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Juneau Public Market returns with strict COVID-19 vaccination rules

Published: Nov. 26, 2021 at 7:19 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - A mainstay of the Juneau holiday season is back in person after a year operating virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 39th Juneau Public Market will be held at the Centennial Hall over the Thanksgiving weekend. There are strict COVID-19 restrictions in place, including that all vendors and attendees show proof of their fully-vaccinated status.

“One thing we can brag about this year is that we’re running the safest show in Alaska,” long-time organizer Peter Metcalfe said.

The vaccine requirement has proven divisive. There are fewer vendors than in 2019 and Metcalfe expects fewer visitors than prior years.

“I got some pretty negative blowback from people thinking we’re limiting their freedoms,” he added. “We don’t want anybody to get ill doing this, it’s about the holidays and it’s about fun.”

The vaccine and masking requirements were implemented by the City and Borough of Juneau’s emergency management team. Juneau has one of Alaska’s highest vaccination rates and case rates have dropped since recent highs, but one consequence of the market’s rules is that most children under the age of 12 are unable to attend.

Metcalfe says around 130 vendors will be participating. Many sell Alaska-made art and holiday gifts and some say it’s a critical source of their annual revenue.

Rebecca Poulson, a Sitka-based artist and owner of the Outer Coast, says she has been operating an online store to sell her watercolors, prints and calendars during the pandemic, but she’s excited to be back selling her wares in person.

“It was no substitute, not by a long shot,” she said about online sales.

Wrangell-based artist Brenda Schwartz-Yeager agrees. She has sold watercolors of Alaska maritime scenes at the market for around 25 years.

“It’s just not the same when you’re not face to face,” Schwartz-Yeager said.

Despite the divisiveness over vaccine rules, the hall was busy on Friday afternoon and a long line of people stretched outside before doors opened at noon. Juneau resident Trinity Letterman has long come to the market and said it didn’t look all that different compared to other years.

“It’s really nice to see everybody here,” she said.

Artists and other vendors have come from across Alaska for the three-day event. Anchorage glass artist Sarah Chatfield says it’s great for people to come up and handle her works.

“It’s my biggest show of the year,” she said. “I do longer shows that add up to more money, but my daily average at this show is the best. It’s a big deal for it not to happen.”

After a tough couple of years for small businesses, fingers are crossed that the market is profitable. But, there was some caginess about revenue expectations.

“You don’t ask a woman her age and you do not ask a vendor what they want to clear!” Poulson said while laughing.

The market will run through Sunday evening and costs $8 per person to attend all three days.

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