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From cart to storefront

From cart to storefront

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Words by Mackenzie Pope

Photos by Young Kim

Blue Market AK is a new business in Spenard, but the values and the people behind it have been here for years. If you frequented the Spenard Farmers Market, you might have seen the custom-made Little Blue Market cart stocked with bulk goods, low-waste alternatives and friendly advice. The two ladies offering advice on how to make less waste are Jen and Jess, residents of the neighborhood.

As of November, their wares can be found in the old French Oven Bakery storefront. This endeavor is marked at every step by enthusiastic community support; this can be seen through a volunteer architect helping them redesign the space, friends and family helping clean and paint, or the more than $31,000 raised in support for their cause.

The third member of their enterprise, Loren, is the zero-waste consultant of the business and was instrumental in introducing Jen and Jess when they embarked on this endeavor in March 2019. Exuding energy and excitement, Jen and Jess are fully ready to welcome you even if you’re new to low-waste living.

“We’re really excited to give people the opportunity to be conscious about what they touch and make shopping an exercise in mindfulness,” the women said.

They are ready to give back to the community as much as they’ve been given, starting with the 1% Giving Back Program. Through this initiative, Blue Market AK shares 1% of their profits with a local partner organization, starting with Friends of Fish Creek and Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Jen and Jess are driven by the desire to make a low-waste lifestyle change convenient for shoppers, clearly expressed by the way they’re designing their store and shopping experience. Blue Market AK encourages customers to contribute unused containers or bring in what you already have to fill with bulk dish soap, shampoo and lotion.

On display are clearly communicated stories of their own flubs — when products come shipped in plastic — and hurdles — when you picked the slow barge to save on carbon footprint but four weeks turned to eight — on their zero-waste journey right alongside locally made soaps. Because of the focus on community, contribution and communication, there is no need to worry about shame or intimidation when you transition to low-waste alternatives. Jen encourages shoppers to start with reusable bags, paper towels or dish and laundry soap. ”I think people should start with things they’re not passionate about and could easily find a low-waste alternative to test out,” Jen said.

One challenge of amassing a diverse set of options for Blue Market AK is the limits on what is made locally and what can be; however, opening this store creates a market for local makers to jump in where they couldn’t before. Blue Market will be stocked
with at least one third locally made or grown products and they’d love for that proportion to be higher. Jess is excited about what Blue Market AK can offer to local producers.

“For some people, our space allows them to have a stable end-point where there wasn’t one before — like with a beeswax wrap producer from Palmer who can now expand, knowing there are shelves for their products,” Jen said.

Jen says they are particularly interested in talking with local farmers, sewers, wood-workers and potters. Spenardians can ask about memberships, give feedback on what they’d like to see stocked and, most importantly, have patience as they roll out new features. Jen and Jess anticipate this venture will grow and evolve step-by-step and they invite everyone to be a part of this community.

Phase two kicked off the first Saturday of November, featuring unpackaged household and personal care essentials. Even on a sunny Saturday, the store was crowded with people excited about this new business model. Blue Market AK will be open three days a week until Christmas, then closing in January to build out the food component of the store. You can expect to see their official grand opening as a full service unpackaged refillery grocery market in early 2020.

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