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Local artists lose business without Bellingham Farmers Market sales

The exit of the modified farmers market from across the street on Saturday, Apr. 11. During the first farmers market of the season since the quarantine started, a limited amount of people were allowed in at once and vendors inside were spread out, practicing social distancing. // Photo by Thomas Hughes

New regulations at the local farmers market mean many businesses will have to sit out this spring

By Bailey Sytsma

The Bellingham Farmers Market made its first spring appearance on Friday, April 11, with its usual hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. but, because only farmed goods are considered “essential items,” artisans were unable to sell their products.

Lois Dahl, owner of the local business The Whimsical Rabbit, has been unable to sell her art at the market which she said she relies heavily on in order to make her art business work.

“Since the shutdown, the venues where I've taught classes have closed and classes canceled, the shops that consign my cards have closed and the Bellingham Farmers Market is excluding crafters from the mix of vendors, deeming them nonessential vendors,” Dahl said.

The market is required to manage crowds while observing social distancing guidelines.

“In Gov. Inslee's proclamation, farmers markets are listed as essential infrastructure under the Food and Agriculture sector,” said Lora Liegel, Bellingham Farmers Market director. “We are only allowing food vendors at this time and focusing on farm fresh produce and goods.”

The Bellingham Farmers Market has had a positive impact on businesses like owner Tiffany Bell’s Ten Fold Farm, which depends on local sales for profit. Once businesses were shut down, they began to sell online as well as having at-farm pick-ups.

“The Bellingham Farmers Market opening again has definitely helped,” Bell said. “Farmers who attend farmers markets plan for those sales in advance.”

With the COVID-19 outbreak shutting down non-essential work, businesses like Ten Fold Farm, as well as The Whimsical Rabbit, have turned to social media and delivery as a new form of marketing.

James McCafferty, director of the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University, calls this a disaster-type of recession, which means that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the economy. Rather than the recession being created from an economic dilemma, the recession was formed by a pandemic, McCafferty said.

Tapping resources, such as Western’s Small Business Development Center and working out payment plans with their landlords, are a big factor for local stores that hope to survive the pandemic’s economic fallout, McCafferty said. (As well as not having any financial difficulties before the pandemic began, such as unsteady sales or being behind on payments.)

There are many ways to support local businesses during this difficult time with the safety regulations that have been created since the pandemic.

Claudia Murphy, the Bellingham Police Department’s spokesperson and media liaison for the Whatcom Unified Command’s Joint Information Center, said that going to the local farmers market should be treated as if you were going to the local grocery store.

“Don’t linger in one area,” Murphy said. “If a vendor has multiple people waiting, visit another vendor while you are waiting for them to assist other customers,” adding that people should stay a minimum of six feet apart and stay home if they’re sick.

Local vendors at the farmers market are listed on the Bellingham Farmers Market website.

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