The Vancouver Farmers Market made a subdued but nonetheless successful return on Saturday morning.
The market normally makes its seasonal debut in late March, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed back this year’s start date by more than a month. It also changed the look of the event – Saturday’s market session was marked by fewer vendors, fewer customers and widespread use of face masks.
The market will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, with the first hour of each day reserved for seniors and immunocompromised shoppers.
Still, vendors and customers alike described the morning as a successful test run of the new format, which will allow the market to resume weekend operations through the summer.
The market’s new format includes a number of new restrictions aimed at combating the spread of the virus. The usual 165 vendor stalls that line the street next to Esther Short Park have been compressed to about 34 in order to maintain 6 feet of separation between tents.
Market staff are stationed at both ends of the block to keep a running tally of customers and limit foot traffic in the market to no more than 150 people. Although not required for customers, masks are strongly encouraged. Hand-washing stations line the block.
Market executive director Jordan Boldt said the goal is for customers to view the market as a grocery destination rather than a community event space for the time being. That means no live entertainment and no non-food vendors.
There are more food vendors than available spaces, Boldt said, so the city will coordinate a rotation system to make sure everyone gets a turn.
“That’s why we do both days (of the weekend),” he said.
The combination of rainy weather on Saturday and the COVID-19 situation led to a muted turnout compared to a normal Farmers Market debut weekend, Boldt said, but it was still enough to spur strong sales for vendors, and it gave everyone an opportunity to learn about the new restrictions.
Vendors jump in
The food-only restriction prompted a change in approach for some vendors on Saturday. Kiva Dobson of Klickitat Canyon Winery said alcohol vendors aren’t allowed at the moment, so he brought a lineup of produce instead.
“Today was kind of a test to see how it goes,” he said.
At the Don Felipe Products stand, Angie Pizano said she switched to an online sales model where customers can order chorizo products in advance and quickly pick them up at the market. A lot of customers took advantage of the option, she said, although there was still some walk-up traffic.
“People can still come up and shop, but we’re encouraging the pre-orders,” she said. “That minimizes card and cash handling as well.”
Several customers, such as Adam and Beverly Kluka from Camas, said they said they came specifically to pick up produce, although they took the opportunity to browse for other food items too.
“We came to support the local market,” said Vancouver resident Brian Maddox.
Multiple vendors said that their sales remained strong despite notably lower customer traffic, and that they’d be back in subsequent weeks.
“It’s been a busy morning for us,” said Cesar Hernandez, owner of Romero’s Salsa.
Vendors and customers were excited to see the market resume, Pizano said, and everyone appeared to be committed to following the social distancing guidelines.
“I think everybody is just being really careful,” she said.