For Tower Grove Farmers' Market co-founder Patrick Horine, the warming temperatures marks the beginning of his business’ season. Normally, the outdoor shopping center would be filled to the brim with stalls for the vendors. The fresh produce would be out for all to purchase.
This year, however, the market may look a little different. Fewer vendors, more space and strict safety measures are going to be in place.
“We’re going to start out small to see how it goes,” Horine says.
The Tower Grove Farmers' Market and the Boulevard Farmers' Market in Richmond Heights will be reopening in the coming weeks, starting with a limited offering on May 9 in Tower Grove. The market will move from its normal spot to the park's Circle Drive, configured to follow new safety guidelines.
Shoppers and vendors at the market will be required to wear face masks and practice social distancing. There will be chalk markings to keep lines in order and vendors will be spaced further apart than usual with separate tables set up to pick up food and pay.
While being spaced further apart, there will also be fewer vendors in the marketplace. Horine says more vendors may come later in the year, but for now, they have to stagger in order to maintain a healthy and safe environment for shoppers.
“The farmers market has always been a community gathering place,” Horine says. “That won’t be the same this year.”
Instead, Horine says it will take on a shopping center feel. The outdoor environment will allow for fresh air, unlike indoor stores. The park will also be open and allow people to distance themselves when they need a break. Fewer vendors means more space in between stalls but less money for the market. Horine struggled mainly with when to open, but ultimately, the farmers became the deciding factor.
“In April, it was OK [to not open because] the produce wasn’t all the way ready. In May, the products are growing and [farmers] are harvesting and they’ll need a place to sell,” Horine says. “That’s been what’s driving us to get a plan in place. It's definitely going to be a challenging year.”
The Tower Grove Farmers' Market will continue on Saturday mornings through the season, and the Tuesday evening markets will resume from 4-7 p.m., starting Mary 19. The Boulevard Farmers' Market will begin its Sunday operations on May 17 in the outdoor space at The Boulevard shopping center in Richmond Heights.
The bulk of the markets' profits are in renting out stalls and vendor fees. Some of the vendors have chosen not to return at all this season.
“We lost a couple of vendors because they knew the challenges of the upcoming season are just too much,” Horine says.
The markets will know what kind of position they are in financially by July. More vendors are expected to join the market as the season goes on. The ones who are participating face the challenge of adapting to a new reality. Most vendors will have to use a contactless form of payment. Others, like the Amish and older farmers, will still be allowed to use cash.
“It’ll be done in a way where one person will be handling the money and one person will be handling the food,” Horine says. “We’re taking a lot of precautions, and it will be a pretty safe space for everybody.”
In a typical year, the market has three pillars to its business: a community gathering space, an ability to distribute fresh food to the region and support for local growers. With the first pillar impossible right now, Horine hopes to focus on the other two. He says that based on past years, the market has a strong local food system.
“If we can get through this season bringing a good supply of food into the market and we can keep our farmers and vendors open and in business that’s going to be a huge accomplishment,” Horine says. “We have a good strong local food system based on years of good years and by shopping at the farmers market, people will be contributing to that strength and it will keep it intact through 2021.”
The Tower Grove Farmers' Market will be open 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 4-7 p.m. on Tuesdays. The Boulevard Farmers' Market will be open 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Sundays.
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