Shields, fences and hand sanitizer: New reality for Montreal's public markets

Jean-Talon market has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, there are controlled entrances, someone making sure you douse your hands with sanitizer and another with a clicker in hand, counting the number of people who enter.

Vendors gear up for the what they hope will be a busy outdoor season

Montreal's public markets now have new safety measures in place to protect vendors and shoppers from COVID-19. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

There was a time you could walk to Montreal's Jean-Talon Market and be greeted by stalls brimming with fresh, locally grown produce, flowers and vendors selling pots of herbs to start your summer garden.

Today, there are controlled entrances, someone making sure you douse your hands with sanitizer and another with a clicker in hand, counting the number of people who enter.

These are among the new safety measures put in place as the city's three largest markets kick into gear for the outdoor season.

"We do have all the farmers who are coming in right now. The flower producers are coming in too," said Nicolas Fabien-Ouellet, interim general director of Montreal Public Markets.

"So if you shop local, the first thing that should come in mind is to come to the public markets."

In addition to the fences, entry points and sanitizer, the public markets have a number of other precautionary measures in place:

  • Handwashing stations in central locations.
  • Staff patrolling the market to make sure people practise physical distancing.
  • Mandatory installation of protective screens at all stands.
  • Prioritizing contactless payment for goods.

The main corridor through Montreal's largest market, Jean-Talon, is now wider with two lanes of pedestrian traffic marked out with arrows on the ground — one heading east, the other west.

The key to keeping people safe, according to Fabien-Ouellet, is to control the density of the shoppers entering through the two entrances at the Atwater Market and the three at Jean-Talon.

Shoppers have to enter the market through designated entry points. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

"We're counting the number of people there. Once we're maxed out in terms of density, there will be a line forming," said Fabien-Ouellet. "For the next one to enter, we need a consumer to get out."

He said his team is still trying to figure out the optimal number of people to allow in the markets and still maintain safe distancing for vendors and customers.

Shoppers eye high season with mixed feelings

Blake Poirier came to the market with his wife to pick up a load of fruit and vegetables so that he can continue to cook more at home. He likes what he saw with the new precautions.

However, he said, he would think twice about coming as the market gets busier in the summer months.

"I'd have to keep an eye on that. Right now it seems like a good, spread-out number of people," said Poirier. "But if it gets back to the normal summer market, getting pretty tight in there, they'd have to make sure they're controlling the flow."

Sarah Bertaiba said she would brave the crowds in the summer months.

"I think it's important to support the local sellers and I think it's safe to continue to buy here," she said.

But for Vincent Richard, the extra measures are not enough. He said he will continue to do his shopping in the small shops that border the market.

"It's basically risk assessment," he said.

"Why would you go into a place that's crowded with people when you can very easily just avoid it?"

Vendors are encouraging contactless payment and are also asking clients to place produce in bags themselves before weighing in a bid to minimize contact. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Fabien-Ouellet said that even though vendors did see a drop in the number of people coming to the markets since confinement measures were put into place, there is a bit of good news.

He said people appear to be buying more when they do come and that's likely because they're told to leave their homes as little as possible — shopping only for the essentials and to not linger in public.

"In that context, you want to buy as many goods as you can in one stop," he said.

The Atwater, Jean-Talon and Maisonneuve markets will open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and will close on Sundays during May. Lachine Market is open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday.

As for the 11 other public markets that pop up in neighbourhoods around city, Montreal Public Markets will gradually open those throughout the season with various security measures in place as needed.

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