By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
“That’s $22.50, honey. Thank you,” Sandy Izzi politely said to a woman holding two bags of fruits and vegetables that she bought Tuesday at the farmers market in Sea Isle City.
Immediately after giving the woman her change, Izzi squirted her own fingers with hand sanitizer and adjusted the face covering she was wearing on a balmy afternoon.
The annual farmers market has opened for the summer, bringing some country flavor to this beach town. Just steps from the ocean, local farmers sell an array of fruits and vegetables from tent-covered stands in Excursion Park at John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Pleasure Avenue.
The popular market, though, is operating with some changes this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Vendors and customers must wear face coverings and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“It’s nice to be open to see all of our customers,” said Izzi, who owns Al’s Produce in neighboring Ocean View with her husband, Albert. “The only difference this year is this mask. It’s hot wearing it. I never thought I would see anything like it in my life.”
Izzi paused for a moment and then added, “It’s a trying time, but we’ll get through it.”
The farmers market, a summer tradition since 2010, is one of the few events in Sea Isle that haven’t been canceled so far this year amid the pandemic. It will run every Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Sept. 1 in Excursion Park.
Changes for this year include a single entrance to the market to control the crowd volume. A one-way pedestrian traffic flow has been set up to maintain social distancing. Shoppers are asked to stay at least six feet apart from strangers. Capacity is limited.
However, the main part of the farmers market hasn’t changed. Customers will still find the same succulent and super-fresh fruits and veggies grown by local farmers and sold at roadside-stand prices. There is also an assortment of food, non-alcoholic beverages, crafts and specialty items sold by other vendors.
Chris and Nicole Young, who had their 3-year-old daughter, Rowen, with them, were stocking up on corn, tomatoes, blackberries and blueberries on Tuesday.
“We’re buying anything that’s essentially New Jersey,” Chris Young said, referring to the Jersey-grown fruits and produce.
The Youngs, from Philadelphia, are vacationing at the shore for the summer. They didn’t object to having to wear a face covering at the farmers market. Even their daughter wore one.
“Five months ago it might have been strange. But it’s certainly not surprising now that we have to wear masks,” Chris Young said.
Lara Putnam, a vacationer from Hudson, Ohio, also said she didn’t mind having to wear a mask at the farmers market.
“Not at all,” she emphasized. “In Ohio, we wear masks a lot. Ohio has been pretty level (with coronavirus cases).”
Putnam, though, lamented that her shore vacation would not include more members of her family. She noted that her immediate family was with her, but her extended family had decided to stay home because of the pandemic.
“It’s a sad year,” she said.
Doris Monteleone, of Monteleone Farms in East Vineland, has been a vendor at the farmers market since its inception 10 years ago. She explained that business is down at her fruit and produce stand compared to previous years, but expressed confidence that things will bounce back.
“Our regulars are pulling through. They keep coming,” she said of her loyal customers.
Monteleone said she didn’t like having to wear a mask or gloves on hot days at the shore, but pointed out that it is far more important to keep safe than to complain about some discomfort.
“It has to be done because of the virus,” she said.