WILKES-BARRE — Depending on the person, the word on the Square Thursday was happy or a synonym thereof.
The gorgeous blue sky with puffs of clouds summer day had a lot to do with it. More so, it was the opening of the Wilkes-Barre Farmers Market.
“I’m glad it’s here,” said downtown resident Rudy Avotins as she looked to add more to her two-wheeled shopping cart.
Avotins already bought a bag of apples and hibiscus plant on her stroll around the cobblestone paths of Public Square where farmers, maintaining a tradition of 48 years, trucked in their produce and displayed it for sale on tables.
Cliff Peters bypassed the apples Brace’s Orchard and headed straight for the baked goods.
“I have a big garden. I have my own vegetables,” said Peters of Hanover Township as he opened his plastic bag to show off a multi-berry pie.
Like the other shoppers who came to the market Peters had been limited on where he could go and what he could do while adhering to the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But with the lifting of many of the measures, the return to life as they knew it beckoned.
Tired of being “cooped up all winter” Peters said, “It’s great to be out.”
To aid in the effort to get more people out and about the Wilkes-Barre Health Department had a mobile vaccine clinic set up on the Square. Anyone who received a COVID-19 shot received a $15 voucher to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables at the market.
In an opening address, Mayor George Brown thanked everyone for coming out and said the market is a sign the city is moving in a positive direction.
“Wilkes-Barre’s coming back. We’re going to bring this city back and this is one of the first steps,” Brown said.
Rose Jagodzinski found what she craved. “I got the little tomatoes and some sweet peas,” Jagodzinski, 80, of Wilkes-Barre Township said. She wasted no time splitting open a pod and picking out the peas to enjoy.
Nearby Jagodzinski’s son Mike stood over a sizzling griddle and, with metal tongs, lined up rows of potato pancakes. Yogi’s Potato Pancakes trailer returned to the market with other food vendors after a one-year hiatus imposed for the sake of safety by the city.
“Optimistic,” the son said of his outlook for the market that runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays through Nov 18. “We’ll be here,” he said.
Boyer Brothers Bar-B-Que and Deli food truck parked near where the fountain had been and prepped for hungry customers. “It’s great to be back here,” said Bob Boyer.
Ray Zimmerman of the eponymous Zimmerman Farms from Pitman in Schuylkill County was in his familiar spot near the North Main Street entrance to the Square. He encouraged others to come to the market.
“Tell everybody to get out, don’t be scared,” Zimmerman said.
Shelly Tressa of Forty Fort and her grandchildren Audrey and Grayson Grega of Shavertown got the message as they stopped at Zimmerman’s stand.
“We can’t wait for it to start,” Tressa said. Three-year-old Audrey nibbled on cherries, while Grayson, 4, with both hands gripped a peach and took a bite.
The selection will get bigger throughout the summer, Raelyn Snyder pointed out. Snyder, 15, had blueberries, strawberries, eggs and a few vegetables for sale from Hoagland Farms in Elysburg, Northumberland County.
Snyder enjoyed the opportunity to be at the market and not have to wear a mask. “We’re able to see people’s faces again,” she said.
The weather couldn’t have been better for Larry O’Malia, but the crowd could have. He expected it to grow with the season and the arrival of tomatoes, sweet corn and cucumbers in a month or so from his fields in Plains Township.
“It takes a while for people to realize that the market is in full swing,” O’Malia said.