With the Kamloops Regional Farmers' Market wrapping up on Saturday, Oct. 31, those running the show are looking back at operations during a market season that was anything but normal.
Market manager Greg Unger said running the market during a pandemic has been an ongoing process, from getting vendors on board with wearing masks to stopping customers from congregating.
To help, Unger has been able to follow the advice of the BC Centre for Disease Control and the British Columbia Association of Farmers' Markets, which have provided some information on best practices.
“There was even a period where we weren’t even sure if we’d be able to operate this year,” Unger said.
But once it was determined how the market could operate, local vendors were back in business and Unger said adjustments were made based on public feedback.
At times, people were concerned with how busy the market was, prompting staff to break up groups of people and those socializing. Eventually, organizers implemented lineups and restricted the number of shoppers allowed in the market space at any given time.
The Saturday market (the last one is on Halloween, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) take place on St. Paul Street between Second and Third avenues. The Wednesday market (the final one was held on Oct. 28) took place on Victoria Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues.
The pull-back on those mingling and socializing is something Unger said was hard to do.
“That’s one of my favourite things about the market, is the social atmosphere. I had a lot of trouble, personally, with that. I didn’t want to do away with that,” he said, recalling times he would have to ask people to continue their conversations in more wide open spaces elsewhere.
Another change to the market this year, prompted by the need for physical distancing, was the closure of Victoria Street to vehicle traffic on Wednesdays, allowing vendors to spill out into the street.
“People were just saying they thought the Wednesday market was just too crowded. It wasn't possible for people to safely distance,” Unger said of the site when it was restricted to the sidewalk.
Unger said vendors were overall “largely supportive” of the pandemic precautions made this year, although some were not on board with masks and saw no need to wear them.
Masks were recommended, but never made mandatory. The reason for that, Unger said, is that he “values the diversity of our vendors and all of their different opinions,” with some people acknowledging the science behind masks’ value and others being less cautious due to the outdoor setting.
Unger said measures taken overall did impact sales, however.
“It’s been a lean year for most of the vendors, but that’s kind of how it’s been for retail across the board,” he said.
Dieter Dudy, who sells goods from his Thistle Farms operation at the market, said his sales are down 10 to 15 per cent over 2019.
“As far as I’m concerned, that is quite a roaring success for this year,” Dudy told KTW.
As for the street closures, Dudy said as a result of the change, some Wednesday markets performed better than their Saturday counterparts, which he noted in the past has been “unheard of.”
“Normally, my Wednesdays would represent about 60 per cent of what I’d do on Saturdays, and actually on three separate Wednesdays, I outdid my Saturdays,” Dudy said.
The market also took advantage of a grant from the Ministry of Agriculture, allowing online sales using a service called Local Line.
“It was used somewhat in the early stages. April and May were definitely when we saw the most use out of it,” Unger said.
The market will continue to offer goods online via Local Line over the winter, but continued use beyond that would first need to be discussed and would depend on the price point of the service going forward, according to Unger.
“Most people actually want to come to the physical market,” he said.