When the Princeton Chamber of Commerce announced in May that the city’s famous flea market had been postponed indefinitely, many wondered if they’d have the opportunity to search Princeton City Park for hidden treasures this summer.
However, folks got their answer June 17, when the chamber announced that the largest outdoor flea market in central Wisconsin would return each Saturday from July 18 to Oct. 10.
The market will be back, but it will be different to limit the spread of COVID-19. Vendors will be spaced out, the food stand will be empty and portable sanitizing stations will be brought into the park, according to Princeton Chamber of Commerce Vice President Mike Jacobi.
The market will limit its capacity to 60% of its usual vendors and will not accept daily vendors in an attempt to create more room for market-goers to social distance.
“[Daily vendors] are people that just come for a week here or there,” Jacobi said. “We are only accepting seasonal vendors that rent a specified place in the park where they will be setting up each week.”
Additionally, hand sanitizing stations and signage reminding folks to maintain social distance will be placed throughout the park. Bathrooms will be sanitized regularly, and attendants will be stationed outside to limit how many people can use the restroom at a given time.
Vendors are expected to wear masks when dealing with the public, and volunteers will wander the park reminding them to remain masked.
Jacobi noted the decision to close the food stand was made because it’s hard for volunteers to keep their distance inside the stand.
“We will not have picnic tables grouped up in front of the food stand either because we felt that it would encourage people to get too close together,” he said.
In addition to reminding vendors to follow protocols, volunteers will circulate the park to remind patrons to maintain their social distance.
“I may even carry a 6-foot stick around just to remind people, ‘Hey, this is 6-feet,’” Jacobi joked.
Normally, the flea market would have opened in April. However, this year, the market was unable to open because of the state’s imposed Safer at Home order, which was meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
When the Wisconsin Supreme Court ended the order in May, market organizers met with Green Lake County Health Officer Kathy Munsey to discuss how to move forward with the market.
After the meeting, organizers decided they would need more time to develop a plan to keep everyone safe, so they postponed the event.
“We thought that by the middle of summer, we’d be ready to do it,” Jacobi said. “We talked about all the steps we needed to take to alleviate potential problems, and we’re moving forward with it.”
A busy flea market can attract up to 10,000 guests, so not having the market has impacted the local economy.
“Not having people come to town for the flea market means they’re not coming to town to buy gas or do whatever else they’re going to do,” Jacobi said.
While the flea market boosts the local economy, ensuring safety is Jacobi’s main priority.
“When we looked at the map I created, showing how many spaces would be empty and how vendors would be spaced out to allow for more room, it just seemed doable,” he said, adding that if the event were indoors it likely would have been canceled.
Aside from creating space, he’s also concerned about people touching items without purchasing them.
Despite those concerns, Jacobi admitted there’s not much organizers can do to stop folks from touching merchandise.
“We can’t stop people from doing that, but we can encourage people not to touch things until they’re going to buy them,” he said. “Some people will respect that and some won’t; it’s just like going to the grocery store.”
Though the market is taking steps to keep patrons safe, Jacobi expects attendance to be significantly lower than past years.
“I know people, some people don’t care at all — they just think it’s all fine — and other people are very worried about it,” he said. “If they’re really worried about it, they’re probably not going to go somewhere publicly.”
Overall, Jacobi hopes the flea market can restore a sense of normalcy, while keeping attendees safe.
“When we made our decision, our first and foremost concern was being able to do this in a safe manner,” he said. “If we didn’t think we could do it safely, we would have just canceled it for the whole season.”