Once upon a time, live music filled the air. The hustle and bustle of shoppers was audible. The evening air buzzed with energy. Lately, however, the Thursday farmer’s market in Fullerton’s Downtown Plaza is quieter than a library.
In stark contrast to prior market seasons, Wilshire Avenue is sparse with vendors and shoppers. Nine vendor canopies situated 20 to 30 feet apart from each other occupy the street and the plaza area. A bearded man gently plays his guitar and sings from the shade of the parking structure flanking the south side of Wilshire Avenue. Pairs of masked shoppers scattered here and there select produce, while others chat with vendors.
The live entertainment, children’s crafts, free food samples from vendors and the beer and wine garden put on by the Fullerton Museum Center all fell victim to COVID-19 restrictions. What was once considered the “fun market,” has become a subdued, significantly downsized event, said Ricardo Veloz, parks and recreation supervisor for the city of Fullerton.
Providing live entertainment would attract more than 10 people and qualify the market as a “special event,” which is not permitted under current state and county guidelines for operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Veloz said that the farmer’s market, in its modified state, “qualifies just as a program being offered.”
Like the farmer’s market, the recently defunded Fullerton Museum Center has felt the strain as well.
“The effect is we’re not getting that beer garden money every week,” said Kirk San Roman, president of the Fullerton Museum Center Association board of directors.
In conjunction with the market, the museum center gave out free children’s craft kits from a plastic table set up just outside of the wall, where people used to mingle and drink. Live entertainment will be permitted when Fullerton enters phase four of reopening. However, phase four might not start prior to the end of the market season in October.
Veloz said that vendors may find it difficult to come out to the sparse market each week, especially those who are not local.
Sunny Cal Farms, located in the city of Reedley in Fresno County, sells plums and other produce in the same spot where people used to dance to live music at last summer’s farmers market. Bryson Nugent of Sunny Cal Farms said they have maintained a booth at the market since the season started in April.
“We’re here for the long run. We have lots of regulars,” Nugent said. “We’ve been doing this market for almost four or five years now. People count on us.”
Sunny Cal Farms sells at various markets around Orange County throughout the week. Each market has their own practices for operating during the pandemic. But despite a decline in sales, Nugent said that “it’s still worth it.”
Other vendors, such as Fred Flowers, proprietor of Legacy Coffee Roasters came later in the market season, during the summer. Flowers said that though the pandemic put a damper on things, he is not motivated by the money.
“I keep coming because I like my community,” Flowers said. “I’m committed to my community and so I’ve just been coming out here and sharing and talking with people and you know just encouraging them.”
Despite the steep drop in vendor participation, the fun elements and overall attendance, the communal atmosphere remains strong.
“It’s all part of being part of Fullerton,” Flowers said.