If provincial regulations allow the St. Albert Farmers' Market to go ahead this year, it will return to the downtown area – an announcement this past weekend that helped to alleviate months of stress for the city's downtown business owners.
Mayor Cathy Heron revealed the decision during a Facebook Live Q&A on Sunday. Though she wasn't available for an interview before press time, business owners who spoke with the Gazette expressed excitement at the decision to move the market back from Servus Place, where it was held in 2020, to the Perron district.
Bob Zechel, owner of Cloud Nine Pajamas, was “thrilled” at Heron’s announcement. Cloud Nine posted strong November 2020 sales. However, December's store sales, which usually spike, dropped. With no downtown events planned for December and the following months, foot traffic deteriorated and post-Christmas sales were equally soft.
“Half the battle is traffic. We saw a large dip in traffic and revenue when the market moved. We are strong believers that exposure is important whether people come in during the market or come back at a later date,” said Zechel.
Anyone who visits St. Albert’s downtown core will notice a bare minimum of traffic parked on the roads. More “For Lease” signs are visible on windows and some windows are even papered over. Most businesses have reduced hours.
An exception is Macrons & Goodies on St. Thomas Street. Owner Fadoua Derbel increased her operation to seven days a week instead of six.
“I’m now open seven days a week just to cover expenses,” said Derbel.
Upon hearing the news of Heron’s announcement, she stated, “I am very happy – not only me, but all the businesses.”
Derbel opened Macrons & Goodies on St. Thomas Street because the large amount of foot traffic from the Farmers’ Market provided a boom in summer sales that sustained leaner winter months. The pandemic depleted the summer sales, making it nearly impossible to cover expenses for the whole year.
“My landlord asked if I would renew my lease in 2022. I have no idea what will happen. But if there is no business, I can’t,” she said.
Fortunately, the market's potential opening is destined to offer businesses breathing room to restructure.
Curtis Crouse, chair for the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce, provided additional information on potential plans for the market. However, he noted that Alberta Health Services (AHS) protocols are out of the Chamber’s control.
“I want to tell you we’ll have the biggest, best Farmers’ Market ever. I want to signal that we’ll bring back the nostalgia or something people can count on. My biggest takeaway is that we don’t know. We don’t even know if a Farmers’ Market will be allowed,” said Crouse during an interview.
However, if the AHS regulations permit open-air markets, the St. Albert Farmers’ Market is planned to run on Saturdays from June 12 to Oct. 9 along St. Anne Street and St. Anne Street Promenade, stated Crouse in a follow-up email.
“Currently, the plan is to have the market running as two markets to control numbers, with strict entrance and exit with directional signage.”
AHS guidelines include requirements, although it is still unclear whether there will likely be a combination of area fencing, barricades and roped off-sections. If plans go accordingly, fences will be erected and removed weekly.
Zechel added, “We’re very optimistic about the coming year. We generally have a positive mindset. Don’t dwell on the negative. It's about what can we learn from this.”
During her Q&A on Sunday, Heron said Servus Place worked well last year for the market, but now the recreation facility is open again and needs its parking lot back.
She also spoke about the vibrancy a bustling market infuses into the normally quiet downtown core.
“It makes me super excited, not because I work downtown and can jump out of my office and have lunch, but because it’s a great environment for the downtown, and the businesses in downtown really noticed a lack of traffic.”