By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on July 1, 2020
The Town of Nags Head will hold its first Dowdy Park Farmer’s Market amid the COVID-19 pandemic on July 2. But local officials cautioned that the weekly markets would not continue if attendees are not able to adhere to mask and social distancing requirements.
During the Nags Head Commissioners’ July 1 meeting, Planning Director Michael Zehner briefed them about what safety procedures are being taken in regard to sanitation, oversight and enforcement. “We obviously have concerns about holding it,” Zehner acknowledged, noting that 40 vendors are expected to be selling their wares at the event that runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Apologizing to the board, Interim Town Manager Greg Sparks said that while town staff had agreed the day before that it was best to delay the market season for an additional two weeks due to COVID-19 concerns, Sparks didn’t communicate that to commissioners until the evening. He noted that by that point, it would have been too late to notify vendors who had already made plans and prepared.
“Obviously, all of this is in flux,” said Zehner. “Where we were yesterday afternoon and evening, we had farmers who had picked produce out of the fields specifically for this, that were preparing for preorders they had received. We had those with consumables, that had baked goods. And we felt that [the short notice] would be putting our vendors in an unfortunate situation.”
The farmer’s market, Zehner said, will comply with the same requirements that retail operations must follow under Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order. “We are communicating symptom checks to our vendors,” the planning director asserted. “There’s a requirement, and I know this is the board’s expectation, that people will be masking.”
Sanitation stations equipped with coolers of water with bleach, along with handwashing stations, will be set up during the event. Bathrooms at the park will also be open and sanitized throughout the duration of the event. There will be additional spacing between vendors and no tastings will be held as in past events.
Zehner also said Nags Head Event Coordinator Paige Griffin has impressed upon vendors that “this is for a transaction to occur, not necessarily [as] in years past where it has been an opportunity for socializing…It will be a little bit different than in years past.”
Although staff indicated the Dowdy Park playground would be closed and roped off during the event, Commissioner Webb Fuller said that despite it being closed and marked off this summer, he regularly sees it filled with people, with no adherence to social distancing or mask requirements.
For her part, Commissioner Renee Cahoon said that was also the case at the town park at Whalebone Junction. She noted that with fewer activities for visitors to partake in this summer, she anticipated an influx at the July 2 market, adding, “I think it’s going to be more of a problem than anyone understands.”
At the request of staff, the commissioners unanimously approved a motion to unfreeze funds for a part-time event coordinator for 30 days to assist with the market, but acknowledged that there may not be a second market. They also directed staff to see that law enforcement be on site throughout the event to help with enforcement.