The Devon Community Market will open for its third summer in less than two weeks. At this writing there has been no formal announcement of vendors. The only certainties are that it will once again be short on farmers and long on the kinds of offerings that have contributed to its irrelevance the past two years.
It appears that real effort has been made again this year to attract vendors who might actually attract visitors. The unfortunate insistence on retaining the “Devon” name and the Republic Bank parking lot location continue to negate those efforts. The many groceries on Devon will not support a true farmers’ market because it provides direct competition, so the Market is relegated to a dead section of the street. The Bank’s block-long presence, most of it occupied by the parking lot, discourages commerce on the other side of the street, and there’s just not enough foot traffic to make the vendors’ trips profitable. A struggling new grocery directly across the street could also be hurt.
A change of name, from “Devon” to “West Ridge” would provide flexibility. Relocating the market to another depressed area of the Ward (so many to choose from!), say, Touhy Avenue, might increase the number of visitors, especially considering that Touhy has so few groceries, in contrast to Devon Avenue.
These simple, observable truths are lost on the Market’s organizers.
There are some innovations this year, including a dedicated Web site operated by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce from its satellite office at 2421 West Pratt (at Artesian). Sponsorship is also clearer this year, credit being given to the Chamber, SSA #3, the City, and the aldermen, Debra and Ira Silverstein. Ira’s listed in his capacity as state senator.
There will be a blog (The Crunchy Carrot) and a newsletter (The Ripe Tomato). The food names are cute, considering that very little fresh produce will be available. Only three farmers are currently on tap as vendors; two of the three will offer vegetables, with one of those two offering only sweet corn, according to the Web site.
In addition to the LINK card, which was new last year, this year’s Market will accept WIC and Senior Farmers Market coupons.
The three farmers scheduled so far are Fehr Brothers Farms (poultry, beef, and eggs); Steven Frank Farms (fruits, vegetables, and eggs); and Twin Garden Farms (Miraj sweet corn and melons). Fehr Brothers and Steven Frank are family-owned, and Twin Garden developed its corn in Harvard, IL, so efforts have been made to support local farmers, a good thing.
Golden Rise Bakery will provide a variety of fresh bakery goods, and The Coffee Shop will sell coffee, tea, and bakery items; the Shop notes that its offerings will appeal to those who are vegetarian or vegan.
At this writing there are three vendors who will sell freshly-prepared foods: Bites of Pleasure (Jewish and Middle Eastern specialties with a modern twist); Milt’s BBQ (certified kosher BBQ); and Trenae Gourmet (healthy foods). This year’s Market organizers should be credited with expanding the food choices to include the wider community.
Health-oriented vendors include the High Ridge Y (“health and fitness instruction”) and Whitney Young Eco Products, which could be the hit of the market. The “eco-friendly bath products” to be sold are made by students from Whitney Young High School.
Activities for kids include the return of Going Green Science (hands-on science projects for kids of all ages); Ludy Gerardi (face painting); the Northtown Public Library (storytelling and crafts); Performing Arts Limited (dance instruction); and Schmooz the Clown, always a crowd-pleaser.
Other vendors include Avon Products, Marej Sultana Henna Designs, Michael Wood Craft, and St. James Presbyterian Church, which will offer inspirational gifts and provide art experiences for kids.
The only entertainer listed so far is local jazz musician Vernon Ingram, who writes his own music. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing him perform.
Last year’s market featured a variety of musical performers who entertained without the excessive blasting that characterized the 2013 market and proved to be such a disturbance to residents living less than ten feet away. Reasonable sound levels are so important when events like this are scheduled alongside residential areas. Blasting music to attract customers doesn’t work and shows a lack of consideration for residents. It’s also worth noting that children standing near or passing by blasting speakers can suffer permanent hearing damage, so it’s to be hoped that organizers will insist on restraint from the performers.
The Market will operate on Wednesdays from July 8 through August 26, 3-8 p.m. Not all vendors will be available every week, and more vendors will be added as the season progresses. Vendor applications are available on the Market’s Web site, devoncommunitymarket.org.
The Market also has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DevonAvenueCommunityMarket