For more than a year now, San Luis Obispo residents have been deprived of their beloved Thursday night farmers' market, which, unlike other smaller outdoor markets, has remained closed for the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic due to safety concerns. But there's finally light at the end of the tunnel: The market will be back on May 6.
- File Photo By Dylan Honea-Baumann
- THURSDAY NIGHTS The Downtown SLO Association recently announced that its Thursday night farmers' market will return on May 6, after a year-long closure due to the pandemic.
The Downtown SLO Association, which operates the Thursday night market, announced the reopening in an April 1 Instagram post. Although the iconic event will look a little different than usual, Downtown SLO Program Director Whitney Chaney said she's excited to have residents and farmers back downtown on Thursdays.
"Downtown just doesn't feel the same without Thursday night farmers' market," Chaney said, "in whatever form it is."
Before the Thursday night market's closure, anywhere between 5,000 and 14,000 Central Coast residents and tourists would head to Higuera Street every week, where the five blocks between Osos and Nipomo streets were usually bustling with scores of vendors serving up barbecue, fresh-picked produce, and everything in between.
Most farmers' markets offer services similar to that of grocery stores and are allowed to operate amid the pandemic as essential businesses. But night markets like downtown SLO's—which often include live entertainment, hot food, and informational booths—are categorized as special events or street fairs.
So while it's been business as usual for the many daytime farmers' markets throughout SLO County, it's been more than a year since SLO saw its last Thursday night market on March 5, 2020.
The market's format won't be quite the same this year as in years past, Chaney said. There won't be live music, entertainment, or hot food, and eating and drinking won't be allowed within the boundaries of market. It'll run from 6 to 9 p.m., vendors will set up shop on Higuera Street from Chorro to Osos streets, and masks and physical distancing rules will be enforced.
While the Thursday night market normally hosts an array of food and drink options, the pandemic version will mostly feature certified produce vendors and a limited number of vendors who sell products like bread, honey, and jam that are portable and aren't meant to be consumed on the spot.
Most of these changes, Chaney said, are aimed at keeping crowds under control and limiting attendance as much as possible. A lot of tourists visit the market for hot food and then stay to enjoy the live music or other shows. This format, Chaney said, will keep people flowing in and out of the market while still supporting market vendors, downtown businesses, and the Downtown SLO Association itself.
By early February of this year, Downtown SLO, a nonprofit that raises money for its own operations and services through events like the Thursday night market, estimated that it had lost roughly $200,000 as a result of the market's closure.
The market's downsizing, though, is only temporary.
"We really want to support our farmers," she said, "and we look forward to expanding as soon as we're able to." Δ