CHICAGO — For decades, the farmers market in Wicker Park has been a staple of summer weekends. But in a pandemic, new rules have led to new problems.
Case in point: long-time vendor Nichols Farm is not at the market. Instead, they’re down the street, socially distanced and giving away their produce to hospitality workers and those in need.
In a letter to customers, Todd Nichols said they’re giving away thousands of dollars in product after a personal issue led to them being removed from the market after 20 years.
He said his employees were targeted for COVID-19 violations of lowered face masks during set up and lack of a social distance barrier for customers.
“But both of those things we remedied quickly and the rope we’ve been in compliance ever since,” Nichols said.
The market added new restrictions in the coroanvirus era, adding ropes and barriers between customers and vendors, preventing customers from touching produce until it’s purchased.
Market manager Alice Howe said there was nothing personal about the decision to banish Nichols after city inspectors noted violations; it was business.
“We decided it was best for our market, the season, that we don’t want anything to be jeopardized,” Howe said. “We already missed a whole month of the market. We have many other small businesses that are also struggling right now that want the opportunity. And it will follow the rules so we had to give them that opportunity.”
With the number of vendors cut in half from 40 to 20 this season, Howe said she needs everyone on board with the new rules from the start.
It’s something Nichols says they were able to do, but it’s a learning curve. Now, they are successfully going to eight other markets in the area. He says their pre-order customers will still find them a block away for the season.