Twenty six years ago a couple dozen local and regional farmers and a handful of crafters and food purveyors set up shop in the parking lot on Roosevelt Street between Carlsbad Village Drive and Grand Avenue, and so began the legacy of the Carlsbad Farmers’ Market. The year was 1994 and the Carlsbad Village Business Association finally, after months of public meetings, council meetings, and more, saw their dream come to fruition.
Jump to October 2020 and the market, now the State Street Farmers’ Market, is still going strong despite its hardest year in its history. It has been nearly seven years since the market moved to State Street to help bring more foot traffic to the Village to benefit the businesses downtown. No one knew that after years of steady growth, finally stretching its footprint to accommodate nearly 60 produce and specialty food vendors, that it would have such restrictive conditions placed upon it due to an unprecedented health pandemic.
Like any small business, the Carlsbad Village Association (CVA) pivoted and recreated its market to help it survive the times. After a seven-week shutdown from mid-March through the beginning of May, it reopened with some of the strictest health and safety business reopening guidelines in place. And, it opened with only 18 vendors, bringing back essential farm-fresh produce, meat, cheese, fish, and nuts. But it was a start.
In the beginning, only 50 people could shop at any one time and caution tape was abundant, making social distancing easier for both the vendors and the public. Signage and hand washing stations were placed throughout the market. In addition to a market manager and his staff, as well as CVA staff, eight volunteers were needed just to monitor entrances and exits, guarantee social distancing compliance, and hand out masks. The new safety set-up took two hours to build out at a considerable expense. The market didn’t break even for over a month. But, the gratitude of our local shoppers, who gladly stood in line to wait their turn inside, kept us motivated to keep going.
Here we are at the end of our fifth month since reopening, and thanks to the support of the city and its loyal shoppers, the State Street Farmers’ Market is going strong. The market still looks different than before, but it is as essential and relevant as it ever was. Gone are things like live music and food sampling. There isn’t a seating area available where you can stop and enjoy a meal. Rather than six hot food vendors inside the market we have three in an alley just adjacent to the market, thanks to a temporary private parking lot activation city permit and permission by the business community. We only go through 1,500 feet of caution tape weekly instead of 3,000 feet, and our volunteer core is down to four people. And, while we do not yet have any of our four crafters back at the market or even all of our regular vendors, we now can accommodate about 45 vendors while still guaranteeing adequate social distancing.
Operating the State Street Farmers’ Market in a COVID-19 world has been the most difficult thing CVA has done in the past five years. It has tested us on many levels and has taught us some amazing lessons. But the market is more than just an event. The State Street Farmers’ Market is part of the fabric of downtown Carlsbad. One day per week it has been the home for many Carlsbad-based farmers and cottage businesses. It has launched many Carlsbad businesses. Quite a few businesses that now have brick-and-mortar locations in Carlsbad, got their start at the Farmers’ Market. And some of our local vendors have been with us since the day it opened in the parking lot on Roosevelt Street 26 years ago this month.
CVA cannot thank its vendors enough for their patience during this difficult time. It also cannot express its gratitude to the loyal shoppers who return week after week who have been so gracious and supportive from the start. Here's to many more years together!