The Denton Community Market held its opening day Saturday morning with masks required and vendor distancing still implemented, though businesses and shoppers alike are optimistic that normality may not be far away.

Held once again at the Historical Park of Denton County on West Mulberry Street, the market will top out at 65 distanced vendors this season — up from last year’s 50, but down from its standard mark of about 100. The market will be held Saturday mornings through November. Market board president Caro Kauffman said 60 vendors were registered to show up for opening day, about 20 of which were either new to the market entirely or didn’t come last year.

“From the bird’s-eye view, this year is going to be really exciting,” Kauffman said. “I’m seeing stuff popping up now that we haven’t seen in the past four years.”

Though the market did see its foot traffic drop by approximately half last year, many of its staple vendors are optimistic the recent vaccine rollout will bring shoppers back. Spread Happiness Nut Butters owner Yesika Horton, who has frequented the Denton market since starting her business a few years ago, said it has the most stringent COVID-19 precautions of any market she attends.

“I think it will be a lot busier this year,” Horton said. “Just being out and about other places, people are more comfortable — I’m more comfortable.”

Last year, Veronica Powell opened a storefront on Locust Street for her nut-free cookie business, The Cookie Crave. She said she started attending the market as a way to raise local awareness for her new store, a struggle after the onset of the pandemic.

“Honestly, it was to let people know we were here,” Powell said. “We weren’t really having any walk-in clientele.”

Powell said she found success last year, even with the pandemic at its worst and the market receiving less foot traffic. This year’s market, she said, has the potential to be even better for her if coronavirus cases remain on the decline.

“Initially, [traffic] will probably be the same,” Powell said. “I would expect by June to July, it will exceed last year. People will feel more comfortable coming out.”

Vendors aren’t the only ones excited for the market’s return, as about 2,000 visitors stopped by its four-hour opening day, according to Kauffman. That number more than doubles its average attendance from last year and would be similar to its average from the year prior.

Alexa Patrick, a market regular since 2018, said she came to every market day in 2019 before the pandemic changed her plans last year.

“It’s kind of my self-care,” Patrick said. “Especially now, it’s great to be out interacting with people. The more people that get vaccinated, the more fun we can have out here.”

Regardless of the recent progress in containing the pandemic, the market’s mask policy won’t be leaving anytime soon. Masks and distancing are set to run through the season, though Kauffman said the policy could be revisited in July.

“We will always do what’s safest and in the best interests of all involved — staff, vendors and the community,” Kauffman said.

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