Devon Community Market, Part 3

The Devon Community Market is in its third year of operation. Four 2015 markets have occurred at this writing. It’s clear that the mistakes that plagued the first two years continue.

First, the market is not serving the needs or interests of most residents. The purpose of a farmers market is to bring local farmers and local consumers together. The purpose of the Devon Community Market is to bring local merchants and local consumers together. Farmers are not intended to be the prime attraction, and the merchants for whom the market was designed have overwhelmingly declined to participate. Yet the powers-that-be are determined to continue with a failed concept that is not supported by the community. This is a major mistake.

Only three farmers signed on this year, and one has already departed, having agreed to participate for just three weeks. Contrast this with the Logan Square Farmers Market, which has signed 30 farmers, or the Andersonville Farmers Market, or the Glenwood Sunday Market in Rogers Park, each with more than a dozen farmers in addition to other vendors. Logan Square, for example, has 20 vendors selling ready-to-eat foods, and a dozen bakeries. These numbers do not include rotating vendors. West Ridge residents support these farmers’ markets, and want the same kind of market in our neighborhood.

The poor vendor recruitment and retention at the Devon Community Market is a direct result of several ongoing problems: (a) a poor reputation (it’s well-known among vendors that nobody makes any money because of poor attendance); (b) inconsistent and unclear leadership at the helm; (c) inability to articulate a clear vision for the market and execute it successfully; and (d) lack of community involvement and support.

As noted in my post about the 2014 market, DCASE (the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, overall coordinator of the event) claims not to have any record of gross sales at past markets. A FOIA request for revenue information on the 2014 market didn’t yield any vendor sales records, but I was able to learn that total LINK sales for 2014’s ten markets came to only $735. Assuming the vendors did as well—and that’s a stretch—the gross sales would have been under $1,500 for ten weeks. No wonder vendors won’t sign on—or return.

Add to that the poor attendance—official reports estimated 75 to 100 people per week—and it makes no sense for any vendor to sign on. Presenting outstanding local entertainment drew crowds to the first two markets this year–as did booking Milt’s BBQ—it sold out—but was there any other vendor whose sales were boosted as a result? From what I saw, Milt’s customers came for Milt’s. Period. They bought, they ate, they enjoyed the entertainment, and they left. Another food vendor making a first visit that same week did not return the following week, although they were on the schedule. A bakery from the first week’s market also chose not to return. Vendors without a following simply don’t make enough money to come back.

[Jazz musician Vernon Ingram performed superbly at the last two markets, but there were few customers to enjoy his performances.]

Leadership is an ongoing problem. The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce has a new executive director, and the market’s manager is also new, hired only a few months ago. Both individuals worked hard on this year’s market, but lacked enough time to recruit vendors, most of whom participate in winter markets in other neighborhoods. They make their plans for the following summer at the same time that West Ridge organizers move on to other projects. A market that drops off its sponsors’ radar  beween September and April is doomed to failure when it comes to recruiting vendors.

The lack of continuity and vision as well as the learning curve occasioned by staff turnover have impacted the market negatively. Both the manager and the Chamber’s executive director have many other responsibilities, and once summer is gone the market is set aside for more immediate concerns. The lack of community involvement in the market shows most clearly in the failure to recruit residents to work with the Chamber over the ensuing months to develop the following year’s market. Many residents take to social media to express their frustrations and anger about the market; rather than recognizing those residents as potential supporters who demand a market worth supporting, the organizers choose to ignore them and to wait until Spring to begin crafting the market themselves, thus further alienating residents.

There is no indication that any of the sponsors has a firm vision for the market or the commitment to see that vision through. The concept of a community market, rather than a farmers market, has proved a failure. Residents have overwhelmingly rejected the idea. Those same residents have a vision for what they want, but no way to implement it because they are excluded from the organizing efforts. It’s unclear why the market’s sponsors and organizers resist community input. What is clear is that until the community becomes a stakeholder, the market will continue to fail.

The 2015 market is a case study in how not to involve the community. No information about the market was available until late June. Communication since has been spotty. The market’s blog is unused, and the list of vendors, published weekly at the last minute, has yet to be complete or correct. This suggests a lack of both adequate staffing and overall coordination. There appear to be too many chiefs. To be fair, this may be because the market’s manager was hired so late, but it also indicates that the market for 2015 was simply not planned until too late in the year, and then too many people tried to do too much work in too short a time. Producing a market is a difficult undertaking, and needs to begin well in advance, with clear goals and lines of authority as well as adequate staffing.

The community has been demanding a better, more responsive market for the past two years. This year’s market has been uneven, but, in my opinion, worth supporting because strong efforts have been made to improve it. The mistakes of the past two years have stacked the deck against those efforts. The market has generated two years of complaints from its potential customers, and vendors have not returned because of disappointing sales.

Next year has to be different.

Coming: Changing the Market for 2016

Devon Community Market, July 29

The last July market for this year disappointed its organizers, its vendors, and its customers. Even Milt’s BBQ couldn’t draw the crowd it drew just two weeks ago. The circumstances just weren’t right for a Wednesday afternoon market this week.

Organizers were expecting a good selection of vendors, but several cancelled at the last minute. It was a hot afternoon; several days of intense heat and humidity kept shoppers indoors. The event received very little publicity, and what there was didn’t necessarily help. The alderman’s e-mail, for example, described “a new farmer” without giving a name. One has to wonder how enthused she is about bringing farmers to the neighborhood if she and her staff can’t be bothered to learn the farm’s name.

For the record, it was Twin Garden Farms, which brought a unique product to the market: TGF Mirai® sweet corn that can be eaten off the cob without cooking. Operated by the Ahrens family since 1954, Twin Garden Farms is located in Harvey, Illinois,

Nathan of Twin Garden Farms, a first-time vendor at the Devon Community Market.

Nathan of Twin Garden Farms, a first-time vendor at the Devon Community Market.

and developed this hybrid corn there. According to the Farm’s Web site, “‘mirai’ is a Japanese word that means ‘taste of the future.'”  I saw people happily munching away, so it must be good.

Twin Garden Farms will return to the market on August 5. Stop by and see Nathan. And if you like the corn, seeds are available through the Farm’s Web site.

Friendship Center made its first appearance of the season, giving toys and twisty balloons to children.

Returning vendors included MarGREAT’s Lemonade, Milt’s BBQ, Bites of Pleasure Foods, Steven Frank Farms, Music House, DevOn Arts, Go Green Science Lab, and the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

Jazz musician Vernon Ingram entertained with another stellar performance.

The Devon Community Market is halfway through its 2015 season. A break in the weather should help attract more customers next week.

 

The Town Hall Meeting That Wasn’t

A true town hall meeting brings citizens together to discuss local issues, to try to reach consensus on important issues, to work together with local officials to resolve problems of concern to the community.

The alderman’s July 27 town hall meeting was misnamed. At best, it was a panel discussion moderated by the alderman during which a lucky few got to ask questions of various city and police officials.  At worst, it was a dog and pony show designed to satisfy the alderman’s burden of actually meeting with her constituents.

She began by acknowledging the presence of her husband and mother, naming her staff, and thanking them for their hard work.  [Ira’s presence at all ward meetings raises some interesting questions, since he apparently doesn’t attend meetings in the 40th Ward, also in his Illinois Senate district.]

“I like to have yearly community meetings to discuss issues in the ward,” she said, and noted that her two most important areas of concern since she was elected in 2011 have been public safety and constituent services.

And when she hears of an issue in the ward, she and her staff “immediately go into problem-solving mode.”  This ownership approach to issues suits her base, but not those in the ward who’d like to be part of the solution to its problems.

She then introduced Commissioner Charles Williams from the City’s Department of Streets & Sanitation, Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld of the Department of Transportation, local resident Gary Litherland, who handles public relations for the Chicago Department of Water Management, and Sgt. Shawn Sisk, representing the 24th District CAPS office. Each would make a short presentation and then respond to questions from the audience.

But first the alderman pointed to a large ward map displayed at the front of the room, and said it showed the many streets that have been resurfaced during her tenure, adding that she “personally drives” the ward’s streets, ranking them from best to worst. She did not say why she rather than the ward superintendent is performing that task. [FYI: ward superintendents are paid $70,000 – $111,000 per year; the alderman is paid $117,333.]

Valuable meeting time was wasted as the alderman read the dates, times, and locations of August’s ward events, instead of simply referring the audience to the ward calendar on her Web site.

Presentations were short and to the point. Commissioner Williams advised that his department would prefer that rat-baiting requests be made using the City’s online form rather than through 311 calls; this enables his staff to better track the requests.

With regard to the safety of Orthodox Jewish residents over the Sabbath, Sgt. Sisk said he had spoken with a rabbi from the Chicago Rabbinical Council on July 7, and that he was assured that it was permissible for those residents needing police or emergency assistance to use the telephone.

Sisk also advised that organizing block clubs and attending CAPS meeting will help with crime deterrence. He noted that he and another officer were distributing leaflets in one section of the ward, and he found “at least fifteen” homes he could have burglarized because residents had failed to lock doors and close windows–common sense safety precautions.

Residents who find graffiti are asked to take photos of it as well as report it on the City’s online form. This is important–the police can review the photos and determine if the graffiti is gang-related, kids fooling around, or just plain vandalism. E-mail the photos to Graffitti@CAPS24.org.

Then it was time for audience Q&A, and the issues raised were a lesson in how well the alderman knows her supporters.

The 50th Ward has recently been home to three homicides, including drive-by shootings. Thugs who live here make headlines being arrested for murder and serious crimes committed in other neighborhoods. The police have issued alerts for burglaries. Yet the first question from the audience came from affluent condo owners upset at being approached by panhandlers.

Horrors! They’ve crossed the bridge! They’re on our streets, asking for money! They walk in the middle of the street and one can’t turn into the driveways at Winston Towers! And it gets worse–they have cell phones!

The real crime, of course, is homelessness. People who live in condos are threatened by the less fortunate who live under bridges. People with cable, Internet, and smart phones don’t like the idea that panhandlers have access to emergency services, to the social service agencies that are struggling to get them off the streets, or to the job placement offices that might help them get back on their feet. No such compassion. They aren’t poor enough, with those government-issued cell phones that give them a measure of security and a sense that they, too, have value.

Useful suggestions were made: don’t give them any money and they’ll go away. Call the police. Know which corner they’re causing a problem on, because there are various jurisdictions in the area–Skokie, Lincolnwood, the 24th and 17th police districts. But keep calling. And be sure to ask to sign as a co-complainant when the police make an arrest. You’ll have to take time to go to court, but in time you will clear the streets and underpasses of those life didn’t bless as it blessed you.

There were many questions and comments about the Eid fireworks. This is the second year that neighborhood residents were subjected to overnight explosions lasting hours, and neighbors wanted to know why it happened again and why the police were unable to stop it. One woman said that when she called, she was told that the alderman had ordered that the police not intervene, a charge that the alderman vehemently denied.

There were complaints about heavy crowds in the street outside the mosque on Campbell, a residential street. What the responses boiled down to was that the police did the best they could. Sisk did suggest that perhaps some discussions could be initiated with mosque leadership before next year’s celebrations. He could not answer why that had not been done this year.

To be fair, it was clear he and the police were the designated scapegoats for the alderman’s failure to use her office to negotiate a peaceful and respectful way for our Muslim neighbors to celebrate the end of Ramadan. That failure indefensible, she said nothing.

There were questions about clogged sewers and standing water. Litherland said that, as sewers are being replaced and relined, they are being fitted with filters that slow  drainage; this is why there’s standing water in streets and alleys. He added that it is not considered a problem if water is standing for an hour or so, but is a concern if the water remains after 3-4 hours. In that case, a 311 call is in order. One resident noted that one reason for the pooling is that alley grades are not level; the alleys have sunk while the garages remain at grade, and this creates a natural pool for rainwater.

He could have added that the grooves cut into the alleys to permit drainage were in many cases paved over, wholly or partly, during the pre-election constituent services blitz.

The final question concerned the now-vacant lot at Pratt & Western. The alderman said that the building was torn down because it was unstable. There are no current plans for development. The property has been downzoned, and a community meeting will be required before any development can occur there. The same is true for the site at Western and Granville.

The meeting was carefully structured to minimize the alderman’s participation and avoid serious issues, like school funding losses, property tax increases, and the City’s budget and pension problems. Those important issues will apparently have to wait until 2016.

Devon Community Market, July 22

This week’s Devon Community Market was notable more for its growing pains than for its offerings. The published vendor list was wrong. Too many vendors crowded into one small area, and some of the vendors were late in setting up. Early arrivals found a half-empty parking lot, and some customers left, thinking most of the vendors hadn’t shown up. There was no ready-to-eat food available. The youngest vendors expanded their business, offering overpriced fruit juice and cans of soda. Two dollars for a can of soda or a juicebox? Please. A little adult guidance on pricing is needed.

There were bright spots.

A new vendor, Ensley Lee Wright, offered sunglasses, caps, and bags designed by its founder, Ensley Venson.

Ensley Venson , Founder of Ensley Lee Wright

Ensley Venson , Founder of Ensley Lee Wright

His two-year-old company also markets tee shirts through its online store (ensleyleewright.com) .

The company will do customized design work.

 

 

Vernon Ingram’s jazz performance was simply superb.  He’s not a flashy showman. He dazzled through talent and artistry.

Let’s hope he’ll be back. He deserves a larger audience.

Vernon Ingram

Vernon Ingram

There were several information vendors–Oak Street Health, ChiroOne Spinal Screenings, and the High Ridge Y, whose staff led a spirited Zumba number.

St. James Presbyterian Church offered spiritual books and lovely, hand-painted inspirational stones. [A reminder: The Church offers Saturday Yoga classes from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. ($10/class, or 6 classes for $50). This Sunday St. James holds its annual Blessing of the Animals at 10:30 a.m. The church is at 6554 North Rockwell.]

Marej Sultana returned with her beautiful henna designs, and Joan Olson had a fresh selection of Avon products, including jewelry and perfume as well as handbags. Steven Frank Farms was back with a stunning array of fruits and vegetables. MarGREAT’s Lemonade did so well on this warm afternoon that she ran out of cups!  Luckily, it was just about time to go home.

Unfortunately, it was the final market for Fehr Bros. Farms, which had contracted for only three appearances.

There was plenty of entertainment for the kids.

Go Green Science Lab was the most popular attraction at the market, with young artists making masks and performing science experiments.

Young artists and scientists at Go Green Science Lab.

Young artists and scientists at Go Green Science Lab.

Devon Arts returned with its do-it-yourself mosaic, an enjoyable art challenge crowded with kids.

Michael from Ludy Gerardi facepainting had little faces blooming with flowers.

Music House Academy of Music and Dance offered information on its classes.

Mary, the children’s librarian at the Northtown branch, conducted a story hour with crafts.

 

Every market experiences an off-week. It’s probably a good thing that this one came early in the season. Now that it’s behind us, the market’s organizers and its customers can look forward to the rest of the season.

Devon Community Market, July 15

Yesterday’s Devon Community Market hit a grand slam — an eclectic assortment of vendors, delicious food, enthusiastic crowds, and a sensational show from the young performers at Music House Academy of Music & Dance. It was exactly the way to spend a few relaxing hours on a near-perfect mid-summer day.

Young families enjoying the food and fun.

Young families enjoying the food and fun.

The talent of the students and instructors from Music House was breathtaking. Every genre of music was represented, from classical to rock. The dancers were superb.

Music House performers.

Music House performers.

The violin ensemble, accompanied by Richard Trumbo, Music House Director, on guitar, entranced with lovely, lilting melodies. Dalia Chin delivered an outstanding performance, playing “The Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s opera “Orpheus.” In a brief interview with Trumbo afterwards, Dalia announced that she is now a Certified Suzuki Flute Instructor qualified to teach children as young as three years of age to play the flute. Imagine!

Every performer was in top form. Just look:

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The Ravens, a trio of second-graders, had the crowd rocking and cheering. They covered several numbers that were big hits in the 1980s–their grandparents probably had the original recordings on eight-track tapes. Madyson Lockett, a talented singer and tap dancer, stopped pedestrians in their tracks–she’s a star in the making. The sheer joy of performing came through in every step taken by the youngest performers, who thrilled the crowd with their modern dance number.  Dance Instructor Rachel Molinaro moved fluidly through a graceful improvisational dance, with music provided by Dalia Chin.

Music House closed its show with Nate Jakaitis on guitar harmonizing with Kimberlyn Gadawski’s lovely vocals. The crowd was sorry to see the show end.

Milt’s Kosher BBQ truck made its first appearance at this year’s Market. There were long lines for the sandwiches, brisket, and cole slaw and everything sold out quickly.  But they’ll be back.

A long line for Milt’s Kosher BBQ.

So will Trenae Gourmet. New to the Market this year, Trenae Gourmet offers healthy wraps (vegetarian, turkey), detox water, kale and spinach smoothies, a fruit smoothie called a Mango Tango, fruit puffs, and both quinoa and

____ and Britney of Trenae Gourmet

Trenae Gourmet

brown rice bowls with chicken. I bought a turkey wrap and Mango Tango for dinner, and both were delicious.

Returning to the Market this year  is MarGREAT’s Lemonade, the specialty of an 11-year-old entrepreneur who is saving her profits for her college education.

MarGREAT’s Lemonade

MarGREAT’s Lemonade is perfect for a hot summer day. I had a glass of it myself, and it’s light and refreshing. Made with real lemons, not bottled juice, each serving is made to order. The afternoon turned warm, so MarGREAT’s Lemonade was just right. It’s really good.

MarGREAT is a clever play on her name, Margaret.

Also new this year was InsideOut Health (Shaklee Products), offering various personal and health care products as well as eco-friendly cleaning supplies.

Europoint Imports presented an array of headphones, cell phones, and small electronic

Europoint Imports

and Bluetooth devices.  The three enthusiastic young vendors (Tooba, Abdullah, and Noor) really knew their business (the family has a store on Devon).

Devon Arts presented a challenging mosaic puzzle for older kids, and the artistry of Joseph, from Ludi Gerardi Facepainting, could be seen

Joseph from Ludy Gerardi Facepainting, and happy client
Joseph from Ludy Gerardi Facepainting, and happy client

everywhere. Marej Sultana continued to amaze with her beautiful henna designs, and Shmooz the Clown amused the kids with his bright red nose and curly blue hair.

Joan Olson. our local Avon Lady, returned with a variety of products  including a roll-on soap product for kids, jewelry, and handbags as well as perfume and cosmetics.

Joan’s a rotating vendor, so check the schedule to see when she’s there. Stop by for the mosquito-repelling Skin So Soft bath oil and pick up a catalog, too.

Fehr Bros. Farms returned for its second week. I bought some of the ground beef patties (95% lean), and enjoyed one for lunch the next day. The burger was lean and tasty, without shrinkage after cooking. I topped it with slices from one of the big juicy tomatoes from Steven Frank Farms, where I also bought fresh blueberries for my morning muffins.  FYI: Fehr Bros. is bringing fresh-cured bacon in two weeks.

I always eat well the day after the Market, and it’s never too soon to start planning breakfast.

Devon Community Market: Part 2. The 2014 Market

The disastrous trial run of the Devon Community Market in 2013 made it clear that the market would require a complete retooling for its 2014 season. Mary Arents was hired as part-time Market Manager. A savvy, personable young woman, Mary recognized that community buy-in would be critical to the market’s success, and she used social media  to engage with the community in her efforts to produce a market that would meet residents’ desires and earn their support.

Beginning in April 2014, Mary sought community input on the kinds of merchandise, vendors, and entertainers residents wanted as well as opinions on what didn’t work for the community in 2013. She encouraged neighbors to send her e-mails and responded promptly. Mary impressed many residents with her passion for the project and her efforts to recruit the kinds of vendors requested.

Residents clearly indicated a desire for locally-grown and organic produce, a wider variety of vendors, locally-produced goods, a seating area so people could eat prepared foods on the premises, more trashcans, less noise, and child-oriented entertainers, such as puppeteers or magicians. The lack of parking was also an issue. [Customers could park free in the small bank parking lot across Devon, but would have to walk a half block east or west to a crosswalk in order to safely cross the street.]  Mary responded enthusiastically. She noted that some decisions had already been made, but the community could help shape the market for 2014 and then afterwards help her “dream big” for 2015.

Mary agreed that the noise from the soundstage was an issue, and instead proposed using some of the City’s funding to make the LINK program and Double Value Coupons available. [Double Value Coupons give LINK participants matching funds to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables as well as other fresh food at Farmers Markets throughout the City.]  She also asked for volunteers to help create family-oriented programming and to support the market in other ways, such as distributing flyers and postcards, serving as greeters and counters, helping with set-up and take-down, etc.

The only question for which there was no answer was why the market had to be held in the parking lot rather than at Warren Park or another venue; it was clear that this decision had been made at a higher level.

Mary lined up an impressive array of vendors, some on a rotating basis, including vendors of hot foods as well as snacks. Announced vendors included (an asterisk denotes a rotating vendor):

All Natural Chicago* (flatbread crackers, fruit preserves, granolas)
Avon Products* (beauty products)
Bread Shoppe  (breads, focaccia)
C&D Farms  (meats, eggs; vendor left at the end of July)
Chaat for Champions (hot Indian snack food)
CHJ Imoja Gardens (organic vegetables)
City Fresh*
The Coffee Shop*  (iced coffee & tea)
D & R Gardens & Orchards
Edible Experience (kosher foods)
Elevate Energy* (energy efficiency expertise)
Farmer Friendly Farm to Table Foods
Feast & Imbibe (hot food)
Going Green Science Lab
Headstash Roasting Co.* (iced coffee & tea)
Heartland Health Centers*  (health insurance enrollment assistance)
Holy Spirit Life Learning Center (candles & plants)
Katic Breads
La Farine Bakery
LINK (food assistance)
Lou’s Old Fashioned* (pickles & coffee cakes)
Ludwig Farmstead Creamery
MarGREAT Lemon Shake-ups
Mike Tipp, Scroll Saw Craftsman*
Milt’s BBQ (kosher)
Misericordia Hearts & Flour Bakery
Mizrahi Grill (food truck)
Moneydart Global Services* (financial services information)
Music House (entertainment)
Northtown Public Library (storytime and crafts for children)
Paradise Products
Patel Handicrafts*
Patyk Farms (vegetables, plants)
Performing Arts Limited (entertainment)
Presence Saint Francis Hospital  (colorectal cancer prevention)
Red Wheelbarrow Literary Society
Relish Chicago, Inc.
Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society*  (local history)
Ruff Haus & Co. (pet boutique services)
Schmooz the Clown
Simply Simchas (kosher popcorn and cotton candy)
Soul Vegetarian (hot food)
Splat Toys* (toys that go ‘splat!’)
Tamariel* (face painting and henna)
Ted’s Fresh Market
Townline Organic Farm
Tu Ritmo Dance Studio (Zumba)

At this writing, only four vendors on the above list are confirmed for the 2015 Market (Avon, the Coffee Shop, Going Green Science Lab, and Milt’s BBQ). Among the 2014 entertainers, Music House, Performing Arts Limited, Northtown Library, and Schmooz the Clown will return. None of the farmers from 2014 will be back (per the Market’s Web site, devoncommunitymarket.org).

Mary worked hard to promote and staff the market. The location again proved to be a huge drawback. As a volunteer I heard many complaints about the difficulty of driving into the parking lot on the south side of the street during rush-hour traffic, or running the risk of theft or a ticket by leaving one’s car idling on the street to avoid paying the parking meters. More than one person complained about the unfairness of having to pay the meters to spend 10 minutes in the market buying produce. Farmers markets tend to charge higher prices than grocery stores because the food is fresher, the additional expense of paying the meters adds to the cost of the food, thus discouraging customers.

To Mary’s credit, the number of service agency tents was held to a minimum. She concentrated on booking vendors offering a variety of merchandise that would appeal to most neighborhood residents.

Some vendors did not show up every time they were scheduled, and some didn’t show at all. A few began packing before the market closed. Some cancelled. One week only about half the vendors came, and the market looked forlorn and deserted. The September 10 market was cancelled because of rain, thus shortening the season to 10 dates. Attendance was sparse.

At the end of the season, the market was declared a success. In her newsletter issued after the final market on September 17, Ald. Silverstein wrote: “This Wednesday was the last Devon Community Market of the season. This year’s market was a tremendous success, with more than 4,000 residents streaming in from all over the city and beyond to sample everything the 50th Ward has to offer! I was also very pleased to be able to bring in farmers from Michigan, Illinois and Indiana to provide our neighborhood with fresh local berries, vegetables, meat, eggs and cheese.”  I questioned the attendance figure, but Mary wrote that she had stationed volunteers at both parking lot entry points to record the number of visitors.

I used FOIA to get the official attendance, income, and expense records for the 2014 market. They are instructive, and offer clear proof that the Devon Community Market in its current format is not working for either the community or the vendors. The City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events maintains official records for most City markets, although those records for the Devon Community Market are incomplete, not providing sales by vendor, for example. But I was able to obtain LINK sales and attendance figures for 2014, and they are dismal.

LINK sales totaled only $735.50, with a low the second week of just $18.75; the LINK high was on September 3, when $157.75 was recorded.  Of $86 in Double Value Coupons distributed, only $27 were redeemed. Total expenses for the market were recorded as $4,992; most of this was the $3,500 charge for the LINK technology and staffing support, with the rest attributed to Mary’s salary ($1,192) and signage ($300). No LINK sales or other data were recorded for the final market on September 17.  In fact, that date does not even appear in the DCASE records for the Devon Community Market.

Weekly attendance was reported at 75-100 persons (a total of 750 to 1,000 people), a far cry from the 4,000 claimed by Mary and  the alderman. The lower figure is probably accurate; I volunteered at or attended all but two markets, and the market was rarely crowded with shoppers, although many people brought children for the entertainment and kids’ activities.

Given the poor sales using the LINK card, and the low attendance numbers, one can assume that non-food vendors did not do well. With set-up and take-down, as well as  five hours on duty, it’s a long day for vendors, and, for many, a long drive. A five-hour market that attracts so few customers is a waste of time for farmers and others who expect to make money. This may be why so few vendors agreed to return for 2015.

I encountered resistance and delay from DCASE when I tried to obtain the Market’s  records, and was told that some of the information I requested was not under DCASE control. That information included vendor sales figures. Vendors pay for their space and are required to report their total sales (both cash and credit card, rounded to the nearest dollar) at the end of each day to the market manager, so the lack of such information in the DCASE records is strange.

I find it impossible to believe that DCASE is unaware of or has no interest in whether individual markets are profitable, yet it’s not at all surprising that the lack of transparency at every level of City government makes these public records difficult to access. This may be especially true in cases where, as with the Devon Community Market, the reports from those with an interest in declaring the market a triumph differ so markedly from the official records available.

A PDF of the spreadsheet received from DCASE is below.

Efforts to locate accurate vendor sales figures for both the 2013 and 2014 markets are continuing.

Devon Market 2014

Thursday: The Devon Community Market 2015: Progress or the Same Old Mistakes?

Devon Community Market, Part I

This is the first installment of a four-part series examining the Devon Community Market, its creation, history, profitability, and problems, as reflected in the City’s official records, obtained using FOIA, and other sources. The City’s records are incomplete, reluctantly disclosed, and conceal more than they reveal. Some information and other records may be held by other entities, the City being only one of the Market’s several sponsors.

The official records that do exist are held by DCASE (Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events), and do not include profit and loss records, although the event is largely funded by public monies, some coming directly from the City, from the alderman, or from a state senator; some money comes from the special assessment that funds the Devon SSA.  The search for official records continues.

Creation and History

In the Spring of 2015 a meeting was held at Ald. Silverstein’s office to discuss the creation of a community market for West Ridge. According to a DNA Info article by Ben Woodard dated April 25, residents were invited to meet with representatives from the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, DCASE, and potential vendors about the market.  Like most of the neighborhood, I was unaware of the meeting, nor did I find any reference to it in a review of the alderman’s newsletters from Spring 2013.

The DCASE rep, Yesenia Mota, was described as the City’s farmers’ markets coordinator. Mota described the City as having “outgrown farmers markets” and claimed it was ” better to have a market with local businesses” and some farmers. She was quoted by Woodard as stating, “Obviously, you can’t have a Lincoln Square market here–it’s really diverse. It’s really an opportunity for all this diversity to come together.”

Why neighborhood diversity should have a negative impact on the sale of a full spectrum of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and plants was not explained.

What the City had decided, according to Mota and a press release from DCASE, was that it would sponsor four community markets in addition to its ongoing Farmers Markets, and one of those four would be in West Ridge. It fell to the alderman’s office, DCASE, and Amie Zander, then-Executive Director of the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, to recruit vendors. The 2013 market would be a trial run, scheduled for one Sunday per month from June through September, from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., in the then-new Republic Bank parking lot at Washtenaw and Devon.

The event was designed to showcase local artisans and businesses as well as live entertainment, with the soundstage set up diagonally across the southeast corner of the lot so as to maximize the volume on Devon Avenue in an attempt to attract shoppers. That the speakers were blasting directly into homes across the alley from the parking lot was not a consideration for the event’s organizers.

The first Devon Community Market had 17 vendors, 11 of them nonprofit agencies and organizations offering brochures, fact sheets, and other information (the alderman’s office was one of those represented). Apart from the entertainment stage, announced vendors included a wood worker, a jewelry artist, a face painter, and a couple of farmers. Customers were few. The three subsequent markets had a bit more variety, and neighborhood mainstay and good corporate citizen Ted’s Market came through with solid merchandise offerings from its store shelves. For at least two of the remaining three markets, Ted’s seemed to be the only vendor attracting shoppers. One vendor made a single appearance with merchandise that was apparently selected as the promised “ethnic novelties.”  A review of the photos on the Market’s Facebook page shows very few customers in attendance, and an over-reliance on close-ups of produce that was not in evidence at the market itself.

Nevertheless, Zander, appearing on Avy Meyers’ Northtown News Magazine program, said that the 2013 trial run proved that “…this is the right area for it.” She went on to note that the market was a response to resident complaints that West Ridge lacked a Farmers Market like Andersonville and other neighborhoods have, and noted that the market’s 2014 evening hours would bring people to Devon when all the businesses are open.

Zander was in attendance at the four 2013 markets and was largely responsible for vendor recruitment. That she did a poor job was evident. As for the comparison to Andersonville, that neighborhood’s 2013 market included approximately 30 vendors selling fresh produce, flowers, cheese, wine, fresh meat, honey, and bakery goods, among other vendors. It was Andersonville’s fifth market, true, but why the merchandise on sale there should be considered unappealing in a diverse neighborhood remains a puzzle.  (Interview available on the Devon Community Market Facebook Timeline, dated May 19, 2014, part of a discussion about neighborhood news.)

In her end-of-year newsletter, the alderman described the market as a place where “…business owners and vendors from our neighborhood and beyond had the chance to highlight the 50th Ward’s unique food, goods, and culture to the rest of the city. Shoppers and browsers were treated to farm stands jam-packed with fresh fruits, vegetables and produce…booths stuffed with baked goods and all the ethnic novelties that make the 50th Ward so amazing.”  It was nothing of the kind.

The 2013 Devon Community Market was an abject failure by any objective measure. That fact was not lost on the vendors, the residents, or some of the organizers. Every effort would be made to make 2014 better. Despite the unexamined contradictions in the Market’s basic concept and its resulting organizational problems, the 2014 Devon Community Market came close to being a success in many ways.

Tuesday: The Devon Community Market Retools for 2014

Devon Community Market, July 8

The first Devon Community Market of the 2015 season was held on July 8, and was a pleasant surprise. Eleven friendly, enthusiastic vendors created an inviting bazaar, and Performing Arts Limited, a dance troupe of talented young performers, entertained with charming young ballerinas and a modern dance duo that stopped passers-by in their tracks.

Let’s begin with the entertainment. Performing Arts Limited (located at 2740 West Touhy Avenue) was a joy. The few pedestrians walking past the parking lot or waiting for the bus on the other side of the street were clearly enchanted by the pretty and graceful young ballerinas and their handsome young counterpart. Two talented young teenagers performed two modern dance routines–including tap dancing–and they were superb. Take a look at this slideshow for a glimpse of their artistry!

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The first market showcased both new and returning vendors. Fresh, clean produce, beautifully displayed, came from Steven Frank Farms.  Cucumbers, cauliflower, grapes, lettuce, Fresh produce from Frank Farmsgarlic, red potatoes, fresh honey–and look at those peaches!  Steven Frank Farms also offered corn, yellow squash, banana peppers, and carrots.

It was a farmers’ market all by itself.

Or consider Golden Rise Bakery, which offered three tables packed with freshly-baked breads, cookies, Golden Rise Bakeryfruit turnovers, pies and other treats. Golden Rise offered a lush apple strudel as well as small fruit pies. You name it, they baked it. Golden Rise is a first-time vendor at this market.

Music House Academy of Music and Dance was a surprise vendor, not on the market’s official list. Located at 2925-27 West Devon, its Web site describes Music House as “… a Performing Arts School …dedicated to teaching students and parents the value of hard work to reach attainable goals! Richard Trumbo, owner of Music House, and his homemade lunchbox guitar [Our school] … makes learning music and dance fun and engaging for all abilities.”

Here is Music House owner Richard Trumbo, proudly showing–and playing– his homemade lunchbox guitar.

The Going Green Mobile Science Lab is back again this year, providing fun learning experiences for kids of all ages. Science LabAnchored by Steve Johnson, the lab’s enthusiastic young scientists inform and amaze in a fun atmosphere.

Fehr Bros. Farms presented a stunning array of fresh meat, including Angus beef raised on the downstate farm that is several generations old, Fehr Bros. Farms, a first-year vendornow owned and farmed by six brothers. Fehr Bros. also brought chicken, pork, lamb, and bison, in every butcher’s cut, as well as chicken eggs and duck eggs and fresh bacon.

Fehr Bros. is new to the market this year.

The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce was represented, as was Chiro-One Spinal Health Screening, new this year and not yet on the vendor list.

Joan Olson and Avon Products returned to the market with an array of cosmetics and skin care products as well as lovely jewelry and gift items.

Another new vendor this year is Marej Sultana Henna Designs. Finished designI watched in amazement as she created intricate floral paintings in a matter of minutes using a painless application of henna. Look at this beautiful work!  Her lovely artwork dries in a matter of minutes and lasts for 7-10 days.

Two other new vendors joined the market this year.

St. James Presbyterian Church offers inspirational gifts and art projects for children. St. James Presbyterian ChurchRemember to bring your pets to the Church’s annual Blessing of the Animals on Sunday, July 26, at 10:30 a.m. at the Church, 6554 N. Rockwell. Bites of Pleasure Dairy Catering

Bites of Pleasure Dairy Catering presented kosher baked goods and condiments. Everything looked absolutely delicious–and they do give samples!

The market failed to attract as many customers as these outstanding vendors deserved, an unfortunate consequence of its location and a lack of publicity. To date, there has been no advertising in the neighborhood newspaper, although an ad was placed in a paper that serves the Skokie area.

In addition, the market’s new Web site gives the wrong bus information, advising market goers to use the 151 [Sheridan] rather than the 155 [Devon] bus. The site also advises that both the 151 and 93 (California) buses stop “just steps” from the market’s location; in fact, the California bus is nearly two blocks from the market, and the 151 will take shoppers only to Clark and Devon. The 155 stops at Washtenaw, and that’s right across the street from the market. The directions need to be accurate if they’re going to help boost attendance.

Vendors appear at the market on a rotating basis so it’s a different market each week. I’ve been very critical of the market over the past two years, but that’s another post. Based on what I saw this week, it’s worth a visit.

What’s an Eyesore?

There’s a hearing tomorrow, July 8, at 2 p.m., in Courtroom 1107 at the Daley Center about the building at 2906-10 West Devon Avenue. The City filed suit on June 12 and a lis pendens notice on June 22, meaning the owner has been notified that there is now a legal claim against the property that could affect both the title and the property’s value. The building in question formerly housed Rosenblum’s World of Judaica, which closed in 2010 after 37 years at that location. DSC_05751083Alderman Silverstein informed the community  that the building has not been properly maintained by its owner and a City inspection revealed numerous code violations. She has therefore asked the City to force the owner of this “eyesore” to make the necessary repairs and rent the now-vacant storefronts.  The property is owned by Khalid J. Siddiqui. No problems are obvious in this recent photo.

She has taken no action against other, real eyesores, like the old Sheldon Cord Products building, that are clearly in far worse shape. The building has been vacant for years. One of the Ugliest Buildings on DevonIn April 2015, 2201 Devon LLC succeeded Schubert Development Partners LLC as owner. We’ll see whether this is merely an administrative change or will spell real improvement for the site. It’s hard to see how it could look any worse.

The board-up at the former dry cleaning shop just a short distance from the old Rosenblum’s is a horrible site. The wood is weather-beaten and warped, DSC_05771085and the addition of the American flag as a decoration on both the building and the oversize sign board hanging above the sidewalk make the building look even more decrepit as one moves closer. The wood is rotting at sidewalk level. It’s a dismal and depressing sight. The property is owned by Harrison-Ogden-Wolcott LLC according to CityData.com.

Then there’s this poorly maintained property across the street from the property the alderman is so concerned about. DSC_05761084It may be part of a medical office located next door. When the office is open it appears that both storefronts are connected. This property looks shabby and dirty and in need of immediate repair.

There are many more examples of buildings on Devon that are all but falling apart. The same can be said of commercial buildings throughout the ward. So why is the building at 2906-10 West Devon a problem, for whom, and why now?

It’s no secret that the Jewish Community Council has been working to restore the traditional Jewish shopping district that used to exist on the west end of Devon. But the alderman’s use of the term “eyesore” to describe the old Rosenblum’s site reminded me of the sudden push to sell the theater site at Devon & McCormick in March. Where that property was described as an eyesore and an attraction for criminals, this one is being described as an eyesore riddled with building code violations. In both cases urgent action was/is required and community participation invited.

We all know how that turned out.

The alderman’s actions also reminded me of the re-election stunt from last Fall when she gave the impression that she forced the sale of storefronts on Touhy Avenue that were also described as rundown. I learned from an informed reader that the property sale was already in process when the alderman decided to intervene. The sale was used in her advertising as evidence of her concern for economic development. The storefronts are still vacant.

I suspect that the Rosenblum’s site is nowhere near as bad as it’s made out to be. I also suspect that there’s probably already an interested buyer for the property. The pending lawsuit means the value of the property will decrease, because any buyer would become responsible for repairing the alleged defects. Wanna bet those will turn out to be minor if the right buyer comes along?

I welcome new business. The ward needs it. Our business districts are shabby, dirty, and filled with vacancies. I’d even welcome the alderman’s participation in this little drama if I could just believe she’s acting in the community’s best interests and not in the interests of those who know how the game is played. The goal may be to force Mr. Siddiqui out by playing hardball over minor violations, jeopardizing his title to the property and thus lowering its price for a buyer already waiting in the shadows.

The case number is 2015-M1-401751. No appearance has yet been filed by the defendants’ attorney(s).

In the meantime, let’s help the alderman locate all the deteriorating storefronts in the ward that could use her influence with the City. Send your pictures to Ald. Silverstein at info@50thwardchicago.com.