After eight pandemic-less years managing the Thursday Market in Spokane’s Perry District, Karyna Goldsmith wasn’t sure what to expect when she got the green light to open this week from health officials.
The market – the first in Spokane to open during stay-home orders – cut its number of vendors from 35 to 15, moved to a larger location, added hand-sanitizing stations and put social distancing measures in place.
Rob Allen, board president of the Inland Northwest Farmers Market Association, could barely take a breath between health briefings as new customers continued to stream into the market at nearly 5:30 p.m., an hour and a half before closing time.
“First, thanks for coming,” Allen told people before launching into a 90-second-long spiel of guidelines from the Spokane Regional Health District.
He asked people to wash their hands at the door, stay 6 feet away from others, not touch anything until a vendor finished the transaction and wear a mask if they had one or use one courtesy of the market if they didn’t.
“If you follow the rules, we can keep having farmers markets in Spokane during the pandemic,” Allen said.
Managers of other local farmers markets were on hand to help and observe before they start opening over the coming weeks.
Allen said he wasn’t surprised public health officials allowed farmers markets to reopen, but “we weren’t sure we were going to be able to pull this off.”
Spokane County’s eight associated farmers markets plan to operate at a $50,000 deficit, Allen said. Nonessential businesses that might pay to sponsor the event and operate a booth can’t contribute, and fewer vendors can operate under social distancing guidelines.
But the local farmers market association did receive $7,500 from Northwest Farm Credit Services plus other smaller grants to cover the upfront costs of new supplies related to disease prevention.
“It’s a squeeze,” Allen said.
Now with the markets coming back, Spokane feels a little bit more like itself, Allen said.
“Spokane loves farmers markets, and they define community,” Allen said. “Our weekly farmers markets are like a weekly neighborhood.”
Eric Hultz, a Perry District resident, said his young son got excited as soon as he heard the Thursday Market was coming back.
“We’re happy they’re still able to do it,” said Hultz, who said the market gives his family a chance to access local produce, support local farms and get outside.
Fred and Gilda Meyer of Mama Torrez Salsa, whose business normally thrives on people sampling chips and dips, set up a shelter with netting and included openings for orders and pickups.
Though they were excited to see people face-to-face, Fred Meyer said he thought distancing themselves was the responsible thing to do for customers.
“It’s great to see the kids out there running,” Gilda Meyer said.
Shawna Beese, owner of Fruit Hill Farm, a first-time vendor at the Thursday Market, said she enjoyed connecting with passionate gardeners.
“People have a true zest for gardening and farmers market produce,” said Beese, who plans to operate her booth at the Thursday Market for the next month. “We definitely heard people say, ‘It’s good to see people again.’ ”
Just after 6 p.m., Goldsmith estimated close to 1,000 people had attended the Thursday Market.
“Nearly everyone is completely sold out,” added Goldsmith, who said the line to get inside was down the block to start the day.
She said she hopes word will spread about the Thursday Market and other local farmers markets opening up the next several weeks.
“Explore the unknown with us,” Goldsmith said. “The farmers market gives me an experience that is positive, always. And this day was no different.”
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