Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's Farmers' Market opens for 1st time since start of pandemic, with restrictions

The St. John’s Farmers’ Market opened Saturday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down in March.

Patrons and vendors happy to be back, despite increased health precautions

The St. John's Farmers' Market reopened Saturday, but it wasn’t business as usual, as the market has made adjustments to follow public health guidelines. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Buying farm-fresh produce, gourmet food and artisan goods at the St. John's Farmers' Market is a weekend tradition for many people. That tradition resumed Saturday, as the market opened for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down in March.

"It is so exciting to be back, it has been way too long and we are thrilled today," said Pam Anstey, executive director of the St. John's Farmers' Market.

Although the reopening is another sign restrictions are easing, it wasn't business as usual. The market has made adjustments to follow public health guidelines, like increasing sanitization in high-traffic areas, and hanging plastic barriers between vendors.

Anstey says it took some wrangling to get some of the supplies they needed to reopen the market. 

"We've certainly had to improvise in some ways, we have plastic sheeting instead of Lexan or Plexiglas dividers." she said. "So we've had to make due in relation to the very unique circumstances and unique venue we have."

Pam Anstey, executive director of the St. John's Farmers' Market, says they've had to improvise in some ways to get the market open. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

There was also a lineup to get into the market, to limit the number of people inside, and seating at the café has been removed to promote physical distancing. Traffic was one-way, and vendors and staff were wearing masks, but that didn't discourage some shoppers.

"We haven't been able to go in so long. We were super excited, the lineup wasn't too long," said Barb Simmonds, who bought mango curry and hoisin sauces.

Heather Janes, owner of Pawtastic, has pivoted her dog bandana business to make masks since the pandemic began.

"It took off. We were sewing 16 hours a day in the very beginning to try to keep up with the demand," said Janes, who said she was selling a few hundred masks a day.

For Janes, mask making isn't just business — it's personal.

She has a heart condition, and she fears what contracting COVID-19 would mean for her. 

Heather Janes owns Pawtastic, a company that makes dog bandannas and face masks. She also works in oil and gas, and with many layoffs expected, Janes says her business has been a lifesaver. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

"I made my first mask for myself," said Janes. "If I did get this virus it would be devastating for me, and it's a big health risk."

Janes said her business is a lifesaver for her, as she works in the oil and gas industry, which has been battered by the pandemic, a steep price drop and a glut in the market.

"With all the layoffs coming, who knows, maybe I'll be sewing full time?" she said.

Rebecca Walters of Changeling Glass Works, which sells handmade glass jewlery, was just one of 50 vendors selling at the market Saturday. 

"It's really nice to be back at the market today," she said.

A vendor serves customers at the St. John's Farmers' Market as it opened for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down in mid-March. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Walters said she used time during the pandemic to create a website for her business to sell jewlery online.

While there were fewer vendors than normal, the market's executive director is trying to find a way to accommodate more. 

"We're going to be implementing some new and interesting things to try to actually accommodate more vendors," said Anstey.

"We're going to get back to as close to normal as we can get while still maintaining safety."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Heather Gillis

Journalist

Heather Gillis has been reporting in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2011.

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