Singing birds, melting snow – yes, spring is truly here, and with it comes the promise of one of the hallmark events for the St. Albert area.
If provincial restrictions allow (and, of course, that's a big "if"), the St. Albert Farmers' Market will be roaring back downtown this June, to the delight of many nearby businesses. St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce Chair Curtis Crouse told the Gazette this week the plan is for the Farmers' Market to run on Saturdays from June 12 to Oct. 9. Like last year, it will be split into two markets, with strict entrance and exit areas and fencing.
The Farmers' Market has long brought a sense of vibrancy and vitality to St. Albert's downtown core. It's the largest outdoor farmers' market in western Canada and has for decades drawn thousands of people every Saturday to the city's Perron district.
Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the market was moved to Servus Place where the sizeable parking lot allowed for physical distancing and other practical COVID-19 precautions such as controlling the number of shoppers.
But the decision delivered a body blow to downtown businesses, who told the Gazette in September that they had taken a huge financial hit from the lack of foot traffic. That meant the loss of thousands of potential customers that were instead going to the city's Campbell Park in the east end.
One of the businesses that suffered from that move is Macarons & Goodies, whose owner Fadoua Derbel told the Gazette she saw a 50-per-cent loss in revenue from COVID-19 and a 60-per-cent drop in Saturday business due to the market's move to Servus Place.
Following news this week of the market's potential return, Derbel expressed happiness and relief. She's certainly not the only one who feels that way.
The St. Albert Farmers' Market is more than just an annual event for the city. It helps to breathe life into the local economy, and helps to sustain businesses and give them exposure to thousands of people. Cloud Nine Pajamas owner Bob Zechel told the Gazette this week that traffic to the downtown area is a key part of staying in business.
This year especially, the market is bound to also be a beacon of hope for people who spent more than a year weathering COVID-19 restrictions, lockdowns, cancelled events and loss of social interaction.
Of course, this is all dependent on COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations staying low enough for the province to continue reopening. Alberta delayed the next phase of reopening on Monday due to rising numbers of infections and because hospitalizations are no longer on a downward trajectory.It's a reminder that we are still in a tenuous situation. If we want to see the Farmers' Market return and other summer events move forward, now is the time to stay the course and bear with restrictions a little bit longer.