La Jolla Open Aire Market seeks to be ‘like a little community’
Even with strict social distancing policies and a rearranged layout, the La Jolla Open Aire Market still welcomes 115 unique vendors every Sunday, many of which have been with the market for decades.
With 30 farmers, 40 gourmet food court vendors and about 45 artisans, the Open Aire Market and the merchants have worked together to keep one another afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our market has become more popular than ever because the community appreciates being able to shop in a safe outdoor environment with such great food and unique items from local artisans,” said market manager and “chief foodie” Julie MacDonald. “We have such a regular following and new customers, and I think people supporting small farms and businesses has become more important than ever. Our vendors are doing well, which is great to see, because it was rocky when the pandemic first happened.”
At the onset of the pandemic last year, the market had to close entirely for two weeks. As restrictions relaxed, amenities were able to return. First, customers and vendors came back at reduced capacity (35 vendors, down from the pre-pandemic average of 150), and customers were only allowed to grab their items and go. Then, capacity increased; then onsite food preparation was allowed. Most recently, patrons were allowed to buy food and eat it onsite.
“That’s been great because the market has always been a place where people would hang out for hours, so it’s nice to get closer to getting back to that,” MacDonald said.
Now the market is back to its “one-stop shop” reputation, carrying local organic and conventional produce, eggs, breads, cheeses, meat, seafood, nuts, jams, olive oil and dips, baked goods and more; a food court with international options; and handcrafted goods and locally grown flowers.
But there are still COVID-19 safety precautions in place.
“We have a little more room than other markets and can be a little more flexible about open space,” MacDonald said. “We follow strict social distancing guidelines and health and safety protocols. Vendor booths are six feet apart, there is space in the aisles for customers to socially distance. We require masks while shopping and walking through the market. Customers can only take masks off at a table and while eating or drinking. We also have handwashing stations and hand sanitizers. We offer no-touch shopping and designated entry and exit points.”
Further, Open Aire Market volunteers are stationed at the entrance to make sure people wear their masks and know the rules, and answer any questions guests might have.
“We want our market to feel like a little community, a little family,” MacDonald said. “With our customers and our vendors, we do what we can to keep everyone safe. It’s a pleasant environment. Our vendors are super friendly, they love to talk about what’s in season and what something tastes like. Our vendors recognize repeat customers, so we want to instill that welcoming philosophy.”
Proceeds from the nonprofit Open Aire Market go to La Jolla Elementary School to fund programs and services such as music, arts and technology and help keep class sizes small. It was started by former La Jolla Elementary parent Sherry Ahern in 1998.
“When you shop at the La Jolla Open Aire Market, you’re not only supporting small farms and business but the students at La Jolla Elementary School,” MacDonald said. “Everyone helps each other here.”
The La Jolla Open Aire Market runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays at the corner of Girard Avenue and Genter Street on the grounds of La Jolla Elementary School. For a list of vendors and to sign up for the newsletter, visit lajollamarket.com. Market updates also can be found at Instagram.com/lajollaopenairemarket or by calling (858) 454-1699.
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