Soda City Market returns to main street amidst coronavirus pandemic

Soda City Market returns to main street amidst coronavirus pandemic

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Friday, Governor McMaster urged people clearly and repeatedly in no uncertain terms to wear a mask and by Saturday morning it seemed many Columbia residents were finally listening.

Soda City Market founder Emile DeFelice said he was nervous all night before the market’s reopening. He was thinking about whether people would take the proper precautions, wear a mask, and keep their distance as they go back to the Main St. open-air market.

“It’s far better than I would’ve expected or even hoped,” DeFelice said. “There is nowhere in the Midlands that is more cheerfully mask compliant than this street right now, we’ve seen less than a dozen mask less individuals and most have them have been shouted at by other guests,” DeFelice added.

Vendors said they were told to wear masks when working with customers, were only allowed to give out prepackaged free samples, must have different people handling food and money, and needed to clean all surfaces regularly.

Many businesses adapted and even took stricter approaches than were asked to impose.

DeFelice said one of the vendors he was nervous about was Livingston Farms, a wholesale produce seller that he said usually attracts long lines and crowds. Owner Jane Livingston said business hasn’t been great for them because of the pandemic, but they are getting by. Livingston said a huge portion of her revenue comes from selling direct to consumers at farmer’s markets and many have been shut down or experiencing fewer people than before COVID-19.

“We would be somewhere every day maybe even two a day, but now we are maybe at three or four [markets] a week,” she said.

However, while business has slowed down, her crops were still growing up.

She said she has been trying to do everything she can to not waste any produce and has been donating a lot of excess fruits and vegetables she hasn’t been able to go out and sell.

“We can’t stop them. We planted like 8,000 tomato plants and they are all coming out. So we are just going to have to wholesale some and hope and pray we can get rid of them,” Livingston said.

On Saturday, she took a different approach than she had before COVID-19, and she sold prepackaged boxes of produce rather than allowing customers to assemble their own. Regulars at her booth didn’t seem to mind and they said they were just happy to see her back and to see her business was still running. But despite setbacks and lost profits, Livingston is optimistic.

“We’ve been blessed, so we’ll make it…one day at a time. It’s what we do,” she said.

While most of the vendors on Main St. Saturday had learned new skills, relied on online sales, focused on deliveries, and found ways to stay afloat during the coronavirus business shutdowns having the market again is a valuable part of their business they are finally getting back.

“It’s much better for us because we don’t have a store...here this is our place,” said Paella South employee Ana Gutierrez.

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