The Welland Farmers’ Market is trying to find its place in the post-pandemic economy

There are 47 active vendors at the Welland Farmer’s Market this year, according to a list on the city’s website, but not all looks well at Rose City’s downtown market square where farm-grown food and other products have been on sale for over a century.

In September 2020, a former municipality employee told the Welland Tribune that a normal number of shopkeepers and peddlers, before the COVID-19 pandemic, was around 60.

On a dreary, rainy Saturday in July, around 25 vendors could be counted inside the two buildings in Welland Market Square and in covered areas outside.

The market has been operating year round and has been attracting people from all over Niagara since 1907.

Although he’s stuck with the weekly gathering, which includes both indoor and outdoor spaces, Lyle ‘The Egg Man’ Packham, said recently that as summer began there seemed to be “a little less of vendors” than what is considered a typical Saturday in the marketplace.

But there are still enough options for people to browse their nutritional needs, said Packham, who has been a weekly market figure since the early 1970s.

“There are still a lot of vendors,” said Packham, whose parents started moving there in the 1930s.

“The last two or three weeks have been the best we’ve seen since COVID. Things are looking up,” he said, noting that soft fruits like cherries and peaches that come in season have created more sweetness every week.

He said some other sellers have chosen to jump the market because they have found it more lucrative lately to focus on their own retail sites – a lot to do with their inability to find staff willing to work on them. the market. during the pandemic.

He thinks there is room for more farmers to settle, which would have a positive impact for everyone.

“We can always use more suppliers because more suppliers mean more customers,” Packham said.

Johnson Farms of Fenwick is a Niagara-based company that opted out of the market.

The company has two stores where it sells products and there’s no turning back, said co-owner Nate Johnson, whose parents started their business in the 1970s.

Staffing was an issue, along with capacity limits imposed by the city and provincial government, creating much smaller crowds and fewer opportunities to turn a profit.

“If you don’t act fast, you don’t last,” Johnson said of the decision to revamp the business model, adding that they continue to frequent a market in St. Jacob’s and their operation has about 16 people. in its retail business. Personal.

“The way they’ve gone back to allowing people in” has had too much of an impact, Johnson said, also noting that Johnson Farms hasn’t been in business since the pandemic began in March 2020 and that the market has suffered closures and periods of time with strict capacity limits imposed by the province.

“As a farmer, trying to go out there to make money, it just didn’t seem feasible,” Johnson said. “I had to think fast and change my whole business.”

But things are booming at Johnson’s sites in Fenwick and another near the Fonthill-Thorold border.

“They’re coming into our stores now,” Johnson said of the customers they would normally see on Saturdays in Welland.

Tori Royer, leisure coordinator and market manager, said the number of vendors outside depended on the weather, but added that the number of customers who had come in recent weeks had increased and that “most” of the 47 vendors listed on the city’s website are coming to market this summer.

She said it was difficult to determine the exact number of visitors each week due to the multiple entry points into the market square, but estimated that the summer saw an average of between 1,600 and 2,000 people .

“Maybe it was a little higher back then,” she said when asked how those numbers compared to the pre-pandemic period, also adding that she had resumed her role in April 2021.

But because there are no regulations in place currently, crowds have been larger this summer, Royer said.

Hand sanitizer is recommended on entry and vendors must provide proof of double vaccination or a negative test result on market day, she said when asked what rules were still in place .

She didn’t have an exact figure, but admitted some farmers had to unplug from the market due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Because of what happened, they had to pivot and change their business model,” she said.

Royer said West Niagara’s Mingle Hill Farms is another company that stopped coming into the market because it focused on sales of its own property.

“These were successful, because of the limited access people had,” she said of farmers opening shops due to lower footfall on previous market days.

The market was closed for more than two months at the start of 2021, and during the opening periods in 2020 and 2021, additional staff have been recruited to monitor capacity and enforce the use of one-way entrances and exits unique.

“I think it turned a lot of people off because of the lineups,” she said, adding that the city had taken “a bit stricter measures” choosing not to just give directions to people. customers through signage and to hire staff to do so.

“We wanted to make sure everything was done perfectly well,” Royer said.

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