After three years of community indifference, lackluster vendor sales, and vendor recruitment and retention difficulties, the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce has decided to involve the community in planning the 2016 market. That meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 21, at 6:30 p.m. in the lower level meeting room at Devon Bank, 6445 N. Western Avenue.
This reflects well on Farid Muhummad, the Market’s new manager, hired late last Spring, far too late to do much about the 2015 Market. How far he can go to implement community suggestions is another matter, particularly if those suggestions involve the kind of major changes required if the Market is to succeed.
A reader recently wrote (see Comments on my September 16 post) that former Ald. Bernie Stone admitted scrapping the original farmers market because of complaints from one of the largest grocers on Devon that the market was cutting into his business. With the election of a new alderman in 2011, the farmers market was recreated in its present form. Community markets are designed to showcase local businesses and can be very successful, for example, the Argyle Community Market; many of these community markets feature farmers as well.
But it’s clear that the concept is wrong for Devon Avenue. I believe the Devon Community Market has been a casualty of both the ongoing tension over economic control of Devon Avenue and its political ramifications as well as the recurrent blather about the street’s “international shopping.” There are deep divisions within the community about the transformation of Devon Avenue into destination shopping for Indo-Americans and the loss of its historic role as a shopping district for the entire community. The street is also a major disappointment because of its lack of commercial diversity.
My survey of Devon’s businesses reveals that most stores fall into only four categories: sari shop, cell phone store, grocery/supermarket, and beauty shop. The kind of shopping found in other diverse neighborhoods–cheese shops, clothing boutiques, antique stores, or shops featuring the work of local artists–doesn’t exist on Devon Avenue. There is no merchandise mix that would attract shoppers. And with grocery stores on every block of Devon, there is no location where a farmers market would not be in conflict with at least one local business. Therefore, the community market concept is doomed to fail on Devon Avenue.
Could a market located elsewhere in the ward succeed? While Devon is overloaded with groceries, other areas (Western or Touhy Avenues, for instance) just might welcome and support a community or farmers market.
And I think this is where we should begin. What kind of market does the community want, and where should it be located?