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Coronavirus: Penticton’s community market cancelled, farmers’ market shifts online

– Faced with the ongoing threat of COVID-19 spreading at large public gatherings, the Downtown Penticton Association has cancelled the 2020 season of their weekly market. Downtown Penticton Association

In the wake of an order to restrict outdoor markets to fresh food only in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, organizers of the community market in downtown Penticton have decided to cancel the 2020 season.

The annual community market, a separate entity from the nearby farmer’s market, often draws crowds of 5,000 people or more on Saturdays, said the Downtown Penticton Association (DPA).

“We simply had to make the difficult but prudent decision to cancel,” said Lynn Allin, DPA executive director.

READ MORE: Kelowna farmers have first market of the year despite COVID-19 concerns

“Our board of directors and I were hopeful conditions might change soon enough that we could safely open the market this year, but the risk to our community’s health is just too great at this time to proceed.”

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First farmers’ market of the year in Kelowna – Apr 4, 2020

The DPA’s community market, where vendors of locally-made products sell their goods, has been a seasonal staple of Penticton’s downtown district for over 15 years.

Normally running for 22 consecutive Saturdays, it is the not-for-profit’s major annual fundraiser. The proceeds, in turn, fund other downtown events like block parties and the Tree Light Up festival.

But it also delivers important economic benefits to the downtown community, so its return in 2021 is a certainty, Allin said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Kelowna Farmer and Crafter’s market cancelled

“Many downtown shops and food and beverage establishments benefit throughout the summer and fall from the increased pedestrian traffic that the market generates,” said Allin.

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“Also, 200-plus participating businesses and vendors rely on sales at our market for personal and business income. These factors were carefully considered and are why we waited until the last possible moment to cancel.”

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The DPA says it’s in the process of reaching out to all registered vendors and it launched an online market place involving downtown businesses, which can be found here. 

Some vendors who have already paid the $850 fee have been told they will only receive a 50 per cent refund, prompting some outrage online.

Trevor Guerard, president of the DPA, told Global News on Sunday that its seeking federal aid, but right now, its the best they could do.

“This is one of two revenue streams for the DPA. It will help us stay afloat and keep the organization going, I think we’re at a point right now where everybody is suffering,” he said.

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“In the application for the market that all the vendors signed, there is a no-refund policy. So by offering the 50 per cent refund we are breaching that policy and extending that in good will.”

Guerard also pointed out that the DPA is a non-profit organization run by a small group of volunteers.

“I feel like sometimes we are vilified online and people just don’t really understand, we come across as maybe this big faceless corporation or organization when in reality it’s a very small group of people and we are all in this together,” he said.

On March 26, B.C.’s Ministry of Health designated farmers’ markets as essential food and agriculture service providers, but vendors of non-food items and other merchandise are prohibited to sell at the events.

READ MORE: B.C. government funding sows expansion of farmers’ market coupon program

Meanwhile, the Penticton Farmers’ Market is moving to an online platform in April and May due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, it said in a statement posted to its Facebook page.

The online platform was to launch this weekend, but organizers ran into technical difficulties.

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Once it’s up and running, orders can be placed online here, and customers can pick-up on Saturdays in the Penticton Community Centre parking lot.

Manager Katherine Harris told Global News on Sunday that the online platform will likely remain in place for the duration of the 2020 season.

“Whether that becomes in addition to some kind of physical market it is yet to be seen,” she said.

As for cancellations and refunds, Harris said its annual members who have already paid membership and stall fees are standing by the farmers’ market.

“I don’t think I’ve had a single person ask for [a refund]. We’ve had afew casual vendors that have chosen not to participate but our casual vendors pay as they attend the market,” she said.

“All of our members have been incredible and everyone has been so supportive and understanding of the situation that we all find ourselves in.”

There is no word on when the regular outdoor food market could resume.

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