As mask mandate looms, Philadelphians stick with traditions, routines on a sunny holiday weekend

Clark Park farmer's market customers sample indian coastal cuisine made by Aaji’s. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

Clark Park farmer's market customers sample indian coastal cuisine made by Aaji’s. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

COVID-19 cases are climbing again in Philadelphia as Monday’s impending mask mandate looms, but it looked like business as usual on a warm, busy holiday weekend for shoppers in South and West Philadelphia.

In a rare occurrence, three religious holidays are converging this weekend: Passover, Easter, and Ramadan.

For many West Philadelphians at the Clark Park farmers’ market on Saturday, the market has been a stabilizing ritual throughout the pandemic.

By now, 78% of Philadelphia adults are fully vaccinated (at least two doses), as are 28% of kids between ages 5 and 11.

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Michelle Gerald, 62, of West Philadelphia, was visiting with her grandkids, Miciyah and Michai.

Despite a breast cancer diagnosis, Gerald said she is choosing to keep living her life as usual amid the rising COVID numbers. Though she’s still avoiding crowds, wearing a mask, and washing her hands often, “you can’t stay in forever,” she said.

Michelle Gerald (right )and her two grandkids shopping at the farmer’s market on Saturday afternoon. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)
Michelle Gerald (right) and her two grandkids shopping at the farmer’s market on Saturday afternoon. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

She’s trying to get her grandkids outside more often, too. They’re going to church on Easter Sunday, and then maybe roller skating outside.

“They have to find something to do. I’m trying to wean him off of the computer and the games, because that’s all there was to do [during the early months of the pandemic].”

Nicole Hands, owner and soap maker at Donna Mary’s Soaps, said she’s slightly worried about losing business if COVID-19 rates keep going up. But for now, business is doing well.

She was selling spring-themed candles and soap at the market, where she’s worked for the past three years.

“I’m not as worried, because I survived the first time, so I just try to stay optimistic,” Hands said.

Nicole Hands, owner and soap maker at Donna Mary’s Soaps, said she relies on business at the Clark Park Farmer’s market. She said she worries business could be impacted if COVID-19 numbers continue to rise. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

Larisa Mann, a Temple University media studies professor and DJ with a group called Subversion in Philadelphia, said she isn’t celebrating anything in particular this weekend. But she’s excited to cook this week using the spring harvest.

“I’m just happy to see all of these [fruits and vegetables],” Mann said.

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Larisa Mann, a Temple University media studies professor and DJ with a group called Subversion in Philadelphia, said it felt good to see the spring harvest at the Clark Park farmer’s market on Saturday. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)
Larisa Mann, a Temple University media studies professor and DJ with a group called Subversion in Philadelphia, said it felt good to see the spring harvest at the Clark Park farmer’s market on Saturday. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

Mann said nothing is changing for her because of the new mask mandate, because she never stopped masking. She said she’s considering her friends and relatives who have different levels of immunocompromised living.

“The pandemic isn’t over. There’s new variants. And so, especially in the absence of federal and serious state funding for COVID response and treatment, everyone should still be masking indoors,” Mann said.

Al Bland, who was shopping at the farmers’ market with friends, said they are looking forward to going to a movie theater for the first time in a while this weekend. They’ve been staying COVID-19 cautious and avoiding crowds indoors, but said “occasional” indoor activities may feel safer next week, since people will be masked again.

(from left) Al Bland, Anna Armstrong, and Kai Yohman, of West Philadelphia, enjoying the Clark Park farmer’s market on Saturday afternoon. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)
(from left) Al Bland, Anna Armstrong, and Kai Yohman, of West Philadelphia, enjoying the Clark Park farmer’s market on Saturday afternoon. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

For Kai Yohman, Bland’s friend, the Saturday market is a secure routine.

“Having something you can rely on weekly, that even if things shift and get a little bit tougher and up and down with COVID, this feels relatively safe,” Yohman said.

In South Philadelphia, the Italian Market was bustling with people preparing for Easter weekend, following different kinds of rituals and family traditions.

Larry Ricciardi was standing in a line down the block outside Isgro’s Pastries, at S. 10th and Christian Streets.

“Every year we get a ricotta cheese pie,” Ricciardi said.

Larry Ricciardi outside Isgro’s Pastries in South Philly. His family buys a ricotta pie every year for Easter. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)
Larry Ricciardi outside Isgro’s Pastries in South Philly. His family buys a ricotta pie every year for Easter. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

Steve Casar was outside Isgro’s with a bag of pastries in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He came from Hawaii to attend a family Easter dinner tomorrow.

“My brother picked me up at the airport,” said Casar. “He said, ‘Where do you want to go?’ Isgro’s was the stop.”

Steve Casar came straight from the airport with his brother to Isgro’s Pastries to pick up desert for Easter Sunday. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)
Steve Casar came straight from the airport with his brother to Isgro’s Pastries to pick up desert for Easter Sunday. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

Marguerite Argelander, from Wilmington, Delaware, said her family has come to the Italian Market every year for Easter for the past 40 years.

“We all meet and have a meal together, and then we go to Termini’s and wait in line,” said Argelander. “We bought all our pastries and now we’re here buying meats, cheeses, produce, fruits for tomorrow.”

Marguerite Argelander (fifth from right), Joseph A. Giorgi (third from left), and their family in the Italian Market on Saturday. Giorgi has been bringing his family there every Easter weekend for 40 years. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

Argelander was there with 10 of her family members, including her 91-year-old father, Joseph A. Giorgi.

They’re not nervous about getting together tomorrow for Easter.

“We all got COVID for Christmas. But this year, we’re hoping for better health and we should have immunity to it at this point, we’re hoping,” said Argelander’s sister, Maria Panella.

Michael Brown, of Talluto’s food store on 9th Street, was outside selling ricotta pies and Torrone nougat candy.

He said the market was busier than it has been in the past two years and said it seemed like many people are trying to celebrate the holidays like they used to before the pandemic.

“The last two years everybody was kind of lost … but everybody’s back,” Brown said.

Michael Brown, of Talluto’s, selling ricotta pie and Torrone candy in the Italian market on Saturday. He said the market was busier than it has been compared to the last two Easter weekends. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)
Michael Brown, of Talluto’s, selling ricotta pie and Torrone candy in the Italian market on Saturday. He said the market was busier than it has been compared to the last two Easter weekends. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY News)

Talluto’s wheat pie ingredients were sold out by Friday, and manicotti — the ricotta-filled pasta shells (made fresh for Easter) — were flying fast.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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