“Everyone’s coming together.”
That’s how Katerina Ntzanis, owner of Phyllo Greek Cuisine, described her week.
Just a week earlier, Ntzanis wasn’t sure what to expect. With the COVID-19 health crisis taking hold, would people continue to come to the Broad Street Market, where she has her stand? Would people support her business with more online ordering or by buying gift cards?
The answer, she said, has been yes, yes and yes.
“I’m feeling a lot of support from Harrisburg—more than ever,” she said.
She was especially delighted that her customers have been ordering online from her Square site, now that the market’s stone building, where she operates, is shutting down until further notice.
“I was crying earlier, and I don’t usually cry,” she said. “It’s been so heartwarming.”
With few prepared-food vendors open on Friday, the stone building wasn’t very busy. In contrast, the brick building, which has mostly grocery vendors, was humming, with most people trying to give each other enough space to offer “social distance.”
RG Hummer Meats & Cheese had a line of people at its counter. Owner Ryan Hummer said that he prepared for this weekend by getting extra supplies, expecting to be very busy as local people, especially those who can’t or won’t go to suburban supermarkets, restock.
He had sourced a side of beef locally and was focused on offering food that doesn’t require an extended supply chain and long-distance trucking. He wanted to ensure that he had the product that his customers needed.
“I’m here because I feel that this place is a food desert without us,” he said. “I’m just trying to do right by the community and the market.”
Dusty James, owner of Radish & Rye Food Hub, was busy packing up vegetables and produce for people who had placed orders for curbside pickup. He said that business was brisk, especially on Thursday, when the market re-opened for the week.
Radish & Rye had tried to debut an online ordering system, but glitches forced the owners to shut it down. Now, they were taking orders mostly through text message until they could get the online system operating smoothly.
“People have been really patient with us, which we appreciate,” he said. “I feel like, in general, everyone has been in good spirits.”
John Kelly of JB Kelly Seafood Connection said something similar. So far, he said, he hasn’t seen any hoarding or panicking from customers, painting a very different picture than reports out of some suburban supermarkets. People have been calm and friendly, he said.
“Nobody here is freaking out at all, not our customers anyway,” he said.
He said that people have been placing larger orders and, in some cases, taking curbside delivery. He expected the bigger orders, he said, so, like Hummer, prepared by boosting supply.
Kelly, who typically gets much of his supply from Maine, said he’s been sourcing more stock from area and mid-Atlantic fishermen. A small benefit of the emergency, he said, is that prices for his goods have dropped.
“We’ve tripled the volume that we usually carry,” he said.
One person at the market on Friday was city Fire Chief Brian Enterline. He was there to order lunch from Hummer’s following an hour-long Facebook Live event he had just wrapped up with Mayor Eric Papenfuse and police Commissioner Thomas Carter.
Enterline agreed with the market vendors that he senses a renewed spirit of community in the face of the COVID-19 emergency, even remarking that fire calls are down.
“This has brought everybody back together,” he said, likening the sense of local camaraderie to that following the 9-11 terrorist attack. “This Harrisburg region is very resilient.”
And that seemed to be the ultimate message coming out of the Broad Street Market on Friday. People need to be careful and take precautions, but they also need to help and support one another during this difficult time.
“Customers are super-appreciative and thanking us all day long for being here,” Hummer said. “We’re very busy and very appreciative of this community.”