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Carbondale Farmer's Market to return to open-air format Saturday, but with restrictions
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Carbondale Farmer's Market to return to open-air format Saturday, but with restrictions

Carbondale Connections | Farmer's Market

A Facebook post made Wednesday announced that the Carbondale Farmer’s Market will return, but with some changes. Vendors will be spread further apart and customers are asked to keep six feet from one another and to wear masks.

CARBONDALE — Seven weeks into its 45th season, the Carbondale Farmer’s Market will, again, make changes to its format.

At the opening of the season, concerns over COVID-19 were ramping up and with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order shutting down nonessential businesses and restricting travel for residents, the market had to come up with a way to adapt.

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To do this, it developed a drive-through market with limited vendors.

This Saturday it will return to normal — almost. A Facebook post made Wednesday announced that the open-air market will return, but with some changes. Vendors will be spread further apart and customers are asked to keep six feet from one another and to wear masks.

Market Manager Ann Stahlheber said Wednesday that there would be about 20 to 30 feet between vendors, enough space for them to spread out their wares but also enough room should a line form. She also said selection will be limited to products the governor has deemed “essential” — things like produce, meat and garden starts. Market organizers said there is only so much they can only do to keep the public safe.

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“We really need the public’s help with this thing,” said Kurt Sweitzer, market board president and architect of the new market layout. “You can’t physically hold everybody’s hand and lead them away from each other."

Stahlheber said vendors will be doing their part to manage their stalls safely, wearing masks and keeping things clean. But, she added, public cooperation is key.

Sweitzer said the popularity of the drive-up market, which saw as many as 350 cars on a given Saturday, made him and others realize that the model wasn’t sustainable. Wait times could exceed a 90 minutes and even reach two hours.

“That really amazed me that they would stay that long in the line,” Sweitzer said.

However, he could tell it wasn’t ideal for many.

“You could just read it in their faces,” Sweitzer said of customer frustration, adding that he thought they hid it pretty well.

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Sweitzer said finding a way to get the market as close to normal as possible was important not just for customer satisfaction but for financial reasons, too. He said of the four markets his farm goes to each week, Carbondale’s is the biggest. He said for many vendors, their farm is their primary source of income.

That said, he was impressed with the support the community showed in those seven weeks the market was drive-through only. He said it was “really cool” to see cars backed up to Illinois 13, all waiting to get into the market.

“Now this is a good problem to have,” he recalled telling vendors about the line.

But, Sweitzer said as the season wears on, he knows there will be more and more people coming and this change was needed — 350 cars could turn into 700 to 800 quickly.

With the current plan, Sweitzer said he knew there would be problems and kinks to work out but he is nonetheless excited to see shoppers out, even if the circumstances are challenging.

There was a point he reiterated more than once, though, and that was cooperation.

“We really need the public to help us,” Sweitzer said, asking that all shoppers keep their distance and wear a mask.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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