A procession of customers ambled through the Schenectady Greenmarket’s first day of outdoor activity for spring and summer on Sunday.
The strong turnout outside City Hall was indicative of the public’s growing comfort with outdoor crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers, vendors and customers seemed to agree.
As the market bustled, a full complement of outdoor diners were a welcome sight for restaurants along Jay Street.
“It’s not just us anymore down here, which is great,” said Haley Viccaro, chairwoman of the Schenectady Greenmarket board of directors, comparing last year’s dormant downtown scene.
Overall, in-person activities in the region appear to be on a comeback. Graduations, school sports, and church congregations are back in operation. Last month, the governor gave guidance for resuming weddings and catered events of up to 150 attendees.
The greenmarket is usually outdoors May through October, and indoors at Proctors from November to April.
The move outside was expedited a month because of COVID-19, Viccaro said.
The 70-degree day drew a sizable morning crowd.
Some market-goers arrived on bicycles, while others held children on their shoulders while on the hunt for farm fresh produce, meats and eggs, baked goods, international foods, and handcrafted items.
Other customers sat facedown for dollar-per-minute chair massages by independent contractors of Healing Path Massage of Franklin Street.
Jennifer Cross of the business said therapists will continue to offer massages at the market once a month, and they expect to be busy, given people’s stress levels these days.
Market-goers wore face masks and did their best to stand at least six feet of other patrons. Other market rules called for one customer at a stall at a time, to shop alone, and quickly, and to let vendors handle all products.
Clark Smith of Schenectady said he felt comfortable amid the crowd.
“Like anything else, just stay far enough away from people,” said Smith, who called the market’s move outdoors “a rite of spring.”
Ginny Zenefski of Schenectady stopped in the market to purchase lavender lemonade, then made her way to a local restaurant, Ambition Coffee & Eatery, for breakfast. Zenefski said she would return to the market after her meal.
Zenefski said she felt “perfectly at ease” among the crowd, having been fully vaccinated, and considering all the rules in place to promote social distancing.
Zenefski said she’s been coming to the market at least 10 years.
“I’ve never been disappointed.”
Jen Angelopoulos of Niskayuna, owner of The Furies Olive Oil, is in her second year as a vendor here.
Her company, which mostly conducts online sales, works with a consortium of organic farmers in Greece and a mill that processes its oil. The absence of a middleman, she said, guarantees its authenticity, freshness, and that it’s organic.
Angelopoulos said the business was launched just as the world was shutting down from the coronavirus. Nevertheless, she said she’s gotten the product out to customers in 48 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.
The vendor said it was great for the market to be outside again.
“You already see more foot traffic,” she said. “You see people really wanting to support the local community. It’s just great to be outdoors, and it’s wonderful that people are feeling more comfortable.”
‘A magic event’
A steady stream of customers stood for produce at Lovin’ Mama Farm of Amsterdam, which is in its fifth season at the Schenectady Greenmarket, said owner Matthew Leon, who runs the farm with his wife on his father’s land.
Leon said he’s a regular here and at a farmer’s market in Troy.
“Farmer’s markets are kind of a magic event because as a farmer, you can go and find a lot of people wanting your product,” Leon said. “It’s hard to find something like that.”
The market is also crucial to Leon because it cuts out wholesale cost of a supermarket or another middleman, and he said it allows him to scale his business accordingly, as he’s able to know just how much crop he needs to grow per market.
Leon said it was difficult to maintain the business when the greenmarket was shuttered from March 2020 until May because of the pandemic.
“We were surprised by that because it’s an open air market, and people were going to supermarkets anyway to get their food, and everybody was touching all the things on the shelf at the supermarket, yet you couldn’t come to an open air market and have me serve you with gloves and a mask,” he said.
During that time, they stayed afloat with online sales and setting up in front of the Trading Company and Superior Merchandise in Troy.
“Now, we’re cutting to just the farmers market, because that’s how we can make more money without more headache, without the extra work of bagging everybody’s product, and getting an online order for it,” he said. “We’d rather just take the money at the stand.
Leon said it’s important for all classes of people to have access to healthy foods.
“Get people with food stamps down here because they can get get double for their money sometimes,” he said. “Get people who need good nutrition and can’t have access to this food. We need them down here. We need everybody down here. We need people getting local food because it’s so much more nutritive, and it provides money to the farmers.”
Trolley rides planned
Relative to Leon’s thoughts about access, Viccaro said the greenmarket is working with CDTA to partner on a pilot program to bring low-income neighborhoods to the market via free trolley rides.
“We’re partnering with them to launch the trolley at the end of May, where we’re going to go into all the neighborhoods — Hamilton Hill, Mont Pleasant and Eastern Avenue — and do a 25-minute loop, bringing people down to the market who may not have access to food,” she said.
At more than 80, Sunday was the most vendor applications ever received by the outdoor market, Viccaro said. It usually draws upward of 70 vendors.
“I think a lot of people, because of COVID, started their own businesses, trying to sell more of their produce at markets around locally,” Viccaro suggested.