By Emma Johnston-Wheeler
The St. Lawrence Market has demonstrated an effective and reassuring response to positive covid-19 cases amongst market staff. While many businesses have experienced temporary or even permanent closure in recent months, the St. Lawrence is staying open and continues to host its weekly Saturday Farmer’s market south of the main building.
Samantha Wiles, supervisor of marketing, communications and events, assures market goers that as a City of Toronto operation, the market is not only following the city’s recommendations but leading by example by publishing instances of positive cases on the Market website. In all circumstances of positive cases, Toronto Public Health has advised that public risk is low.
“The majority of cases originated outside of the market, and that those who tested positive and their close contacts, are self-isolating and monitoring for symptoms,” said Wiles. Toronto Public Health has investigated each case and continues to work closely with the St. Lawrence Market to determine public risk.
According to News Releases published by the City of Toronto, six Market employees tested positive in late December, and an additional four employees tested positive in early January. The Market website published two separate instances of positive tests, one in which an employee who tested positive last worked on January 9, before beginning self-isolation, and another as most recently published who last worked on January 21.
The City of Toronto’s online lockdown guide lists “do’s” and “don’ts” regarding essential purchases. They generally support the food industry via takeout and delivery, specifically endorsing the food vendors at St. Lawrence’s Saturday farmers market. The guide advises shoppers to attend the Saturday market alone, or with one other person if you need help carrying items.
“It’s a food source for a lot of people in the community,” said Wiles. For residents of the Older Women’s Network Housing Co-op just south of the property and other neighbours, the farmers market is the closest source of groceries. “We don’t want to interrupt people doing something that continues to make them healthy, like eating fresh food.”
Nancy Manotas has owned the Spanish and Latin grocer Manotas, on the lower level of the market’s main building, for a decade.
Kent Breedon, co-owner with his wife of Breedon’s Maple Syrup, similarly values fellow vendors.
The Breedons are now earning the majority of their income outside the market presently, making it unnecessary to attend the Saturday farmer’s market, but they consider it a team effort. “If some merchants stop going,” he said, “the market isn’t as good for the customers, and then the customers aren’t going to come.”
Rachel and Kay Rhee are father/daughter owners of Korean grocer Phil’s Place, which has occupied its present market location since 1982. The store offers a large quantity of local produce when in season.
Rachel Rhee believes that the pandemic has brought market vendors closer together. More dependent than before on one another to bring in customers, vendors give more neighbourly support, like trying other’s food and recommending it, referring customers to other vendors who supply products Phil’s Place doesn’t, said Rhee.
In Manotas words, “The merchants are the keepers of the market,” but customers keep the merchants afloat. It is a system of trust involving market vendors and organizers alike.
The regular market continues to operate Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. for curbside pickup and delivery. The building has a maximum capacity of 175 people, half the original capacity as per provincial regulations. But most of the time under 10% of regular capacity is used, said Wiles.
The Saturday farmers market is temporarily hosted at 125 Esplanade from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. While customer traffic is continuously monitored, visitors are encouraged to physically distance and to wear masks in all areas of the St. Lawrence Market complex.