It has been a long 20 months for vendors facing lockdowns, vaccination policies, staffing shortages and a host of other hurdles that were anything but business as usual. The St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market knows that firsthand.
It’s been a rough stretch for the market vendors, many of whom were unable to go on given reduced capacities and other restrictions, says the operation’s general manager.
“I would say we’ve had turnover of about 25 per cent. Inside, we’ve got about 50 new vendors. The remaining ones would have been in our outdoor season, but our outdoor season is more or less wrapped up as of November 1 – we still have some but just not that many. We’ve definitely seen a high turnover in the buildings where vendors just couldn’t hold on with the reduced capacities that we were operating to keep the market safe. It was a tough go for a lot of our vendors,” said Joanna Loebach.
“It’s really the indoor vendors that have struggled the most because of those capacity limits. Even during July and August, when we should be getting 15,000 people, they were still only seeing 5,000 or 6,000 people into the building. That’s not because there weren’t more people on the site, but just because we were limited by capacity.
The country’s largest farmers market is one of many in the region that wish to remain open over the holiday season. Loebach mentioned that the summer months tend to draw more tourists, whereas winter months draw in the locals for the farmers’ market. With that in mind, they’ve added their first night market.
“We haven’t been able to prioritize local vendors but by having kind of this higher turnover, not only does it bring more diversity, but it allows us to get some of the local vendors and that’s actually one of the things that the night markets doing as well by offering a Friday night option, in addition to our Thursday and our Saturday,” she said.
“The market property just looks so different at night – just being in the buildings, the lighting. There’s so much natural light that affects kind of the feel of a market visit that to be here at night, it’s really a whole new experience. We follow the rules that are set up for restaurants if we want to eat inside, so we will be doing the contact tracing, proof of vaccination and the screening at the entrance to the property. Then we work with public health to create a special event plan just for the Friday night,” said Loebach.
Some of the vendors added during the pandemic help to diversify the market with gluten-free options and new foods to try, she added.
“We have a great new Turkish street food vendor in peddler’s village, Queen Gozleme. We have a new gluten-free baker in the market building, Ginger Fox. We have Green Haven Farms, which brings traditional Amish fried pies and other breads. We have a live-edge furniture maker.”
A new trail spanning some four kilometres is to be created along Northfield Drive from Waterloo to the market in St. Jacobs. Cyclists, for instance, will be able to pickup groceries while avoiding traffic and the congested parking lot.
“I think parking is always a challenge here at peak times. I know that’s one of the many frustrations for locals, so to have another option for locals to get here during those busy times is a real asset that we see. What’s better to come to the market then on your bike and being able to load up your basket with fresh fruit and then enjoy a scenic bike ride home.”