Organizers have worked with city to devise a CDCcompliant plan
By Earle Kimel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
VENiCE — The Venice Farmers Market will open for business at Venice City Hall Saturday
morning, with a slightly different layout that will both accommodate for social distancing and ongoing city hall campus renovations.
Venice Avenue will be closed to vehicle traffic between Harbor Drive and Avenue des Parques so market vendors can showcase their products.
“We worked for several months with the city of Venice to come up with a plan where we could open in a CDC compliant way,” said Lee Perron, who manages the market on behalf of the Friends of Sarasota County Parks.
That model evolved from one where people would have been able to shop online and then drive by a location to have goods placed into their trunk to the current one, which is similar to the traditional market but with social distancing safeguards built in.
For example, each vendor tent will be set up 10 feet apart and volunteers will use hand clickers to keep count of the number of patrons who enter the market either from the east or west.
Just like aisles in supermarkets, shoppers will be asked to walk in one direction while shopping — specifically the same direction traffic would flow in each lane.
All market staff and vendors will wear masks and gloves, and sanitizing stations will be available. Restrooms will be available at the Heckscher Park tennis courts.
While service animals are allowed, patrons are urged to leave their pets at home.
Booths will be set up to minimize a customer’s ability to touch products — though those wearing a mask can still choose their produce and are encouraged to take what they touch.
Six-foot social distancing markers will be placed on the pavement, and the areas between booths will be taped off to discourage people cutting through.
Each vendor will have a payment station separate from where products are displayed.
“Everyone is in this together to create this safe environment outdoors,” said Perron, who worked on the layout with Venice Assistant City Manager Len Bramble.
The move to Venice Avenue would have happened even without the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bramble noted that construction on the city hall campus took away about 40% of the market area.
On top of that, the city has been working with Florida Power & Light to get electrical power in the median of the 400 block of West Venice Avenue.
“They’ll be doing, in the next few weeks, a new drop right in the middle,” Bramble said.
Aesthetically, it will allow the city to decorate the trees in the median with holiday lights, but it will also allow farmers market vendors in the westbound lane of the road easy access to electricity.
For now, they will have access to generators, while those in the eastbound lane will still have access to power from city hall.
Frequently asked questions are posted on the market web page, thevenicefarmersmarket.org.
The market is open from 8 a.m. to noon through September and until 1 p.m. in season.
While it is in operation, motorists traveling toward the beach should detour at Harbor Drive and Barcelona Avenue for the block, while eastbound motorists can detour at Avenue des Parques to Granada Street.
About 32 vendors should be at the market Saturday, offering the usual array of fresh baked goods, wild caught seafood, Florida grown mushrooms, boutique cheeses, locally roasted coffee and kettle corn.
Vendors offering handcrafted soaps, fresh cut flowers and nursery plants, as well as local artists will be there too.
The market, which is a nonprofit, has been working with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, since 2014.
Perron said the Feeding Florida network has worked out a deal where people enrolled in the SNAP program can double the value of their purchases at the market.
‘If you come up with $100 to swipe off your card, we will come up with $100 in matching,” Perron said. “For those people, right now, we are doubling whatever dollars they want to spend.” That program should be in effect through all of 2020.
“It’s a win for Florida farmers and the SNAP participants in our community and good use of our grant dollars,” Perron said.
The market will remain on Venice Avenue after the summer, as construction of a new fire station and expansion of city hall continues.
If it’s successful in that location, the process may continue after the new city hall campus is complete.
Perron also manages the seasonal farmers market at CoolToday Park and the seasonal Englewood Farmers Market. He said both of those are expected to reopen in the first week of October.
In the summer, the Venice Farmers Market typically sees about 1,000 to 1,200 people in a fourhour period. Perron is expecting about half of that to show up during the pandemic, or about 150 to 200 people in the market during peak hour.
If it looks like attendance is threatening the ability of people to properly social distance, volunteers at either end would temporarily halt admissions until other shoppers leave.
“You see that often in retail environments now,” Perron said.
Counting both sides of Venice Avenue, the market will operate in about 800 linear feet, with 300-foot-wide lanes.
“You should be able to handle that many people socially distanced for the 32 vendors that we have,” Perron said. “We haven’t seen it in person, but we’re going to, starting Saturday.”