Scaled-down as it is, the Upper Arlington Farmers Market returned May 20, one of the first sanctioned public gatherings of the COVID-19 coronavirus era.

Light but steady rain kept four vendors -- and likely at least a few visitors -- from opening day, but didn't wholly douse the event.

Fifteen of the scheduled 19 vendors set up outside Tremont Pool, 2850 Tremont Road, for the kickoff to the 2020 market and customer traffic was thin but constant.

Market hours are from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays.

UA resident Susan McNally took advantage of the 4 to 4:30 p.m. shopping block set aside for senior citizens and people with compromised immune systems.

With four full plastic shopping bags in hand -- because of the coronavirus, market organizers discourage reusable grocery bags -- McNally was happy with her haul and the return of the annual event.

"It was easy and friendly and everyone was respectful and six feet apart," McNally said.

"It was a very good experience."

Undeterred by the weather, McNally was "delighted" by the sparse crowds. They nullified any concerns she had prior to her visit about waiting in line to enter the market or as she bought fresh asparagus, strawberries, pickles, apples, kettle corn, baked focaccia and tilapia.

"All the farmers markets have a quality of food that you can't get anywhere else," she said.

"And the idea of buying local, we don't have to worry about what's happening in Chicago, in Detroit or farther away in Nebraska.

"We've got local people, and they won't have to plow it under because we're going to buy it."

While the market still holds a place in the hearts of patrons such as McNally's and still offers Ohio-raised produce, flowers, honey, meats and other items, the 2020 rendition is far from the same event people have come to know.

Even before weather kept four sellers from making the opening event, organizers reduced the number of vendors from the planned 25 to 19.

"Originally, with our layout and without COVID, we had accepted 25," market manager Michelle White said.

"With the social distancing required between vendors, the peak will be 19. We had to cut."

As shoppers accessed the market through a new, single entryway, they were greeted by signs announcing that face masks are required.

Their hands were sprayed with hand sanitizer by an admission volunteer.

Arrows drawn on the parking lot's asphalt directed visitors to proceed in a uniform direction as they shopped and directed them to leave through a designated exit.

A handful of volunteers also helped White keep people from entering the market from anywhere other than the marked entry. At peak times, the market can accommodate a maximum of 118 people inside its grounds.

"It feels good," White said of being able to open the market, although following a slight pause, she added: "We've had a couple people stop and say they felt safe shopping with the new setup and layout and distance between vendors.

"I feel good about that and the fact that everyone has been wearing a mask. It doesn't seem to be an issue getting their hands sanitized."

McNally said she accepted the face-mask rule "totally," adding, "I think we owe it to each other."

Another shopper, UA resident Ruth Phelps, said she was OK with the coronavirus precautions as well, but she hopes the added rules would be temporary.

"They'll be OK for a while," Phelps said. "I'm satisfied with it today.

"Probably as the weeks go on, I'd like to see that you can get in without a mask."

Besides the new rules, Phelps said she was pleased with the organization of the event, and she was especially happy to be leaving with baked focaccia, a fresh-baked cookie and recently picked asparagus, cucumber and rhubarb.

"It went real well," she said.

"You just kind of had to follow the line and wait your turn to approach the (vendor) table."

In addition to social distancing and masks, on-site food and beverage consumption, including samples, are prohibited at this year's farmers market. Pets also are not permitted.

"We'll have some adjustments to make with signage and just seeing how things play out today," White said. "We knew it was going to be one of those live-and-learn situations.

"I think the plan is good and will just take some tweaking. We'll come back next week."

White said shoppers were receptive to the new rules on opening day, but knows there will be greater challenges as the weather warms, farmers enter their peak produce season and crowds grow.

"We're trying to do a one-direction market just to keep that cross-current of traffic happening, which just tends to tighten down 6-foot spacing," White said. "That will be a challenge.

"Obviously, controlling entry into this site is a challenge because it's so open."

White hopes more volunteers will come forward to help manage crowds to ensure the market can continue to operate safely and in accordance with state regulations.

Anyone interested in volunteering can reach the Upper Arlington Farmers Market online through upperarlington@getfreshmarkets.org.

The full list of guidelines for this year's event, as well as information about ordering food and other market items in advance, are available at getfreshmarkets.org.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate