Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino defended reopening of the Chestertown Farmers’ Market on Saturday April 2 without public notice.
The market was held in Ward 3 at East Coast Storage on the corner of High Street and Morgnec Road.
Cerino said he deferred the decision on whether to announce the reopening to the market manager, Julie King, who wanted a “soft opening” to see how the layout would work and how the location would handle the vendors and crowds.
He said East Coast Storage was an ideal location to separate the vendors as required by the Kent County Health Department, which approved the plan.
He said there were no locations in the town that could have provided the distancing required without closing streets.
“We were able to locate a private property owner that has a pretty significant size lot in a commercially zoned area at East Coast Storage,” Cerino said. “The nicest thing about East Coast Storage is that their driveway wraps all the way around that building and allows the vendors to spread out significantly — and it allows us to give them a venue to sell their products.”
He said the property owner, market manager and health department were able to come up with a diagram that they all could agree on.
Cerino said the market was strictly controlled to ensure public safety.
“It was without a doubt the most highly regulated food purchasing experience I’ve had in the county since [COVID-19] started going down in March,” he said. “It was a relatively light turnout.”
“I know there are people out there that just really don’t think it should be open, ever, no matter what, and my biggest suggestion to them would be, don’t go there,” he said. “But if you do go there you are required to wear a mask.”
He said all the vendors are required to wear masks as well.
He said the town and the property owner would work with the health department to make any necessary modifications to ensure the safety of the market “as this progresses through the spring.”
Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, whose ward includes East Coast Storage, was upset that he was not consulted on the plan and only found about it the night before in an email from Cerino.
“I’m really upset about how this whole thing went down,” Tolliver said. “Even though it was on private property, I felt I should have been in the loop and in on the discussion.”
“I’m listening to these conversations and it seems like everyone knew about it but me until I get an email on Friday that this has already been decided,” he said. “I think as a common courtesy, and as the representative for Ward 3, I should have been in on the conversations on opening that venue.”
Tolliver said he drove by the market and it appeared well managed but expressed concern about the traffic at the intersection of High Street and Morgnec Road.
“I think as it goes forward there’s going to be some safety issues because that intersection is one of most heavily populated intersections in town,” he said.
He said as the market grows at East Coast Storage it will become a public safety issue. He said he foresaw the market wanting police protection to manage the intersection on Saturdays.
He said Ward 3 residents expressed concern why the largest African-American ward in the town had to be the place to experiment with a new location for the market and “put more people at risk.”
The other council members did not address Tolliver’s concerns.