It’s been about two months since the Vancouver Farmers Market made its 2020 debut after a delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing public health crisis and a spate of rainy weather have caused the market to be a relatively subdued affair, but Saturday marked the return of an important feature: hot food.
The market is settling into its new pandemic-era rhythm, and vendors expressed confidence that it will continue to grow in subsequent weeks as Clark County slowly reopens.
“Once we get some good weather, that’s going to get people out of their houses,” said Ken Condiff, owner of Nut-Tritious Foods and a regular vendor at the farmers market for the past seven years.
The returning market initially opened on one block of Esther Street next to Esther Short Park, but has since expanded onto a portion of Eighth Street in order to add more stalls. COVID-19 health safety rules require at least six feet of space between stalls, so the returning market was limited to about 35 of its usual 150 vendors.
The Eight Street addition raised capacity to about 70, according to Farmers Market Executive Director Jordan Boldt. The plan is for the market to keep expanding in subsequent weeks, he said, although it depends on the organizers’ ability to line up volunteers to regulate the crowds at the entrances. COVID-19 health safety rules limit the number of customers allowed in at a time.
“How do we count customers? That’s our biggest issue right now,” he said.
In order to promote social distancing, the COVID-era market ditches the live music, interactive activities and other features that are normally at the heart of the event. During the initial weeks, that also meant that the vendor lineup was limited solely to produce and other food product sellers.
Now that Clark County is in Phase 2 of the Safe Start reopening plan, Boldt said, the market has been able to allow some non-grocery and hot food vendors to return. Funky Fresh, Greek Gyros and K&K’s Fish n’ Chips & Chicken Too joined the lineup on Saturday.
Inside the Funky Fresh truck, co-owners Shawna Stewart and Rebekah Trigg said they spent the morning greeting regular customers who were happy to see them return. The food truck had to delay the usual start of its seasonal operations, Stewart said, and she and Trigg are currently operating it themselves rather than hiring additional employees.
Over at K&K, co-owner Kirsten Ah Yek said the booth had to be scaled down to fit the new distancing requirements and the menu had to be simplified, but after 15 years as a Vancouver market vendor, she’s determined to adapt and stick around.
“Now that we’re back, we’ll be here until the end of the year,” she said.
Attendance is still low – Boldt estimated that the market now sees between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors on a good day, compared with as many as 10,000 on the best days last year – but it’s expected to continue growing as the weather warms.
Most vendors still report strong sales despite the lower numbers, Boldt said, in part because of the smaller vendor lineup and in part because the revamped market tends to draw in people who are there specifically to shop rather than simply to browse or take in the sights.