Should the Devon Community Market Continue?

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?







Food Carts, Commercial Kitchens, and Politics

The City Council at its Thursday meeting voted to license food carts. The sponsor of the ordinance, 26th Ward Alderman Robert Maldonado, estimated that the move would create around 6,400 jobs and bring in several million dollars in sales tax revenue annually. The requirements are stiff: vendors must pay a $350 license fee every two years, have their carts professionally cleaned and serviced, ensure that carts have heating and refrigeration systems, and prepare their food in commercial kitchens. The user fee for the commercial kitchen tacks on another $300+.

The 50th Ward has a commercial kitchen, paid for with a grant from the City of Chicago. But the kitchen isn’t operational. It’s part of ZAM’s Hope, the community resource center run by former aldermanic candidate Zehra Quadri. The plan was to offer kitchen space and marketing advice to residents who wanted to turn family recipes into successful food businesses. A strong supporter of Ald. Bernie Stone, Quadri has had many funding problems since the Silversteins began running the 50th Ward. While Ira cut funding for many of her programs, Debra outdid herself in pettiness and vindictiveness after her February re-election.

Quadri needs a zoning change to allow her kitchen to operate. Silverstein refuses to provide Quadri with a letter that would allow Quadri to obtain that zoning change. As a result, a taxpayer-funded commercial kitchen sits unused. It could have offered much-needed help for food cart vendors and other food entrepreneurs in the 50th Ward, but the alderman won’t allow it. No political rival will be permitted to support entrepreneurs or contribute to economic development if Silverstein has anything to say about it. And, unfortunately, she does.

Silverstein’s economic development record since her re-election is nothing short of appalling. A proposed art center lost out to a storage facility. A medical marijuana dispensary that would have invested nearly $500,000 in property improvements AND hired neighborhood residents was not approved. A commercial kitchen that could have helped 50th Ward residents create successful, sustainable businesses was not allowed to open.

Silverstein 3, economic development 0.

And we’re only five months into her second term.



MMD Denied for 50th Ward

The Zoning Board of Appeals on Friday denied a permit to the Green Gate Compassion Center to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the 50th Ward.  Because of an existing vacancy on the five-member board, the vote deadlocked at 2-2, with Shelia O’Grady casting the second vote against.  O’Grady was appointed to the Board in 2013, and formerly served as Chief of Staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Members of the Board are appointed by the Mayor. It’s not clear how business can be conducted without a full Board. The term of the fifth member of the ZBA, Catherine Budzinski, an architect, expired in May 2015. The Mayor has not yet named a replacement.

This is a stunningly stupid decision. Although the alderman did not declare herself against the clinic at the ZBA hearing, she had voiced her opposition to it for several months. She and her supporters carried the day, despite the fact that hundreds of residents who supported the clinic signed a petition and appeared at the hearing.

It should be clear now that economic development in the 50th Ward will not occur under this alderman. A business that would have invested nearly half a million dollars in property improvements and hired residents could not open because of the alderman’s opposition.

It’s an indefensible shame.

Devon Community Market Survey

The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce is conducting a brief survey about the Devon Community Market to seek community input in planning the 2016 season.

Unfortunately, the link to the survey does not yet appear on the Chamber’s Web site, although the survey announcement as reported in the September 16 edition of Our Village directs interested parties there.

There is a link to it via The Crunchy Carrot Blog on the Devon Community Market Web site. You can find the blog by clicking here. The link to the survey itself appears in the second paragraph.

Devon Community Market, RIP

There’s a meeting scheduled for October 21 to discuss planning the 2016 Devon Community Market. It’s been a failure for the past three years, and is past the point where any fixes would help. The best solution is to scrap it and create the true Farmers Market the neighborhood wants.

Everything about the Market’s current incarnation is wrong: the concept, the name, and the location.

It’s an affront to the residents of West Ridge, who have been vocal in their demand for a true farmers market, and have shown their distaste for the Devon Community Market by shunning it.

It’s unfair to the vendors, who discover that there are no customers and therefore no money to be made. Many show up once and never return, and a good number of them migrate to true farmers markets in other neighborhoods where they are successful. The word is out: The Devon Community Market is bad for vendors, and that makes recruitment harder.

Other diverse neighborhoods enthusiastically support farmers markets, in Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Andersonville, for example. Why should West Ridge be any different? The Devon Community Market was designed to support local merchants on Devon, virtually none of whom have supported the Market in return (exceptions being Ted’s Market in 2013 and Europrint Imports [cell phones] in 2015).

My next few posts will detail both problems and potential solutions for a true farmers market in West Ridge.

The meeting is scheduled for Devon Bank on October 21 at 6:30 p.m. It’s sponsored by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.


Marijuana and the Governor

Governor Bruce Rauner recently vetoed a bill that would have added another eleven conditions, including PTSD, to those already legally approved in Illinois for treatment with medical marijuana. He also killed the four-year extension of the state’s current pilot program, set to expire in January 2018; the governor approved only a four-month extension. Rauner said that a longer extension would be “premature” since the pilot program has not been evaluated because no MMJ has yet been sold in Illinois.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang, said that the governor’s veto will result in higher prices for MMJ users because dispensary owners will need to make their investments back sooner, since they will also be unable to plan for a future for their businesses should the pilot program fail. Lang is concerned that MMJ users will instead buy their pot illegally.

The 50th Ward’s Green Gate Compassion Center has yet to receive final approval from the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals, and the alderman remains opposed.

Last Saturday morning I ran a quick errand on California. I didn’t have my cell phone with me. As I was walking west on Devon between Fairfield and California, three young boys rode past me on bicycles. The oldest was no more than 12 or 13, the other two approximately 9 and 10. The two younger boys went into the discount store on the corner, while the older boy lingered at the window of the nearby charity shop, rolling a joint. He was smoking it as the other boys returned, and they sped off.

With all the focus lately on blocking access to medical marijuana by the seriously ill, I have to marvel at just how easy it is for kids this boy’s age to get the illegal stuff. He’s clearly not concerned with being caught, probably because he knows his age will count in his favor and he’s probably not carrying enough for serious legal trouble. The code of the streets means he’d never tell where he got it.

Gov. Rauner supports decriminalizing marijuana but wants to proceed at a slower pace than the legislature has in mind. He recently vetoed a bill that would have increased the amount of cannabis an individual could possess (to 15 grams) while lowering fines (to $55-$125). Using his amendatory powers, the governor lowered the amount to 10 grams, with fines between $100-$200.

Seeing this kid on Saturday, I thought about how easy it is to get pot on the street, and how hard we’re making it for patients to buy it legally. The war on drugs has failed. I think we should legalize marijuana, regulate sales, and tax the hell out of it.

At the very least, we should do a better job of keeping it away from 12-year-old kids.

Friends of the Northtown Library Off to a Good Start

The newly-organized Friends of the Northtown Library held its first meeting on September 3, and plans for a November book sale are well underway. Under the chairmanship of Peter Sifnotis, the group decided on the following Fall schedule:

General Meeting        Tuesday, September 29          6:30 p.m.
Book Sale Meeting    Tuesday, October 20               6:30 p.m.  [Corrected Date]
Book Sale                  Thursday, November 12          3 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Book Sale                   Friday, November 13              10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

The Northtown Library is already accepting donations for the book sale. Please drop off your contributions and be sure bags and cartons are clearly marked “For the Friends Book Sale.” Hardback and paperback books, CDs, DVDs, and cassettes are welcome, but please — no encyclopedias or magazines.

The book sale itself will span two days. The meeting on Tuesday, September 29, will plan and organize the various committees needed to ensure a successful event. The group’s fundraising will support the library’s programs.  The annual programming budget for the library is only $170 for the year (yes, that’s correct). The Friends hope to raise enough money at this first book sale to give the library staff some badly-needed funds to create additional programming and events.

Membership in the Friends of the Northtown Library is open to everyone. You can sign up at either of the meetings, or contact Pete for more information (910/478-5267).