‘People are panicking’: Future of iconic Bay event in doubt
THE faithful few are hanging on but Urangan Markets president Tanja Bode does not know what the future holds for the iconic event.
A tearful Ms Bode spoke to the Chronicle at an almost-empty market precinct on Saturday morning.
She said attendance numbers had dramatically dropped off and stallholders had pulled out as a result of coronavirus restrictions.
Ms Bode cut a despondent figure at a table near the market entrance, about 8am on Saturday.
On a regular weekend, the market would be jam-packed at this time of the morning with shoppers jostling for space near stalls.
This weekend, an eerie stillness settled over the usually bustling precinct.
Ms Bode said once the first official Fraser Coast coronavirus case was confirmed, stallholder cancellations started flooding in.
“People are panicking and I understand that totally,” she said.
“I’ve been telling elderly people not to come but they still want to support us.”
Ms Bode said on a regular weekend the event would have made hundreds of dollars in profit by this time of the morning.
On Saturday, she had barely scraped $25 together.
“I won’t make my living this week,” Ms Bode said.
“I won’t be able to pay my rent this week.”
She said by next week she would have to make the decision to scale the event right back to essentials, with nothing but fresh produce available.
After that, she is not sure what will happen but said one thing was certain.
“I’m not letting it close,” Ms Bode said.
“It will be over my dead body that this place doesn’t recover.”
As other events are cancelled, food vendors and stallholders are “begging” Ms Bode to take them on at Urangan.
She has no choice but to turn them away as the firm restriction on outdoor gatherings over 500 people stays in place.
Ms Bode said while she understood people’s decisions not to come to the markets, the virus restrictions took a major toll on stallholders.
A baker with a regular stall at Urangan, she said, had lost supply contracts at about 40 restaurants as establishments are forced to scale back.
“He’s begging me to keep going to make some sort of livelihood,” Ms Bode said.
While an undeniably sombre mood had settled over the event, there were still moments of lightness.
“I think we’re supposed to stand 1.5m apart,” a market musician remarked after a stirring rendition of Stand By Me.
Two women traded concern for family members in China as their children listened to a busker, stoically continuing her performance with barely any crowd there to listen.
Another woman could be overheard commenting on the importance of supporting local businesses after making a large purchase at a stall.
Ms Bode agreed with this sentiment.
“We need to encourage the public to support our fresh produce providers,” she said.
She said she planned to explore council grant options, announced at a special meeting on Friday.
“I don’t know if we’re eligible but I’ll try,” Ms Bode said.
“It would mean the recovery of the markets. If we shut down, even if it’s just the produce, we could pay all the bills but when it comes to recovery, we’d have no money left.”