The Farmers Market, located at the corner of LaSalle Road and Arapahoe, opened for the first time last Saturday, and plans to remain open through December.
By Dexter McCann
In a typical year, the West Hartford Center Farmers Market would have opened in April or May. But, given the COVID-19 crisis, the market was forced to remain closed last month, citing concern for the safety of both the vendors and the customers.
That changed last Saturday, after the market’s vendors unanimously voted to open to the public. The open air market, a staple in West Hartford Center in the Arapahoe parking lot on LaSalle Road, had loyal and new customers alike lined up for opening at 9 a.m, and, despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis, sales volume remained on par with prior opening days.
“I thought given the circumstances we had a very great turnout this week,” said Amanda Bruso, president of the Farmers Market Collective.
The collective, which consists of all the vendors who sell at the market, votes on important decisions (like reopening) and helps plan all market-related events.
For the collective, which comprises solely local farmers, resuming service was an easy decision.
“It was something that we had to be as small business owners. We had to figure out a way to make it work … this is our livelihood, added Bruso.
In order to “make it work,” the collective took a number of steps to ensure social distancing measures were enforced. The town granted the market a bigger area in the Arapahoe surface parking lot than it typically does in order to allow each vendor an appropriate amount of space.
The vendors then outlined the perimeter of their space with tape, and had Nunzino Corsino, essentially a “bouncer,” let people in and out, with a maximum of 10 people in the market at a given time. Each vendor served just one customer at a time, and certain vendors sold only to those who had pre-ordered online or over the phone in order to limit cash transactions.
In addition, every customer entering the market had to wear a mask, and those who didn’t were turned away.
For the most part, customers were happy to comply with the restrictions enforced by the West Hartford Farmers Market.
“Almost everybody goes along with it [the restrictions], and they’re very respectful and considerate of others,” said Corsino.
Corsino acts as the “market master,” and helps set up and enforce all the restrictions put in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions were designed to adhere to guidelines put in place by both the Connecticut board of health and the Town of West Hartford.
The implementation of the restrictions was one factor that made the decision to reopen the market a little bit easier for some of its vendors. For Stanley and Dorothy Whitlow, who own Sweat Pea Farm and sell dairy products at the market, there was no question about opening the market when it became clear that it would be possible to enforce social distancing.
“We figured if we could work with the town to get a little more space, which they allowed us this year, we could do the social distancing thing. Us vendors agreed to give it a go, and it’s been very very active this year,” said Stanley Whitlow.
The market was indeed very active, and one of the vendors of bread products completely sold out before the market closed at 1 p.m. Even with bread products selling out, however, there were plenty of deals of all kinds to be found among the various vendors, who sell food of all types.
Among the food items available were fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, seafood, spices, and cheese, and non-food products like flowers were on sale as well. All the vendors are local, and many sell their products to West Hartford restaurants like Restaurant Bricco and Hartford Baking Company.
The market will remain open for the foreseeable future, with the plan to continue serving customers through December. Hours of operation will be 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday, and the market also plans to open on Tuesdays at some point beginning in the next couple of weeks.
“We’re going to be here every Saturday through Christmas,” Bruso said confidently.
Usually, the market and its vendors hold special events, but because of COVID-19 fears, all events in 2020 have been canceled.
The Facebook page for the West Hartford Center Farmer’s Market, which provides updates on market hours, changes to schedule, and products available, can be found here.
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