It's 8 a.m. when the clouds hovering above downtown suddenly part, giving way to another brilliant Sunday morning in San Diego. A break in the May gray is enough to excite David Klaman, the manager of the new Third Avenue Farmers Market and Asian Bazaar.
Klaman, who also operates the county's largest farmers market in Ocean Beach, bounces between his 40 vendors, making sure everyone is ready. Today will be a big day-possibly a make-or-break day for some-and his pace reveals a hint of the tension.
Only in its fifth week, he says many downtown residents haven't discovered the market yet or made it a part of their Sunday routine. Not all of the vendors are convinced that this venue will be worth their time, and with five other Sunday markets, there is plenty of competition. Several vendors have dropped out in the past few weeks, and Klaman is twisting a few arms to get others to stay.
Scrambling to fill spaces and hold the new market together, Klaman is also trying to create an Asian bazaar, something he hasn't done before, and it's proving quite a challenge. At the moment, this market isn't any more Asian than any of the others throughout the county.
"I didn't know any Asian vendors to begin with, but I'm trying to pull in what I can," he says "I'd hate for this market to go into the shitter. If I could just get all of the people in a half-mile radius to come to the market, [it] will start doing good."
Klaman's trouble finding Asian vendors seems odd, considering the market's location.
Surrounded by the convention center, Petco Park, Horton Plaza, several major hotels and dozens of new high-rise apartment complexes, the market-on Third Avenue between Island Avenue and J Street-is arguably in the center of the "new downtown" and bisects the heart of San Diego's Asian Pacific Thematic and Historic District.
Created in 1987 by the City Council, the district was established to help promote a thriving Asian area in San Diego-the last large metropolitan city in the western U.S. without one.
For San Diego's Asian community, it's an attempt to hold on to its heritage. But, for the most part, that attempt has stalled. The original plan, created by various community groups and the Centre City Development Corporation, called for the construction of several Asian arches marking the district's boundaries as well as themed street lights, banners and a park.
But the city focused resources on other projects, and very little of the plan has been implemented. Today, other than the Chinese Historical Museum, it's hard to identify the district's Asian features.
"[CCDC] had actually hoped that after all of this activism on the part of the community that by [establishing the district] all of these entrepreneurs would come out of the woodwork and... develop our businesses down there... but that kind of just never happened," says Michael Yee, a member of the Asian Pacific Historic Collaborative, which sponsors the farmers market. "The Gaslamp took off the way it did, and after that the ballpark, and we are just kind of this neglected stepchild."
While Yee says the Asian community deserves part of the blame for the lack of progress, he's hoping that the time has finally come to focus on the neighborhood.
The collaborative's members think the farmers market could help fuel that revitalization. They are counting on an influx of tourists and locals into the otherwise quiet area and plan to use their share of the revenues to fund additional district projects.
"This area oozes history and authenticity," Yee says. "What I want to see is people come on down and enjoy some Asian culture and history at the museum and market. This is never going to be a bustling Chinatown again, but it is going to be a very nice place to enjoy the Asian history and culture."
But there is a problem with that vision. Much of the market's cultural component-the Asian food, produce and merchandise-is missing, and the museum is closed during market hours.
Yee and Arnold Marquez, another collaborative member, point out that some Asian influences, like orchids, Japanese pottery and lemongrass barbeque are present, but they admit that the market is still "a work in progress" and could have-should have-more of an Asian spirit.
"We feel that the Asian Bazaar is underdeveloped," says Marquez, adding that because several vendors backed out, he is "beating the bushes" for others who serve authentic Asian cuisine and hopes to find someone who can provide Asian groceries.
"We are still working on getting a regular food demonstration going," he says. "The idea would be if there were unusual foodstuffs... and you didn't know what to do with them, we would be able to say, "Take this home and this is what you do with it.'
"We may go door to door and canvas business owners... trying to put the bug in somebody's ear that there is another outlet available, something they may not have thought of."
But for Klaman, neither food nor the Asian influence is major concern at the moment. Despite the added pressure of creating the bazaar, he is confident that the sun will help attract more customers and put any fears to rest.
At first, they trickle in, a handful of middle-aged couples out for a morning stroll. A few carry coffee cups with sections of the Sunday Times tucked under their arms. Most just browse. It seems like a pleasantly lazy start to the day, but some of the vendors look anxious.
By 9:30 a.m. the market is bustling and Klaman is all smiles. Some locals bring dogs; others push strollers, but almost everyone carries flowers, bread or produce back to their brand-new high-rise condos. A seemingly equal number of sun-burnt tourists load up on gifts and treats for the trip back home.
"I know that they want an Asian Bazaar and I think in time they will have it," he says. "I have got to make sure the farmers market part goes good because that's what brings [customers] back. People aren't coming back every week just to get a trinket from an Asian bazaar; they are coming back for the farmers market."
Ultimately, it's people like Enrique Guajardo, who lives nearby and frequents the market every Sunday to buy breakfast and flowers for his wife, who will decide its fate.
"It's up to us, the neighbors to come here and spend some money. We are the ones that have to make it work," he says. "We can't not show up and then complain later."
It's a sentiment Yee, Marquez and the rest of the collaborative would be glad to hear, evidence that finally the sun may be shining on a new day in Chinatown. ©
Due to the Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, the Third Avenue Farmers Market will be closed June 6. It will reopen on June 13.