COVID-19 has affected the Chicago area’s many street markets in different ways — some temporarily closed shop. But this year, the majority of them are back with safety protocols at the forefront.
Nicole Benjamin, Director of Special Events for the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, said that this year’s Lincoln Square Farmers Market is running off of last year’s momentum.
“I will say while last season did become successful, it was a nail biter,” Benjamin, who helps run the farmers market said. “I’m grateful we were able to turn lemons into lemonade. Being able to implement the protocols, needing equipment that we didn’t have, bringing in a group of volunteers we didn’t need before to work with our market manager … to make sure all the vendors and shoppers felt safe.”
Having an outdoor space where people feel safe to shop and are able to purchase food that has “touched the least amount of hands as possible going from farm to market to table” has been a priority for many street markets and the residents shopping at them, Benjamin said.
This season they’ve been able to see even more of the positive response from shoppers since restrictions have eased.
Wolff’s Flea Market, an operation out of Rosemont that has been running for over 30 years, was not able to open last season due to the pandemic.
“We’ve had to go through a lot of communication with the state to get properly classified as a shopping location,” said David Wolff, owner of the flea market. “Once that approval came, we opened on April 18 of this year. We’ve been down vendors, but up significantly on customers. Some vendors are still hesitant to come out.”
According to Wolff, there has been a 20% increase in customers since 2019. Wolff says it’s a sign of recovery from last year when “families with small businesses were hurting because they didn’t have a place to sell.”
For the Pilsen Community Market, space restrictions have been part of the challenge.
“We want to be able to bring the community in and have the local shoppers know where they’re getting their food from,” said Esmirna Garcia, Board President of the Pilsen Community Market. “But there’s a lot of vendors who don’t exactly sell food. Because we want to give space to everyone, there is a challenge keeping the market 70% food and 30% products in order to still be considered a farmers market.”
Wolff hopes his flea market continues to see the same trends as the season goes on.
“We started getting back to picking up where we left off, but we’re still looking to see how things play out because it’s still early,” he said.