Weekly State Street event gets consistent crowds
Last Tuesday’s farmers market on State Street was comfortably bustling with activity.
While not packed with pedestrians to the extent that social distancing couldn’t be observed, several vendors and shoppers reported that it was about as successful a market day as the previous week’s and a vast improvement over the early days of COVID-19 this past spring.
As precautions against further spreading COVID-19, each market stall had designated entrances and exits to control the number of people buying at a time. Also, masks were required when walking outside the tents, and vendors were prohibited from giving out free samples of their products, normally a big draw to the market.
Ruth Alpert, a local resident and regular customer at The Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market, told the News-Press that she never stopped coming to the farmers market, even when attendance hit rock bottom after COVID-19 restrictions took effect in March.
In her estimation, about a third of the farmers normally seen at the market stopped coming when lockdowns first went into effect, and some still haven’t returned. That said, she’s observed that foot traffic has “picked way up.”
“Mid-March to mid-April, I was concerned whether the farmers would be able to keep coming because they were not making any money because there were so few of us coming out,” she said.
When the News-Press ran into Ms. Alpert, she was leaving the stand with a head of lettuce to supplement the groceries she bought at the Saturday farmers market in the Cota Street parking lot. She remarked that her vegan diet has kept her coming back to the market consistently.
“I’m vegan. If I don’t get my food here, I basically don’t eat,” she said.
Santa Barbara resident and regular market customer Erin McGovern thought Tuesday’s market was actually “quieter” than those of the past few weeks. On the whole, however, she said she has noticed “more people each time I come.”
Martha Blackwell, who was purchasing pistachios from the Santa Barbara Pistachio Co. tent, said the number of customers felt “about the same” as the past couple weeks.
Vendors who spoke to the News-Press on Tuesday similarly said that the late afternoon’s crowd size felt similar to those of recent markets.
Mark Makela, who was running the stand of his family’s olive oil business California Coast Naturals, said the market looked “about the same” as those of previous weeks.
He added that there has been considerable demand for his family’s brand of olive oil because COVID-19 has made people more conscious of their health.
“A spoonful of this every day … It really helps you out,” he said.
While olive oil sales may be up, California Coast Naturals’ olive jars haven’t been selling as well since pandemic restrictions took effect. Mr. Makela said this is most likely due to free samples being prohibited.
“Since we can’t sample, the sales of my olives are down a little bit, but the sales for the olive oil is up,” Mr. Makela stated.
Carpinteria-based Fecker Farms has been selling its strawberries, leafy greens and seasonal produce at the farmers market every week since the pandemic began. According to Adriana Arenas, who was manning the company’s tent, the throngs of customers looked “pretty normal” besides the fact that everyone was wearing masks.
“It feels like people are back into their regular groove,” she said.
One differing opinion did come from the man managing the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company tent, who just gave his first name, Boomer. As far as Boomer could see, the Tuesday market’s attendance has consistently been on the up and up.
“I think it’s getting a bit busier week by week,” he said.
The Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market takes place 4 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays in the 600 and 700 blocks of State Street. Other markets take place on various days in Goleta, Solvang, Carpinteria, Montecito and on Cota Street. For a schedule with specific times and addresses, go to www.sbfarmersmarket.org.