Anchorage summer markets reopen to mixed results
The opening weekend for the Anchorage Market typically sees thousands of people shopping at dozens of stalls, but not this year. During the coronavirus pandemic, the market’s first Saturday saw a small crowd and only 13 food trucks.
“Typically, on opening weekend, we have 150 vendors,” said Mike Fox, the owner of Alaska Markets and Events, Inc.
COVID-19 restrictions mean other businesses aren’t allowed to open.
The downtown market is set to open for 19 weekends and finish its season on Sept. 13. More businesses are expected to open as restrictions are eased.
Hand sanitizer sits at both entries to the market. Sick people are asked to stay away and some food trucks are mandating that face masks be worn. The market is strongly recommending that everyone wear masks.
“Anyone can come down and support these small businesses, but do so safely,” Fox said.
Despite the small crowds, food truck owners are excited to start operating again.
Karen House, the owner of AK Stuff Banana, said summer festivals being cancelled means the Anchorage Market has increased in importance for her business.
“It’s been tough,” she said. “It’s been really, really, really tough.”
Over at Wilderness Espresso and Ice Cream, owner Michelle Victory would typically have a staff of three people. With the need to maintain good social distancing, Victory is alone in her truck.
“Finally being open is amazing,” she said.
None of the trucks are providing seating and customers are asked to get their food and walk away to eat.
Jeanette Perkins, the owner of EmJays Mobile Foods, is busy roasting corn. In a normal year, the parking lot would be full of people.
“People are usually wall-to-wall coming through here,” she said.
Few people may be out but Perkins sounds optimistic. “We’re all trying to work together and keep it going, hopefully it will improve,” she said.
A summer tourism season with fewer people arriving from Outside means more Alaskans will need to come out and shop.
“I really hope Alaskans get out and support local and support small businesses because everybody really needs it right now,” Victory said.
The Anchorage Farmers Markets saw a steady stream of people for the market’s second Saturday open for the season.
“We’re selling really well,” said River Bean, the owner of Arctic Organics.
Bean had instigated his own coronavirus restrictions where customers could only pick up plants they had pre-ordered. There was some confusion from customers who were used to browsing. “We said, ‘No, you have to order online, and come back next week,’” Bean said.
The Saturday before Mother’s Day saw flowers selling well.
Carmen Moldovan, the owner of Northern Flowers, LLC., sold dahlias and mixed hanging baskets. The season has been a profitable one, something Moldovan puts down to a long winter and Alaskans stuck at home.
“People have been staring at their yard for two months and they’re sick of it and they’re ready for some color,” she said.
Seedlings and starts are also said to be selling well, explained in part by a concern over availability of food.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Anne Gore, as she picked up some tomato and sugar snap peas seedlings. “What’s going to be available in the stores and the farmers markets.”
Arthur Keyes, the owner of South Anchorage Farmers Market, said that “customers came out really happy we’re here.”
Around a dozen vendors set up shop for the market’s first Saturday of the season and three vendors sold out, leaving well before closing time at 2:00 p.m.
Keyes said one person per household is asked to come to the market during the current phrase of coronavirus restrictions. Face masks aren’t mandatory but virtually everyone was wearing one.
As the season progresses, more farmers are expected, selling produce as it becomes ready to be harvested. “The season is looking pretty good,” Keyes said.