Get ready, Haverhill: The annual warm-weather tradition that is the downtown Farmers Market opens for the season on June 27.
This year, however, don't expect to spend leisurely Saturday mornings sipping iced coffee while picking out perfect produce.
As organizer Jeff Grassie explains, state-mandated COVID-19 guidelines will force the market at the Merrimack Street parking deck to look a little different on opening day.
"There's no lingering at the market, no touching of the tomatoes or cucumbers," Grassie said. "For example, if you come to shop with us at Wally's Vegetables, you'll point and someone will bag it for you, take care of the transaction and that will be it. That will be different for people, because normally you want to get the best produce that you feel is right. There's no touching of any vendor's (goods)."
Grassie said farmers markets have been considered essential throughout the coronavirus crisis, just like supermarkets. When Haverhill opens its market later this month, it must adhere to the social distancing and hygiene policies put in place by Gov. Charlie Baker and state and local officials.
Vendor booths will be six feet apart and wearing masks is recommended, Grassie said. Hand sanitizer stations will be set up throughout the market for customer and vendor use. No pets are allowed and families are asked to only bring children when necessary. No reusable bags will be allowed.
In terms of crowd control, Grassie said, the market will be contained to the front part of the parking deck and will be cordoned off so there are two access points. When one customer leaves, another may enter, he said. Vendors will move under the deck in the event of poor weather.
"I think the Farmers Market is a great way for people to start coming out into the public," Grassie said. "Over time, these restrictions will all be lifted and we'll be back to the Farmers Market we're all used to, with live music and family-friendly activities, including the alpacas we had last year. The great thing about the market is that it's different every week. Things will go back to normal — we just don't know when."
Grassie had to trim the number of vendors allowed at the market initially due to space constraints, but expects to welcome more vendors as the season goes on.
New vendors this year include Bliss Bites (energy balls and almond treats), Flor de Cafe (coffee and teas), Kiss the Cook (hot to-go macaroni and cheese), Spicy Mike's Gourmet Condiments, Naturel Juicing, Polish Prince Pierogi, and House Bear Brewing, Grassie said.
Customers purchasing to-go items won't be able to eat them as they peruse the market, Grassie said, but rather can sit and eat at cafe tables on one side of the market.
"We have regulars every week who come to the market to start their day. It'll just look a little different now," Grassie said. "We'll get through it."
For a full list of vendors, visit teamhaverhill.org.