Despite more COVID-19 crackdowns in the past week, local vendors were still able to showcase their wares Friday and Saturday at the Lethbridge Exhibition Pavilion.
And this year’s Big Christmas Farmers’ Market was for the little guy as local businesses did their part to keep the local economy pumping despite a year hindered by the pandemic.
“It’s tremendous to be out here today,” said Dylan Lowry of Beyond Hot, a local business that gave shoppers an impressive array of hot sauces. “It’s very important because what gives Lethbridge a lot of uniqueness is the small mom-and-pop shops. We don’t have a lot of big-box, corporate stores. They don’t really care about local, they care about the bottom line. When you look around here, everybody is an independent vendor and we count on those smaller sales to get our families through those months. So for us it’s very important and we look forward to being social with the people out here. It gives them something to shop for and just to talk and be friendly.”
Lowry noted the importance of getting out, but still being safe and following all protocols strictly set out for vendors and shoppers alike for the two-day market.
“Everybody is cautious because of COVID,” said Lowry. “We’re going to have the attitude of don’t be a hermit, don’t stay at home, be protective, be cautious, but still enjoy your life. So I’m glad the market was still able to be held. Obviously, all of us are going to have lower sales and lower numbers, but that’s OK. It still gives us something to do. A lot of us are local, so we do count on this to pay some bills.”
Over the course of the weekend, all attendees, families and cohorts were required to fill out a COVID-19 screening form within 24 hours prior to attending the event.
Those who couldn’t complete the form online prior to arrival were required to complete a screening form before entering the venue.
“We have approximately 180 local businesses, artisans and entrepreneurs that are showcasing their goods here at Exhibition Park,” said Mike Warkentin, chief operating officer at the Lethbridge and District Exhibition. “They’re from all over southern Alberta. It’s kind of a unique mix and we’re happy to support them here.” Warkentin said their farmers’ markets — both at the Exhibition Pavilion and downtown — are Alberta Agriculture and Forestry approved.
“The other caveat is that we are at the maximum of 25 per cent of our posted Alberta fire code and we are well below that because we are maintaining an occupancy of 500 guests between all of our pavilions,” he said. “So 500 is the occupancy we are allowing in at any given time. Beyond that, people are being screened as they drive into the parking lot and are being temperature checked and screened as they come into the building. We are maintaining social distancing and, lastly, (have) masks or face shields for people who can’t necessarily wear masks.”
Lowry said sales have actually been better this year.
“Because everybody is forced to be at home and spend more family time at home, I think they’ve taken more notice to what the family enjoys. For us being a hot sauce retailer, a lot of people have started to explore that option. Could sales be better? One hundred per cent they could be better. But I’m just thankful for what we have and thankful to be a part of it.”
Like each vendor, Beyond Hot came equipped to operate under COVID rules. “We have our masks and we also have face shields depending on the different clientele,” said Lowry. “We have hand sanitizer that anybody can use and we also have Lysol wipes. We have a display we’ve had to change. Usually, we have bottles and samples and everything else. Unfortunately, that is no longer. So clients, if they touch a bottle, that’s the one they buy. If not, I grab one from behind the table. It’s just some precautionary items.”
The market followed a smaller Christmas Market Nov. 13-14.
“A couple of weeks ago we did the pre-event in conjunction with the other market that was going on here,” said Warkentin. “This weekend, the attendance is actually up. People are coming out and we obviously didn’t know what to expect with last week’s (provincial) announcement. But the consumer confidence we’ve seen is still very strong and supportive of local businesses.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough year for everybody. Small businesses in particular. When everything happened on Tuesday we wanted to make sure we were following all the guidelines and could prove that and, secondly, that we could still provide this opportunity. So many of our vendors depend on our markets to be able to showcase their products and actually sell their goods.”
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Dale Woodard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald