Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
The wooden ceiling of what was once The Frank Paxton Lumber Co. remains intact, but the days of it covering a lumber warehouse have long since passed.
Instead, the ceiling now covers the Sawmill Market, New Mexico’s first artisanal food hall.
The market, which opens Tuesday, is home to 19 local vendors, with seven more to come. Developers are hoping the market will become an epicenter of the reemerging Sawmill District and a gathering place for all of Albuquerque.
“We really believe that Sawmill Market is going to create a community, and is going to become a community cornerstone,” said concept co-developer Lauren Greene.
The formerly abandoned warehouse has been completely renovated, and features 26 unique stalls inside, each designed and created by a local artist or craftsman.
Those involved with the project believe the market will have a lasting impact on the city.
“We do see this as the social hub for Albuquerque for the next 20 to 25 years, it will forever be evolving,” said general manager Brandon Palmer.
Palmer said the market’s line up of restaurants will change over time allowing more new restaurants to gain exposure through the market.
By locals, for locals – and for visitors too
The creative concept for the market began taking shape three years ago after developer Jim Long approached Grove Cafe and Market co-owners Lauren and Jason Greene about getting involved with the effort.
Rather than opening another restaurant, the husband-and-wife team signed on as concept developers and soon began traversing the country visiting other central markets and creating the vision for what would become the Sawmill Market.
“We wanted to get a real understanding of the landscape, and really identify what would truly set Sawmill Market apart,” Lauren Greene said.
Unlike a food court, central markets typically have an emphasis on the local culture and visitors are able to purchase both prepared food and specialty groceries.
In its 33,000-square-foot space, Sawmill will offer a wide variety of international foods, with an emphasis on local sourcing.
“We really wanted a food hall that showcased Albuquerque and New Mexico,” Greene said. “We wanted to set it apart from just a standard food hall.”
When creating the design for the market, Greene said, it was very important to incorporate the local cultures as much as possible and highlight Albuquerque’s artistic side with the employment of local artists.
In addition to food hall staples such as pizzerias and coffee joints, the market aims to have a selection of tenants that exemplify the diversity of New Mexico beyond just green chile.
Established Albuquerque businesses such as Mr. Powdrell’s BBQ and Naruto will be among the food options, while new businesses like XO Waffle will be opening their first locations.
“I think it brings Albuquerque into a bigger spotlight,” XO co-owner Ray Campos said.
The Sawmill Market is far from the first of its kind. In recent years, the central market model has spread to major cities across the country. Some, including the century-old Pike Place Market in Seattle, have become major tourist destinations.
Greene said she hopes the Sawmill Market will take on that destination status, while also becoming a spot beloved by locals.
“We’re so excited to share it with the community,” she said. “I’m certain that people will flock to it and be so impressed and immediately make it their own.”
Embracing history, aiming to revitalize
To complement the artisanal food selection and focus on local culture, Sawmill Market developers said they felt a need to draw the design from the history of the building itself.
For the vast majority of the structure’s history, it was a lumber warehouse. After its closure decades ago, the building fell into disrepair and neglect, eventually earning a “blighted” designation from the city.
When plans formed to use the warehouse’s bones as the structure for Sawmill, the Greenes said it was clear the building’s history had to be incorporated.
Greene said that while designing the building, she and her husband looked through Paxton’s promotional material for inspiration.
“One of the taglines of Paxton’s lumber warehouse was ‘Home of Beautiful Woods,’ and we really honored that tagline if you will,” Greene said. “The warmth inside is just incredible.”
In another homage to the building’s beginnings, wood found in the abandoned warehouse was used to create the bar at the aptly named Paxton’s taproom, which will have room for 40 local beverages on tap.
Original dust collectors also still sit outside of the market.
“It was truly important for us to honor the history of the building, preserve what we could, use reclaimed lumber from the warehouse, and get as many local artisans involved,” Greene said. “We really accomplished that.”
Suzanne Lubar, president of Heritage Real Estate – an agency that’s behind many new developments in the Sawmill District – agreed.
“We still really want to respect the history and the roots of the area and at the same time bring it back to life so to speak,” she said.
Lubar said the market will help further the revitalization of the area.
“It’s another wonderful amazing venue that’s available to the whole community,” Lubar said. “I just think it’s going to help stimulate and help excite people about the area.”
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