We are week away from our traditional Opening Weekend, and I for one am struggling a bit – 35 Days of Stay-At-Home is harder than it sounds. But I feel guilty even saying that, when we know so many are without homes or power due to the storms. By definition, none of us within the market community are built to sit idle - we thrive on the normally busy market season.
How the remainder of the 2020 Market Season will look is starting to come into view, although basic questions (when can we begin?) are still unanswered. There is some talk of national sports being cancelled for years to come, and for it taking up to five years before a vaccine/cure is available. All of that is wild speculation for the moment, but one thing we do feel is certain: for the foreseeable future, our historical approach towards our markets/events will not be possible. Social distancing, crowd aversion and conscious efforts to minimize public health risks are here to stay.
As such, we are expecting to make significant changes in the upcoming weeks. How long these measures must remain in place is outside of my capacity to predict – we will respond as quickly as our community will allow. But going from Closed, to Partially Open, to Perfectly Normal is going to take a very long time.
All Reserved Booth payments are being halted indefinitely; your record of having a RB will be retained, and used as a priority mechanism for future markets.
The booth layout for all Spring/Summer markets/locations will be changing. Once the markets reopen, you will not be in the location you were previously.
New market layouts will have a minimum of 10’ booth spacing, with 20’-30’ aisles. Vendor capacity of most locations will be reduced by as much as 60%. Hours will be reduced, and face masks/other personal safety measures required (as specified by government orders). If you’ve seen a safety measure elsewhere, it’s likely going to happen here.
Entertainment elements, themes, live music and other community-building efforts will be reduced or suspended. Onsite dining will not be allowed, but take-and-bakes will be encouraged. Much of the cultural fabric of the Market will be temporarily removed from our efforts. This is so very sad, but necessary to get pending approval for the initial restart phase.
We are exploring expanding both Chattanooga and River Markets into both Saturday and Sunday events – this will double the opportunity, and disperse the crowds to more comfortable levels. Collegedale will likely remain Sunday-only, but we will continue to have those discussions.
This is just a start of the changes. My hope is that we can exit this modified market approach by September, and perhaps Oktoberfest returns as a full-fledged festival. That would make me happy – but I don’t see may other large festivals before then.
Market revenues are going to be off by 25-50% this season, and I believe we will be in an overall recession for the next 2-3 years. The depth and magnitude of that recession depends on how quickly we can get the economy back to work, what businesses survive and how long we remain under this health threat.
We hope to have more answers soon, and I will schedule a vendor video conference/social hour once we have an approved timeline. I am in full agreement that postponing Opening Weekend was the right thing to do, but am equally anxious to set a restart sequence so that we can begin to recover.