Once Deemed Essential, Farmers Market Now Closed

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Little Italy Mercado lets vendors and shoppers mingle over produce and flowers

Deemed "essential," San Diego's Little Italy Mercato Farmers Market is open for business.
Veggies for sale at the Mercato.

UPDATED March 25, 2020: In a reverse decision, and in accordance with a City of San Diego order, San Diego Markets’ farmers markets are now closed. Check here for the latest news.

March 21, 2020 – In a last-minute decision, San Diego’s Little Italy Mercato Farmers Market was open for business today. It came together in a slimmed-down fashion and with strict guidelines related to the national COVID-19 advisory.

Shoppers and vendors had wary smiles on the faces. One specialty vendor was overheard employing gallows salesmanship to a potential customer: “Good morning sir, how are we doing—need some hot sauce for the end of the world?”

Justine Marzoni of San Diego Markets, which operates the Mercato and several other farmers markets, manned an information booth early Saturday morning. She says company owner Catt Fields-White worked closely with the state, county and city officials. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared on Thursday that farmers markets were essential businesses.

Gov. Newsom ordered most retail shops, restaurants and indoor malls across the state to close.

It was decided Friday afternoon that the Mercato could open for business, according to Marzoni. She says Fields-White had been keeping in close touch with vendors—but had just one day to get the word out.

The popular Little Italy Mercato usually spans six blocks on West Date Street and includes 150 vendors. Today, the outdoor market on was thinned to three blocks and 30 vendors.

Keeping a Farmers Market Open

Justine Marzoni of San Diego Markets.

Special restrictions related to the worldwide pandemic are in place.  

“Everybody stays six feet away from each other for social distancing, says Marzoni. “All vendors have tables in front of customers so people can’t touch the products. Customers point to what they want and vendors will put them directly into shoppers’ bags.”

Vendors are also limiting the amount of cash they are accepting. If they do take cash, vendors must wear gloves and change those gloves regularly. Marzoni says many vendors prefer cash, but today are accepting no-contact payments like Apple Pay or credit cards.

In addition, she says, all vendors have handwashing stations in their booths. And, there are extra handwashing stations on each block of the market.

There was a just a trickle of shoppers at the Mercato before 9 a.m., likely owing to the short notice and unlikeliness of the market being open for business. It’s hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Marzoni says the company also has permission to open in Little Italy for regularly scheduled hours on Wednesday (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

Extra hand sanitizers at the Mercato.

The Mercato is not offering the regular slate of performers and musicians that usually inhabit street corners. People are encouraged to come out and shop—but not to hang out in crowds of any size.

Should crowd size become an issue, Marzoni says staff is prepared to limit and control entrance to the shopping area, per social distancing guidelines.

For now, with travel and social gathering highly restricted, the Mercato is a welcome outdoor respite. It’s open for those looking for human interaction, vegetables, flowers and maybe even some hot sauce.

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