Update: Wednesday 5:30 p.m. — Following our original story on Wednesday, Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino decided to close the Farmers’ Market until the COVID-19 “caseload in Maryland is on the downslope.”
“The Farmers’ Market is definitely off on Saturday and will be until further notice,” Cerino said. He said the Kent County Health Department thought the vendors would be “too condensed” at Wilmer Park and preferred vendors be spaced 40 yards apart.
“We really don’t have any great spaces in town to accommodate an open-air market with that amount of spacing,” he said.
After a three-week shutdown to stop the potential spread of COVID-19, the Town Council voted to reopen Chestertown Farmers’ Market at Wilmer Park this Saturday under a strict set of guidelines.
Only food vendors listed on the map will have offerings at the market. Artisans will not be able to participate.
The 4-1 vote came after a lengthy discussion in a virtual town meeting Monday, April 6, where Ward 2 Councilman Tom Herz, the architect of a map designed to maintain social distancing at Wilmer, expressed reservations about reopening the market.
“I don’t want to open up the market without saying that we are opening up a vector for spreading [COVID-19],” he said. “This is a place where people will gather…and I think we should think very seriously about keeping the market closed until some of the restrictions have been eased.”
“We have a population in this town that is largely at risk,” he said, regarding the town’s elderly population. “We have cases at Heron Point and we have people shirking the social distancing [guidelines] despite their best efforts. I want to protect our older citizens as we consider this.”
Although expressing great concern about the decision, Herz voted in favor of reopening the market because it is an “essential” business under Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order of March 23 and exempt from closure.
“If the Market had to be open I wanted it to be as safe as possible,” Herz said in a brief interview with the Kent Pilot on Tuesday. “I think the way we’ve spaced the vendors and manage the entry and exit points at Wilmer is the safest alternative to closing it.”
Farmers’ Market Manager Julie King said the protocols would protect public health.
“I think we have protocols in place that make the market a safe place,” She said. “And we are providing an essential need.”
Although he shared Herz’s concerns, Ward 1 Councilman David Foster said reopening the Farmers’ Market would be an opportunity to “model good behavior and demonstrate that this can be done.”
Ward 4 Councilwoman Meghan Efland said the vendors would have to do their part to make sure sanitation and social distancing was maintained.
Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver shared Herz’s reservations and voted against the measure. He said vendors who depend on the market for their livelihood would have access to state and federal relief to cover their losses.