As with most everything this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed local farmers markets, causing smaller crowds and fewer sales. But not everything has been bad, according to vendors in Clarkston and Moscow.

At Clarkston’s Farmers Market at Beachview Park at the corner of Second and Chestnut streets, the total number of vendors are down from about 35 last year to 25 this year, market Manager Danielle Evans said.

Vendors and customers are required to wear masks. Customers have been required to wear masks for the past two weeks because of an unwillingness for people to practice social distancing, Evans said. Vendors have been required to wear masks the entire season.

Vendors now set up around the parking lot instead of in it, and customers are asked to go through the market in a one-way pattern from the east side entrance to the west side exit.

“The defined traffic pattern has been helpful for all the vendors,” local author Sanan Kolva said from her vendor booth near the east entrance.

Katherine Goslee, a vendor of jewelry and crafts, has added face masks to her sales inventory. Goslee said she is doing better at the farmers market than on the online sales platform Etsy.

“One-way doesn’t always work,” Goslee said, as some customers turn around and go back to a booth rather than walk around the entire market.

Some of the vendors missing from the Clarkston market include elderly sellers, vendors who have compromised immunity and some who fear exposure to the coronavirus, Evans said. One vendor has not been at the market this year because they had contracted the disease and while they have recovered, they have not had the energy to return to selling at the market, she added.

In Clarkston, weather and the pandemic really got the market off to a slow start, said Steve Purcell, who is selling produce and rock jewelry for the fourth year. He is business partners with his two grandsons, Kellan Purcell and J.J. Asker.

“Now, business is as good as it has been,” Steve Purcell said.

Produce seller Ginnie Knudson, in her second year at the Clarkston market, said the slow start this year might be attributed to people not realizing it was happening.

Tom Ball, of the Ball Honey Co., has seen fewer customers this year and his sales are down a little from previous years. He’s been a vendor for about five years. The customers have good intentions, he said, but the rules can be confusing for people. He, like all vendors, is taking extra precautions to limit the chance of infection through sanitizing his booth and product packaging and containers.

Suzanne Hyde, of Spiral Rock Kombucha in Lewiston, said there has been “a slow, steady stream,” of people at the market. And she said the Clarkston market remains the best place to buy fresh, locally grown produce.

Local support still there

In Moscow, the number of vendors and customers were restricted in the first few weeks of June. Now, more vendors are being allowed in and more customers are coming to the market as the season advances, according to several vendors.

In normal years, about 10,000 people come to the market in five hours, but this year the numbers are down significantly, said Amanda Argona, community events manager in Moscow. However, they are not conducting customer counts this year, she said.

Vendors are down from 130 to 140 in previous years to 90 this year, Argona said.

Attendance was down about 75 percent the first couple of weeks at the Moscow market, according to Aaron Alexander, from Brush Creek Farms in Deary and a vendor at the market for the past nine years.

While the attendance was down initially, sales per customer was very good, Alexander said.

“The locals definitely came out and supported us,” Alexander said, noting more and more people are turning out as more vendors come in. “People are getting used to coping with COVID. People are trying to be responsible, but knowing it’s not going away, I think it has brought the community together.”

Erica Reel, owner of Mariana’s Tamales, has been a fixture at the Moscow market for 12 years. The pandemic has changed the market a lot, but it has not all been bad. She used to sell 500 tamales in five hours, but this year she is selling about 150 tamales, she said.

“People understand the situation and people are really trying to support everybody,” Reel said, pointing out that most customers in the market seem to be buying from most vendors. “A lot of people don’t want to come out because they don’t want to get sick. It’s slow.”

Jamin Smitchger is a first-time vendor. He’s wearing gloves and a mask, and he uses hand sanitizer after every customer. He sells an assortment of greens and root vegetables, and this year he has to pick out the produce from his stand for each customer because of the new COVID-19 protocols.

Ames Fowler and Delaney Piper are vendors from the Hands and Hearts Farm and it’s their second go-round. They handle all the produce for their customers, sanitizing their hands between customers. They are grateful for the mask mandate.

“Our sales have been fine,” Fowler said. “We’re small and we’re growing into it.”

Customers are showing “a real desire and respect for locally produced food,” Fowler said. “It’s heartening.”

Wells may be contacted at mwells@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2275.