At Ottenheimer Market Hall in the River Market, four vendors failed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, but perhaps more surprising — considering that the hall’s doors were closed for more than a year — is that 11 vendors have returned.
Diana Long, director of River Market operations for the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she and the bureau worked hard to ensure there were more survivors than casualties.
“When we shut down, we did not charge rent for the year,” Long said. “They did not have access to the building, so we told them, ‘Hey, if you can’t afford to pay for your insurance for your booth, you can let that ride until we reopen.’”
In addition, the Arkansas Hospitality Association and Gretchen Hall, the LRCVB’s CEO, worked “to gather resources for these small businesses and kind of help them understand and navigate that,” Long said, referring to the various pandemic relief programs available.
“I talked to them every single week,” she said of the vendors, seeking to keep them up to date on the assistance available.
The hall reopened on Saturday, May 1, along with the weekly Little Rock Farmers Market, which is held during the summer in the pavilions adjacent to the building, although David’s Burgers waited until early June to again start serving customers.
Customer traffic at the Farmers Market has returned to normal levels, Long said, and even surpassed pre-pandemic attendance. “We saw some of the biggest crowds that we’ve had the first couple of weeks,” she said, with some Farmers Market vendors reporting record sales.
Last year, the Farmers Market opened for a limited season, and though only 1,000 to 1,500 people would come to shop on a Saturday, Long said, business was brisk. “The people who came out to shop were real serious about buying their vegetables, and our vendors did really well, despite the fact that we had a third of the crowd we normally had,” she said.
Now, with the lifting of pandemic restrictions, “What we’re seeing is, people are just so excited to get back out and do things they used to do and have that sort of sense of normalcy that we’ve had tons and tons of attendance.”