From the warmer months until it starts to get cold, there’s not a Sunday that goes by between May and November where Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy on West 237th Street doesn’t host The Riverdale Y’s Sunday Market. It’s there early-morning shoppers can stroll through to pick up fresh produce, bread, pickles, and even the occasional handmade necklace or bracelet.
This year, summer in the city is uncertain as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio decide how and when to lift social distancing restrictions in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The Y, though, is determined to make the annual market happen again this year — but they face some hurdles.
Ongoing construction at RKA has booted the market out of its usual home. But organizers quickly found what they believe might be a perfect alternate location: The sidewalk on Fieldston Road between West 236th and West 238th streets, behind a stretch of businesses on Riverdale Avenue.
Market organizers brought this plan to Community Board 8’s traffic and transportation committee on April 23. With it came the usual concerns about parking and noise, as well as some new concerns — like how vendors and customers would keep safe distances in the time of the coronavirus.
Shira Silverman, who manages the market, had scoured neighborhoods for a new location the moment she found out RKA would be unavailable this year. Fieldston Road offered a perfect location for her. It’s a hub of businesses, meaning pedestrian and bus traffic already is high. And the sidewalks are 17 feet wide, giving the market plenty of room for booths and pedestrians alike.
They worked with the business owners on Fieldston, Silverman said, to make sure they were comfortable with the market moving in. Those businesses — including Nails on Riverdale, Opex Riverdale, and Corner Café — asked that the market keep walkways and driveways clear, she told the committee. To not block store windows, ensure that any property damage would be addressed, and that the market clean up any and all trash left behind.
Sergio Villaverde, chair of CB8’s economic development committee, had some concerns, however, about the market’s impact on the business hub.
“Having more people, having more foot traffic, can’t hurt,” Villaverde said. “Tell me about the types of establishments, and will they be competing with any of the businesses in the area?”
Vendors would not compete with any of the local businesses, Silverman told him. They specialize in cheese, pickles, fresh fruit and vegetables, honey, artisan bread, and prepared vegan food — none of which are being sold by bricks-and-mortar stores in the area surrounding the market.
While traffic and transportation chair Dan Padernacht raised questions about where vendors would park trucks, there was another obstacle looming over the group’s approval of the market: How would they abide by social distancing standards?
As of late April, New Yorkers were asked to wear masks or face coverings whenever they leave the house, and were told to maintain at least six feet of distance from each other, even outside. Would shoppers at the Sunday Market be able to achieve that?
The answer, Silverman said, is no. Under current distancing rules, the market would not be able to operate on the sidewalk. Still, that shouldn’t be an issue, said Matt Abrams Gerber, the chief operating officer at The Y. Closing the street would be the only way to keep a safe distance for shoppers — but he knew the committee, and ultimately the community board itself, would be unlikely to approve such a plan.
At the same time, Gerber added, open-air markets like the one The Y hosts are likely much safer when it comes to potential transmission of a virus than enclosed stores.
Still, market organizers acknowledge they may not get Fieldston Road, and as a result, they’re shopping for alternate locations, including parking lots of the Riverdale Temple on Independence Avenue, or even at The Y’s campus itself on Arlington Avenue.
“When we went into this meeting, we knew it was going to be a stretch to open at the proposed location because of the social distancing,” Gerber told The Riverdale Press after the meeting.
The market could try using a parking lot as a temporary location, Gerber said, and once it becomes safe to open on streets like Fieldston Road, to maybe make the move there.
“We’re trying to finalize a location for now, then we’ll have to figure out when we would do the trial period,” Gerber said. “And how that would look, and how it would all play out.”
Market organizers already planned to take social distancing into account. Silverman referred to the market as a “COVID market,” meaning vendors and shoppers would be asked to take special precautions to keep each other safe.
As green markets have remained open in light of Cuomo’s state shutdown, The Y expects to open its Sunday Market as usual in May, Gerber said. While they had planned to kick things off May 24 on Fieldston Road, they’re hoping to open in one of their alternate locations even sooner, maybe even in time for Mother’s Day.
“The ultimate piece is making sure it’s what’s best for the community,” Gerber said. “That’s how we’re going to decide it. It’s about the accessibility and the core and how to we serve the community in the best way possible.”