Hamilton Farmers' Market vendors choose between health and income due to COVID-19

Some business owners at the Hamilton Farmers' Market have seen up to an 80 per cent drop in sales as social distancing has fewer people buying from the marketplace.

'I’m half-worried for my income and half-worried for my health'

Business owners stand by their cash registers as they wait for customers to fill the empty corridor at the Hamilton Farmers' Market. Business has dropped since calls for social distancing amid the spread of COVID-19. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Lee Thi sits behind her rows of fruits and vegetables at the Hamilton Farmers' Market with a glove on each hand and a mask draped over her face.

She doesn't want to stay, but knows she can't leave.

"Business has gone down 80 per cent … If I stay home, I don't have the money, but when I'm open, I'm still scared," Thi, an owner of Lee's Fresh Produce, told CBC News.

"I'm half-worried for my income and half-worried for my health."

It's the dilemma of every business owner that remains open since the novel coronavirus has shuttered most of Hamilton — what price are they willing to pay to stay open amid the spread of COVID-19?

Lee Thi, owner of Lee's Fresh Produce, said she is struggling to decide if she should keep her business open so she can pay the bills or stay home and avoid getting sick — both are essential to her survival, but she thinks she has to pick one over the other. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Thi said she only has one income and is seriously considering making Thursday her last day at work for the foreseeable future to avoid infection, but knows it would mean no more customers and no more money.

Businesses face tough times since the coronavirus forced the city to shut down its services and the province requested Monday that all non-essential services close by Tuesday at midnight.

Just a handful of people floated from vendor to vendor inside an otherwise barren marketplace Tuesday.

A sign at Sam's Cheese and Meats informs customers at the farmers' market that it won't operate on Tuesdays amid COVID-19. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
Buttrums Garden Fresh Vegetables completely closed because of the "increasing severity of the public health crisis" but are offering pick-up and delivery services. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

It was livelier on Saturday, but still lonely compared to weeks before.

"Business has gone down a lot because of social distancing," Yao Xue, the owner of Huong Trang Fish Market, said.

"I'm a little nervous … we're taking it day by day" he said.

He's seen a 40 per cent drop in customers and his wife is staying at home. Xue and others have started to sell products in bundles and may stop ordering items with a shorter shelf-life.

Yao Xue, the owner of Huong Trang Fish Market, said his wife normally works alongside him, but is staying home as more coronavirus cases pop up in Hamilton and Ontario. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

For John Alexander, owner of JT Pets, COVID-19 has forced him to get creative.

"We've been doing a big push through our social media to encourage our customers to request delivery," he said.

"We've had a number of isolated customers where we're going to contact list delivery. They're either pre-paying or e-transferring and we're dropping the products off at their door."

John Alexander, owner of JT Pets, said he is adapting and dropping off orders to keep afloat as social distancing has caused fewer customers to visit the Hamilton Farmers' Market. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The market offers fresh grocery items, many of which are local or are hand-picked by local business owners and have fewer processed ingredients in place of natural ones.

Alexander worries if they close, customers won't have alternatives. 

Though, he added, the store is reducing its hours at the request of staff.

"We're letting the public and government decide how we're going to run our business right now," he said.

"Everybody needs to be safe, there's plenty of product out there, we just need to get it to the customers in a coordinated and calm manner."

About the Author

Bobby Hristova


Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca


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