Main Street Delaware’s ever-popular farmers market could soon make a return to its standard downtown location. Main Street Delaware has submitted a plan it feels will allow for the safety of all involved in the market, and a discussion on the farmers market was held during Monday’s meeting of Delaware City Council.
Caroline Pusateri, the event coordinator for Main Street Delaware, highlighted the plan for those in attendance. As part of the presentation, Pusateri displayed a map of how the vendors would be positioned downtown, including an expanded area for the market to include considerable social distancing measures.
Since May, the farmers markets have been held at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. Pusateri said the space used at the fairgrounds totals approximately 700 linear feet, whereas the sidewalks along Sandusky and William streets would provide approximately 1,500 feet for vendors to space themselves out. She added the proposal accounts for as many as 45 vendors, although MSD’s max for one market this season has been 38 vendors, and that number is expected to decrease as the season grows later.
“With the amount of space in between each vendor being more than 10 feet, there would be space if a line were to form at any given vendor’s tent … for people to still walk past while keeping their distance,” Pusateri added.
Delaware General Health District Commissioner Sheila Hiddleson is currently reviewing the plan in conjunction with Delaware City Manager Tom Homan and Main Street Delaware to decide whether or not the time is right to allow the market to return downtown.
“It does seem like, with the numbers going in the correct direction, and with more people wearing those masks, that it is a time to look at that and see if we can go ahead and open it up and trust our community to do the right thing in order to help our businesses and to help us learn how to return to this new normal,” Hiddleson said.
She added one of the remaining concerns is that the fairgrounds has a quality way to control how many people are coming in and out of the market, with the ability to decide if too many people are at the market at any given time.
The issue of whether or not to bring the market back to downtown extends deeper than tradition. Councilwoman Lisa Keller said she has been contacted by several downtown business owners who are asking for help because they are “suffering” with declining sales in the midst of this pandemic.
A survey sent out to downtown business owners by Main Street Delaware showed that 80% of them supported bringing the farmers market back in hopes of increasing the foot traffic and business in downtown stores.
“As leaders, I think it is really important that we make sure that if we have extreme measures, they work in extreme circumstances,” Keller said. “If you take a look at our numbers, we can’t justify having these extreme measures any longer when we have businesses that are participating in safety protocols, making a commitment to follow all of the distancing guidelines — every bar that we have set, these businesses have met the challenge … In return, they haven’t been given anything when the numbers have gone down.”
Keller went on to say that 21% of Delaware’s small businesses have already closed or will soon do so due to severe revenue decreases. She challenged Delaware’s leaders to provide a “lifeline” to those businesses to help them pull through or risk losing part of the downtown.
“If not, be prepared to walk down your downtown and see ‘out of business’ signs,” she said.
Todd Daughenbaugh, owner of Fresh Start Cafe and Bakery, said that despite businesses doing their best to follow all protocols to keep both staff and customers safe, the number of people visiting downtown continues to decrease. He attributed the decrease in foot traffic to the cancellation of all events downtown, which he feels sends a message that downtown Delaware is not safe.
“By moving the farmers market to the fairgrounds, it sent a message that the fairgrounds are safe, but downtown is not, when, in fact, downtown has more space to safely spread out and distance,” Daughenbaugh said. “No one is proposing we ignore safety guidelines and protocols, but these events can be done in a well-planned and safe manner.”
Daughenbaugh cited the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) that has been in place downtown this summer, which he said hasn’t led to any spikes in cases even though it spans multiple days, where the farmers market last just a few hours of one day.
“I can understand that some are fearful of changing anything right now because things are going well, and we don’t want to disrupt the current state,” Daughenbaugh went on to say. “However, at some point, we as a community are going to have to get past the fear of the unknown and learn to live with this virus in a safe way because it will be with us for some time … If we continue to cancel events and wait until everything is 100% risk-free, our beautiful and recently vibrant downtown will never be the same.”
Mayor Carolyn Riggle said, “I want nothing more than for this farmers market to come back down as long as we have Sheila’s blessing. She is the expert. She’s the one who understands the medical (field) better than any of us. And if she feels the program is good with what they’ve put forward, then I say we do it.”
Vice Mayor Kent Shafer added, “All the evidence we have is that we’re not in the crisis situation that we were. People are gathering in a number of other places, and here we’re talking about an outdoor venue for a few hours on Saturday. And it is important to our downtown merchants.”
Not all council members were in complete agreement with returning the markets downtown. Councilman Drew Farrell cautioned that if that decision is made, it needs to be with the public’s safety in mind above any other factor.
“The thing that we’re focused on is public safety,” Farrell said. “If we’re not assuring that, and we as city council are not equipped to make those decisions — we’re not a public health agency — we need to make sure we’re making (decisions) not because we feel that it is the right time, not because it looks good, not because it’s good for business, but because it’s good for public safety, which is what we as a city council have to protect.”
Councilman George Hellinger said he believes the reason the infection rate is decreasing is because of the measures that have been implemented, and now is not the time to reverse those measures.
“If you start opening it back up, we’re going to be right back into the thick of it,” he said. “That’s not just indicative of our city but of the state and the nation. And we’ve already seen that. I don’t know why we would want to undo the good work that we’ve done by opening up another can of worms.”
Hiddleson said she will continue to review the submitted plans with the expectation of making a decision on whether or not to allow the farmers market to return to downtown later this week.