makers in here and support as many businesses as we can in this one space,” Tara Smith said. “We have some makers nights we look forward to doing where a maker will come and explain how to use their product or lead some sort of pottery night. We have like a bajillion ideas.”

Collaborations are not just on the horizon between outside vendors and the general market.  According to Shawn Casey, the general manager and beer buyer for Bottlecraft SLO, various businesses in the Public Market are starting to partner together and pair different items as well, such as Bottlecraft and Mamma Ganache working together to make a chocolate stout. 

“I found Lagers go really well with Bings’ Buns,” Casey said. “We’re getting really excited to open some wine bottles with the pizza shop and some dark lagers with funky cheese with the cheese shop as well.”

Casey has worked for other Bottlecrafts locations in the state, but said he likes the space the Public Market provides.

“Having the different access points – chocolate, pizza, cheese, Thai food – having all of that, we’ve seen more people out. People hang out longer,” Casey said. “You can bring anyone, you can bring the family. People don’t have to decide on the same thing, you can find whatever you are looking for.”

The market is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday and closed Mondays. As more places begin to open, Judkins said they hope to extend the market’s hours and, in the future, they want to also host events such as live music and makers markets. 

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