KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Italian deli was open, two produce stands. A coffee shop reluctantly offered walk-up service through a half-shut door.
Beneath an early gray sky and drizzle, the City Market was still and empty, The Kansas City Star reports.
Saturday mornings are typically when hundreds of people — sipping coffee, jamming produce and spices into plastic bags — pack Kansas City’s open air market off Fifth Street.
Not this past Saturday. It was the first weekend since concern over the spreading coronavirus prompted Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and surrounding counties to enact stay at home orders and close all but essential businesses. Because they provide groceries, businesses at the City Market would be deemed essential.
For hours early Saturday, often the market’s busiest time, no one was there until the sun broke out. Even by 11 a.m., fewer than 40 people roamed the stalls.
“Usually, on a Saturday morning, this early, you’re bumping elbows with people. I think I am the only one shopping,” Greg Peterman said around 7:30 a.m. He arrived to pick up fresh produce for his restaurant, The Mixing Bowl Noshery at 2934 Southwest Blvd.
He gets it. Everyone who works here gets it. People were told to stay home, better than to bustle alongside one another, hip to elbow, in what’s normally a packed market.
“I have a concern about the virus, that’s why I’m out so early,” Peterson said.
The only reason he came at all, he said, is that he’s trying to keep his restaurant afloat. It’s going “horribly,” he said. Going to curbside takeout, which is still allowed, has caused him to lose 90% of his business. “We’re trying to last through this so we’re open when we’re over this,” he said. “Cross your fingers.”
Without help from the government, he figures he has a month left. They’ve cut employees from seven down to one, other than his wife and himself.
The market echoed for lack of people.
Ben Wisdom, owner of Christina’s Produce, conceded that if he were in any other business, he wouldn’t be at the market, himself.
He has another business, Burrito Bros, a few market stalls away. He shut it down as soon as the order was announced. But he felt he needed to keep his produce business, named for his daughter, open — for his employees and because people need food.
“It’s harder to work now than ever,” he said, “mentally, not physically, because of the fact that myself, and my employees, could catch this virus.
“It would be a lot easier to stay home. ... That weighs on my mind every day that I come in, because I do have a family myself. ... It weighs on us every day. We’re still going to stay open and we’re still going to provide these commodities to your local community. We feel like it’s necessary to remain open and not shut down.”
A couple of hours into the morning, he’d made $12, when typically, he said, it would be $300 to $400. Luckily, he said, his business on weekdays so far is down only about 40%. If it drops to 70% to 80%, he’ll have a problem.
“Right now, as long as I can pay the bills,” he said, he’ll remain open. “I’m not looking for a profit. I want to keep things rolling for my employees.”
Farther up the market, in the northwest corner, Tom Jackson, 25, looked to be the only other patron present. He was grabbing a coffee at a stand set up inside the half-closed doorway of the City Market Coffee Roasters.
He was an employee of Corolla’s Grocery & Deli, next door, trying to support the business.
“I’ve been working here all week,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it working here for four years. ... It’s startling how few people are down here. But it’s good that people are staying home and staying safe.”
It’s just that dilemma that has Nikole Ammar, owner of the coffee shop, feeling torn. Personally, she thinks the mayor and the governor ought to close down the market and other businesses. She said she’s written Missouri Gov. Mike Parson three emails urging him to do so because she feels people are not heeding the stay at home dictum. Avenues for spreading contagion haven’t been cut off, as she believes they should.
“Like you can walk into QuikTrip and it’s essentially the same,” she said, standing behind a service table blocking the door. “What the governor did didn’t change anything. It didn’t change a thing. It’s scary. It’s not real to people. They’re not seeing the dead bodies.
“The only reason I’m open is because we care about the community.”
She doesn’t want to abandon her City Market colleagues, or customers or employees. She doesn’t want to tell people not to come, but she strongly believes people need to stay home
“Like I care about my employees, that’s why I created this,” she said of the barrier. “You can’t come in, but it’s still scary and dangerous and we’re still putting ourselves in danger. At the same time, I don’t want to make people not come. ... I appreciate their support. I don’t want to offend them.”
She already estimates that the stay at home order is likely to cost her about $40,000 through May. It’s a price she’s willing to pay. Despite being all-but closed, she and her partner, she said, have opted to pay their employees as if they were still working normal hours.
She and her partner are also giving $1,000 bonuses to each of their five employees to aid through the next difficult weeks or months.
“That, for me, is important personally,” she said, looking back at her partner and employee inside the shop.
By 11 a.m., under a pale blue sky, a few cyclists pedaled outside the market. Some 40 customers were inside.
Billye Tolbert, visiting from Arlington, Texas, to care for her mother-in-law, came wearing gloves. That morning, she brought onions, orange rinds, lemon rinds and sea salt, a vitamin C mixture, to a boil she said, to inhale the steam into her lungs.
She opened her bag at the market.
“Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables to be healthy while inside,” she said.
Not far away, Matthew Docstader, 48, of Kansas City, had just finished buying a few bags of produce from a vendor who wore a protective mask. He was somewhat surprised that so few people were at the market. He also said he was little concerned, at least at this point, about the virus.
“Not so much. If you’re going to get the virus, you’re going to get the virus,” he said. “Hope for the best, obviously.”