After a one-week absence, the Martinez Farmers' Market returned March 22. (Photo by Sam Richards)

Even though the Martinez Farmers Market was gone for only one week as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it was clear that many of those on hand for its return March 22 were welcoming back an old friend.

“I’m so glad they deemed this ‘essential,’” said Teri Gwin of Crockett, who described herself as a loyal Martinez Farmers Market customer. “This is so much safer than the grocery store. I’m glad it’s open again.”

On Sunday morning, in the middle of a downtown that was eerily quiet and almost completely shut down, about 20 vendors set up on Main Street selling fruits, vegetables, meats, tamales, flowers and other items. It was a beehive of activity in a fairly inactive area.

“I’m thrilled they brought this back; this is going to help everybody,” said Pleasant Hill resident Pete Sabine, the owner of Roxx on Main, a Martinez restaurant within the boundaries of the farmers market. “This will help bring the town together.”

Micheal Peterson agreed. He is the Martinez market manager with the Concord-based Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association, and had a careful eye for how things were going last Sunday. Among his professional observations were that some booth layouts will have to change for next week.

Nannette Mori of Ken’s Top Notch Produce from Reedley, weighs citrus fruit for Martinez Farmers Market customers last Sunday.

Peterson also had personal observations. A resident of downtown Martinez, he recognizes the market’s value beyond the fresh fruit and vegetables.

“This is one of our strongest community markets, and everybody bands together,” he said.

Though the Martinez market was closed for a week in the name of social distancing, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has since deemed farmers markets as essential food sources that may remain open. A number of other weekend markets in the Bay Area, including those in Concord, Pleasanton and Danville, remain “temporarily closed.”

Mike Ceas of Martinez was carefully examining several vendors’ wares Sunday. He said he comes to farmers markets because his money goes farther than at a grocery store. A CalFresh client, Ceas said he uses the “Market Match” program in which someone who spends $10 in CalFresh benefits at the farmers’ market gets an extra $10 to spend on fresh produce.

“This a crucial thing for me,” he said. “I save a lot of money with this.”

Peterson pointed out that the booths Sunday were about 10 feet apart from one another, for social distancing purposes. There are also new safety edicts to be followed — there were no free samples being offered by the vendors, and there was no live musician, as there generally has been here. Vendors were wearing gloves. Also, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes were everywhere.

Early during Sunday’s market, people were generally good about keeping 6 feet from others.

Pete Sabine of Pleasant Hill buys some flowers at the Martinez Farmers Market.

Despite all those things, “The crowd’s good, maybe more than I expected,” Peterson said. “It’s winter season, and this is pretty typical for this time of year.”

During the summer, he said, the Martinez Farmers Market often has twice the number of vendors.

Vendors on Sunday said they were generally happy with the level of business, and that they were glad Martinez is back on the circuit of markets. Nannette Mori, with Ken’s Top Notch Produce, from Reedley near Fresno, said the Martinez closure was one of only two that affected that company last week.

“We’re happy to be here, and so many people have said, ‘We’re glad you’re here,’” Mori said as she weighed customers’ oranges and grapefruits.

Teri Gwin said she bought produce at the grocery store the week the Martinez Farmers Market was closed. She was happy to be back on Main Street Sunday.

“This is safer than the store, she said. “It’s always better to be in the fresh air.”