WASILLA —The Friday Fling marketplace, a coveted a longstanding community tradition, prompted many to creatively come up with ways to save the season from COVID-19.
Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ailis Vann painted an overall positive picture of the 2020 season when reflecting on the past few months.
“I think with everything that was handed to us, we did pretty darn well,” Vann said. “We were just happy to have it all summer.”
The 2020 season was delayed due to statewide restrictions, so it wrapped up later than usual. The last Fling was Sept. 11.
Vann said it was one of the chamber’s top priorities to ensure a full season in spite of the delay, and they opened as soon as it was safe to do so.
Over 50 different vendors participated in this year’s market. Vann said that some vendors opted out while new ones came in. She said there were several vendors who signed up for the Fling after their normal events and venues closed down. She said that supporting local businesses through this time and any other time is “what the chamber does.”
Vann said the Chamber was able to safely navigate through the season without any major financial issues. She said they were able to retain a lot of vendor space by using social distancing.
“All in all, it worked out really well,” Vann said.
The Chamber received a $800 grant from the Alaska Farmers Market Association as they were gearing up for the 2020 season in June. Vann said that really helped them cover unexpected costs related to the crisis and retain a full season.
Vann was happy to announce that they were able to bring on two new local farmers who are just getting their start. She said the Fling is an accessible and inexpensive way to sell their produce and garner attention from the public.
“Farmers markets are essential to the life and livelihood of millions of shoppers and tens of thousands of farmers.” Farmers Market Coalition Executive Director Ben Feldman stated in a recent press release. “But farmers markets don’t happen by accident. It takes the planning, organization, and execution of dedicated individuals and community organizations. That work is harder than ever and farmers markets and the vendors who sell at them need all the help they can get.”
Vann reported an average of about 120 to 200 visitors an hour passing through Friday Fling.
“Some of our vendors said they had one of the best summers they’ve ever had which is fantastic,” Vann said.
Friday Fling has been around since 2002, and the chamber started running it this year. Vann said they’re confident that they’ll be prepared for next year, no matter what gets thrown at them.
“The biggest thing was being able to go all summer… This is our first year of running it anyway… It was a good learning year. We’re a small staff, and we adapted and did the best with what we had,” Vann said.
Vann said the public feedback has been positive by the vast majority.
“They felt safe… and they could just enjoy live music, grab some food, and feel like normal life was possible,” Vann said.
The next big event in Palmer is the annual Small Business Saturday series of events held by local business owners with the support of the chamber in November. After that, one of the biggest downtown events of the year, Colony Christmas.
Vann said they’re moving forward with Colony Christmas as planned, with the indoor craft market as the only subject left to figure out. She said the parade and other events are still going on and they will make their final decisions in November.
“We want our town to stay full of great shopping and eating,” Vann said.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org