Amanda McIntyre sighed with relief as customers examined the rings and necklaces on display in her booth early Saturday at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City.
“I made less than half of my income last year,” McIntyre said. The Midway jeweler normally spends winter making the wares she sells during the summer at a rotation of weekly markets in Utah. But amid the pandemic last year, the Downtown Farmers Market hosted only vendors who were selling groceries, leaving dozens of artists and food trucks with no access to their biggest customer base.
On Saturday, though, customers were chomping at the bit to get back into their weekly routine of shopping, eating and lounging around Pioneer Park. Less than a half-hour after the market opened, a line of shoppers stretched in front of the Bread Riot Bakehouse.
“Last year, it was much smaller, and everyone was a bit nervous,” said Allison Struiksma, who joined her friend Julianna Webster in the queue. “Now we’re protected and vaccinated. I’m excited to see all the local people are back again.”
The crowd Saturday was “non-pandemic-year normal,” said Alison Einerson, executive director of the Downtown Farmers Market. But the vendor lineup hasn’t returned to its pre-pandemic size just yet. There were 124 food vendors Saturday, down from about 190 that filled the park before the coronavirus, she said. And the 59 artist booths amounted to just over half the normal attendance before 2020, Einerson noted.
Some artists may have shifted to online sales during the pandemic, McIntyre said.
“It’s hard to pivot to online when you’re used to doing it in person. But it’s a good thing because I’m more well-versed in it, and I know I can do it now,” McIntyre said. Before the coronavirus, she typically received 20 online orders per week; now, after focusing on her online shop for a year, she’s taking 200 orders a week, and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
But online sales can be a lot more labor-intensive, said Rick Cox, a Logan woodworker.
“When you go to online, it’s twice as much work with the shipping and custom orders,” said Cox, a schoolteacher who sells decor as a second job and estimated the pandemic cost him about a third of his total income last year.
Without the market, he said, “you miss the people, the fun atmosphere.”
The market also allows vendors to connect with regulars, Einerson said.
“It’s at a market where you meet your customers, and they get invested in [the artists’ work],” she said. “You really can’t do that online.”
For food vendors, who were allowed to keep their booths in last summer’s reduced market, the losses were lighter.
“It was a thin crowd to begin with, but as soon as we had a statewide mask mandate, it turned out fairly well,” said Tamara Hed, who was selling early-season leafy greens and egg-size radishes from her booth for Tremonton-based Blue Spring Farm. Although 2020 crowds were lighter, Hed said, they were more focused on grocery shopping.
Those customers are the reason the market operated at all last summer, Einerson said; as a food supplier, it’s definitively “essential” as any grocery store. A lot of customers use food stamps and nutrition-assistance cards, she said, “and there has been a huge increase in people who get that benefit.”
But for Kristen Kwan and Charlie Murtaugh, the draw of the market is spending a family day in the park with their two children.
“We didn’t come last year, and we’ve been coming every year since he was a baby,” Kwan said, gesturing toward her 13-year-old son, Brady. “We like to get lunch, sit around and meet up with friends. Last year was hard.”
“I missed the lemon scones!” added 9-year-old Madeleine, who already had braved the line at the popular Crumb Brothers bakery booth.
One improvement Struiksma noted this year was that, post-pandemic, a lot more vendors were taking credit cards and payment apps like Venmo.
“Although now,” Webster added with a laugh, “you don’t notice how much you’re spending.”