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Farmer’s Market: How are local businesses handling the effects of COVID-19?

It’s safe to assume that COVID-19 and its effects have been on all of our minds for the past couple months and local businesses are not exempted from this cohort. A steep surge in unemployment continues to shake the US workforce in the wake of COVID-19, and even as initial steps are underway to ease lockdowns, jobs and the economy remain vulnerable. The challenge is especially harrowing for small businesses, which accounts for a disproportionate amount of fragile jobs. In a college-centric town, such as Beloit, the local businesses heavily rely on our contributions and admiration for their produce; eliminating such customers have had a larger impact on businesses that we can expect. There is a serious danger that the loss of work will affect those who can least afford it, since workers in these occupations have lower wages and educational attainment. Many of us have changed our food buying habits over the last few months: how often, where, and what kinds of food we buy. While it’s too early to tell what the long-term impacts will be, the pandemic has already had mixed effects on our local food system. When we put in place new social distancing and other safety guidelines, our farmers’ markets transformed from destinations for a leisurely shopping trip to places to get fresh food as quickly and with as little contact as possible. This can be seen every Saturday on Broad and State street, where the Beloit community congregates from 9m till noon. Though the farmers’ market still has a loyal following, many market days had lower sales than last year, and sales varied greatly depending on the market and vendor category. Small businesses are recognized as providing a vibrant source of innovation and competition, and an essential source of employment. They are suppliers and customers to the broader economy and deeply embedded in local communities. There is still a long journey ahead. More should be done to understand the underlying fragility of individual sectors and firms over the medium and longer term. Such an analysis will be helpful in understanding how to best support small businesses, their owners, and their employees through and after the COVID-19 crisis. The Beloit community have taken significant steps to support small businesses and their employees. One such example is seen through Downtown Beloit Association’s decision to have 47 vendors featured every Saturday, and capping the communal crowd to 300 people within any given hour. The farmers’ markets and the featured vendors have always been central to the Beloit College experience, and as students, it’s imperative that we help our community and local businesses in any way we can. 

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