50-stall limit reshapes Flemish open-air markets


As daily and weekly markets find all kinds of creative ways to stay within the 50-stall limit imposed by the federal government, Flanders offers €160 for each day to those who can’t find a pitch

Do the stall shuffle

Open-air markets across Flanders are re-opening over the next two weeks, with some significant changes to meet new rules about social distancing and hygiene. But giving everyone a chance to take part is proving a challenge.

The regulations set out by the federal government say that a maximum of 50 stalls can take part in each market. Facemasks are compulsory for stall-holders and recommended for customers, and there must be a one-way circuit through the market to help social distancing.

Individual markets have also introduced plans to count and cap the numbers of customers, and to provide handwashing stations and other security measures.

The most significant challenge for large markets is the limit on stall numbers. This has meant some creative thinking about who to allow back and who to exclude. Stall-holders unable to take part in their regular market because of the rules can claim compensation of €160 per lost day from the government of Flanders.

Who’s on first?

Roeselare has split its Tuesday market in two, with half the regular stalls appearing one week and half the next. “This ensures that a wide range of different products, but spread over fewer market stalls,” explained mayor Kris Declercq.

Genk is planning a three-week rotation for the 146 stalls usually found at its Thursday market, again with a mix of food and other products on each occasion. It is also dividing the market into three distinct zones, with stewards checking the number of people coming and going from each one.

“If there are too many people, a zone can be closed, but we will only do that if necessary,” said city councillor Toon Vandeurzen in Het Laaste Nieuws. “From time to time we will also send up a police drone to make an accurate estimate of how crowded it is. You can see that better from above than down below.”

Ghent has a slightly more complex plan for the popular Sunday market on Ledebergplein. According to VRT NWS, it has guaranteed a place each week for food, flower and plant stalls, which accounts for 35 of 77 regulars. The remaining places will be allocated by lottery, so that each stall is present at least once every three weeks.

Mechelen, meanwhile, has found a way to include everyone. Its Saturday morning market has 109 regular stalls, so it has decided to run the market all day.

From 7.00 to 13.00 there will be stalls selling food and other perishable products such as cut flowers. Then from 14.00 to 18.00 it will be the turn of stalls with durable products, such as clothes and linens.

From time to time we will also send up a police drone to make an accurate estimate of how crowded it is

- Genk city councillor Toon Vandeurzen

Other markets are being cautious even if they fit within the 50 stall limit. Diest, for example, has moved its Wednesday market from the Grote Markt to Kluisbergstraat, a long street with more space for each stall and better suited to a one-way circuit for customers.

Finally, cities such as Ostend and Antwerp are still pondering how to re-open their large markets and stay within the rules. And Leuven has decided that social distancing is impossible at its large Thursday and Saturday markets, so these must stay closed for the time being.

Photos, from top: ©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA; ©Maaike Tijssens/BELGA