Spring has sprung in St. Jacobs and retailers in the historic Market District are celebrating.
Joanna Loebach, general manager of the St. Jacobs Market District says vendors and shoppers alike are looking forward to the return of the outdoor market April 1, especially considering the hard winter the area saw.
Loebach estimates about 10 per cent of vendors in the market space were forced to close their booths for good in the first two months of the year. Other vendors were able to hang on, but saw a huge decrease in sales.
“It was really rough for them. Normally it’s a really slow time for vendors anyways, so in some ways that prepared them a bit, but no one was really making any money in January and February,” she said.
Under provincial regulations the Farmer’s Market was allowed to remain open during the second lockdown, but with limited capacity. The outlet mall portion of the area was forced to remain closed.
Now, both sections are open but continue to have capacity limits.
“Our retail space is operating at 50 per cent capacity and our main market building is operating at 75 per cent capacity, so that’s generating lineups. There’s extra staffing and active screening at entrances,” Loebach says.
Those lines are only approximately five minutes long, Loebach estimates, but shoppers must stand in them every time they enter a building. With a few different structures making up the market area, guests should be prepared to add some time to their shopping trip, unless they decide to go early.
“There’re never any line-ups between 7 and 10 in the morning [on Saturdays],” Loebach says. “You can be in and out in 30 minutes.”
While the market has resumed early-morning hours, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., on Saturdays, Thursday hours remain at 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to accommodate decreased traffic.
Loebach says that while Thursdays continue to be quite slow, the market is tracking the number of guests that come out each week and using that data to determine when to resume normal hours on both days.
Starting in June and continuing through the summer the market will be open on Tuesdays as well.
Unlike previous years where customers could enter the outdoor market from anywhere in the parking lot, this year will see the space fenced off to help maintain capacity restrictions. Guests will not be required to submit to active screening, but masks and hand sanitizer will be available.
“The outdoor market will really bring in the crowds,” Loebach says. “More people are looking for things to do outside. That’s really what the vendors who were able to hold on are looking forward to.”
The outdoor market opening will come with a month-long sale across the market district to help the area celebrate the coming of the warmer weather.
“We normally do a big sale in February and we postponed that this year,” Loebach said. “All of that is now happening in April. It’s really timed specifically with the return of the outdoor vendors. It’s a Step into Spring Sale.”
In a normal year the warmer weather would bring bus tours and visitors from out of town to the market, something Loebach doesn’t expect this year.
“Compared to a non-covid year we’re expecting lower numbers. A big chunk of people that visit the market are from out of town and we’re just not seeing those kinds of groups come now,” she said.
Despite those lower than normal numbers, Loebach expects more visitors and a better experience this summer over last year.
“I think we’re better organized this year so we’re more prepared. We’re going to be able to safely host more people. I think that combined with the increase in consumer confidence, that’s going to come from the vaccine and I think we’re going to see more people than last summer,” she said.
Written by Elizabeth Bate