Pandemic changes face, feel of Holland Farmers Market

Not even the coronavirus could stop the 41st opening of the Holland Farmers Market during the second week in May.

However, the viral pandemic imposes some restrictions on the operation of the outdoor market in compliance with an executive order from Michigan’s governor.
A perimeter fence limits access to the outdoor market on West Eighth Street.
Signs remind shoppers about the operation of the market during a pandemic.
Until further notice, marketgoers are not permitted unrestricted access to the canopy-lined market along Eighth Street between Pine and Maple avenues on Wednesdays and Saturdays. 

Shop ‘quickly and efficiently’

The perimeter of the market is fenced off, allowing only two entrance and exit points, and there are limits on the number of customers allowed inside at any one time. 

Taped arrows direct the movement of market visitors while an "x" designates safe social distancing.
The majority of opening-day visitors wore protective masks.
Once inside the market area, customers are urged not to roam among vendors. They are expected to practice safe social distancing and to shop as “quickly and efficiently as possible” without socializing — one of the market’s treasured charms.

“This is a time to shop for food, not to socialize,” the guidelines caution.

Masks recommended

The guidelines further advise wearing protective masks and shopping with as few family members as possible.

Unlike past market seasons, vendors are only allowed to sell items designated by the governor’s order — food, pet supplies, personal-hygiene products, and plants. In addition, the consumption of food is not allowed on-site.

An executive order from Michigan's governor limits the type of items that can be sold at the market.

Restrictions discouraged the customary meeting and greeting at the market.
Adherence to the guidelines drastically changes the look and feel of an open-air ritual that typically attracts thousands to a community gathering space where rural and urban cultures connect.

With restrictions to prevent crowding, the market is neither a place to see and be seen nor a prime location to meet and greet.

Construction disruption

But this isn’t the first instance when the market has had to endure a disruption in operation following its 1979 inception in the Civic Center parking lot. 

Market visitors focused on shopping instead of browsing.
Market vendors and customers followed guidelines in their interactions.

Vendors took a hard hit starting on opening day of the 2004 season, when construction began on the development of a new market site nearby along West Eighth Street and wasn’t completed until November of that year.

During construction, market customers had to contend with noise, dust, dirt piles, and road closings. They also had to dodge construction hazards that surrounded vendor stalls squeezed into whatever spaces could be found around the Civic Center.

A positive note

But the disruptive selling season brought on by the construction chaos ended on a positive note when the new home for the farmers market — named Eighth Street Market Place — allowed the relocation of vendors to today’s more permanent and larger location.

A crowd like this one during a typical market season could not be accommodated under current restrictions.

On opening day this season, vendors expressed hope that the pandemic restrictions would also prove to have a positive effect in the long run.

They voiced cautious optimism about how this market season would play out, as did one customer who was heard saying “things can only get better.”

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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