Local vendors report brisk sales as People’s Open Markets return

As the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Hawaii remained well below the recent surge of infections, Honolulu residents found some semblance of normalcy in Saturday’s reopening of the People’s Open Markets.

The state Department of Health reported 110 new cases — and zero deaths — Saturday, with 100 cases on Oahu, seven on Hawaii island and three on Maui. The highest daily total so far was 355 cases on Aug. 13.

A total of 11,326 COVID- 19 cases and 120 related deaths have been reported in Hawaii since the outbreak began in March. Health officials said there are 6,584 active cases.

“This is a good news day today,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said in an Instagram post Saturday, noting the relatively low number of new cases, the low number of tests that came back positive for COVID-19, and the reduced number of hospitalized patients. “We’re beating this thing now. We’ve turned a corner. … We are succeeding now in bringing the numbers back down to Earth.”

Green reported 185 people hospitalized with the virus Saturday, down from 200 on Friday. Of the nearly 5,900 COVID-19 tests conducted, there was a 1.9% positivity rate.

Saturday was also a good news day for fans of the People’s Open Markets, which have not been operating since Aug. 8. The moving markets are generally held at city parking lots for an hour or less at a time before moving to another location. Saturday’s markets began at 6:30 a.m. at Kamehameha Community Park and moved to four other locations, ending at the Hawaii Kai Park-n-Ride lot.

At the Hawaii Kai location, which was open from 1 to 2 p.m., all five vendors had sold out of some produce before the end of the day — a rarity, according to a city employee.

Sisou Chanthabandith and his wife, Davanh, began the day with 750 pounds of papaya from their 5-acre Sisou’s Farm and sold out before setting up at Hawaii Kai. By 1:15 p.m. all they had left were two nearly empty boxes of limes, small eggplants and dragonfruit.

Chanthabandith said it was the first time he’s been able to sell his produce since the markets closed.

“We (would) just take them to family to eat,” he said. “I’m really happy. Coming back out, I’m very happy.”

Emil Pagala of Manny’s Bakeshop in Waipahu said he was happy to be back selling pastries.

“If you stay home, yeah, you’ll get bored,” Pagala said during the Salt Lake market on Likini Street. “If you stay home, you get stressed out thinking (about) when this is going to end.”

Nathan Serota, spokesman for the city’s Department of Parks and Recrea- tion, said the decision to reopen the markets was made when Mayor Kirk Caldwell reopened parks and beaches for individual use on Sept. 10. Under COVID-19 emergency rules, farmers markets were allowed to operate as “essential” businesses.

“As soon as the parks reopened for solo activities … we started working toward getting this opened. It was just a matter of getting the vendors available,” Serota said.

Serota described the People’s Open Markets as the precursor to modern farmers markets in Honolulu. The program was established in 1973 by Joyce Fasi, wife of former Mayor Frank Fasi, to allow farmers to sell surplus or off-grade products at lower cost while addressing Hawaii’s high food costs. Select locations accept EBT debit cards for those receiving public assistance.

Also returning this weekend is the “Farm to Car” program, a partnership between the city and the Hawaii Farm Bureau. Starting today, consumers can order local farm products online throughout the week at farmtocarhawaii.org for pick-up on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, with minimal personal contact, at the Ewa side of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

A full schedule of the People’s Open Markets can be found at bit.ly/peoples markets.

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