Fill Those Storefronts!

Last June the City filed a lawsuit against the owner of the building at 2900-2910 West Devon alleging disrepair and building code violations. The building, formerly home to Rosenblum’s World of Judaica, was and is home to several vacant storefronts. The alderman, describing the building as an “eyesore,” announced that she wanted the building brought up to code and the storefronts rented.

DSC_05751083Well, it appears that two new businesses will be moving in. They may not be exactly what the alderman had in mind. The corner storefront will become yet another dollar store, one of at least half a dozen such stores on Devon.

The storefront next to it is loaded with washing machines and dryers, so it appears this may become a Laundromat. Nothing official yet, no signs, just equipment.

These businesses will at least fill the storefronts. The next block to the east has seen two stores close recently. One had its business license revoked by the State of Illinois Department of Revenue. The other went out of business.

Where’s that ‘spirited economic plan” the alderman promised in 2011?

Addendum: The Collaborative Palette Project

Oops! I inadvertently forgot to include the closing event for The Collaborative Palette Project. My apologies.

The event is described as “a performance to sum up and celebrate the talent in our community.”

It will take place on Sunday, November 15, from 1:00 – 4;00 p.m., at Music House, Academy of Music and Dance, 2925-27 West Devon Avenue.

Devon Arts Festival: The Collaborative Palette Project

West Ridge celebrated the arts over the past few days, and what a celebration it was! The Collaborative Palette Project showcased talented artists, musicians, and dancers from our community, and residents enthusiastically responded. The project is part of Chicago Artists Month, observing its 20th Anniversary Year with the theme “The City as Studio.”

Welcome to The Collaborative Palette Project.

Welcome to The Collaborative Palette Project.

Festivities began on Thursday evening with an opening reception at Music House Academy of Music and dance. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend that program, but it held the promise of lively discussions centered around a renaissance of the arts in West Ridge. Event organizers included networking opportunities, exhibitions, and musical performances among the activities.

I did attend the  Collaborative Palette Project Art Walk on Sunday. Most of the activity had moved back to Music House by early afternoon, and it was easy to see why. We were treated to another spectacular performance by The Ravens, a rock trio of second-graders who cover hits from bands like the Rolling Stones and also compose their own music. They actually created a gaper’s block, with both east- and west-bound vehicles stopping to listen and take cell phone videos and pictures.

Some talented young artists helped create a collaborative work of art that’s a joy to see.

Thanks to Richard Trumbo, President of the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and owner of Music House Academy of Music and Dance, and his staff for organizing this event.

I can’t wait to see what they have planned for next year!


Marijuana in Warren Park

As you know, the alderman successfully blocked the opening of a medical marijuana dispensary that would have invested nearly $500,000 in real estate improvements and brought jobs to the community. She was aided by a group of children whose spokesman invoked the specter of  medical marijuana patients ambushing him in Warren Park and forcing him to smoke their prescriptions.

This week’s News-Star reports that at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23–a day and time when many children could be expected to be playing in the park–police arrested three adults (two aged 20 and one age 27) and two 16-year-olds in Warren Park for smoking pot. All five were “gathered around a park bench smoking from a pipe.” The paper reports that one man tried to toss “the pipe and a bag of drugs in the bushes,” and that “one of the men was carrying 12 bags of pot packaged for sale, while each of the men had either an individual bag of pot, a glass or metal pipe, or both in their pockets.”  At the time, police were responding to reports that a man with a handgun was in the park.

We all know that drugs are bought, sold, and used in Warren Park.

But at least the park is safe from medical marijuana patients.

Family & Senior Activities and Other Suggestions for a Community Market

Community discussions about the new market for West Ridge should include family- and senior-friendly activities. There are many ways to engage and involve a cross-section of the community and to ensure that the market has broad appeal. Even better, there are many West Ridge residents who have experience at creating fairs, carnivals, festivals and other activities. Their knowledge and experience will be invaluable as the community begins the process of creating a new market.

Last night I spoke with a neighbor who has created festivals for his synagogue, and he enthusiastically offered a host of possibilities for family-friendly activities, briefly sharing his experiences in creating such events. Among his suggestions were rides and bounce houses. He also has experience at obtaining corporate sponsorships for these events–a real asset that would be invaluable in planning the new market’s activities.

Let’s not forget the neighborhood’s seniors, who enjoy active participation in community events as much as everyone else.

The new market should have at least two seating areas, one for people who’d like to enjoy their food at the market, and one so audience members can enjoy the talent performances.

Music should be loud enough to be heard but not so loud that it becomes noise. Sound levels can damage young and older ears alike, so decibel levels should be controlled.

Food offerings should include both kosher and halal foods. We do have a variety of ethnic restaurants throughout the ward offering Afghani, Chinese, Indian, Korean, Mexican, and Pakistani and other foods as well as burger, BBQ, and pizza places that should be represented.  Local bakeries offer many Middle Eastern, Jewish, and Russian specialties. Personally, I think we should offer places at the market to our local businesses first.

A successful market takes a lot of planning. I recently attended the two-hour training offered by DCASE for those interested in starting a community market. Known as Chicago Farmers Market Technical Workshops, the sessions are led by Yescenia Mota, who heads the neighborhood farmers markets program. Two more training sessions are scheduled, for October 9 and October 16, both at 1 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center. To register, click here.



A New Community Market: Possibilities and Pitfalls

Let’s explore the idea that a farmers or community market can succeed in West Ridge.

The market will need a new name, a new location, and a new style. Properly located, with ample parking, the right vendors, good management, and proper marketing and publicity, a market that truly reflects the community and its desires and needs could be a real asset to West Ridge.

First, we have to rid ourselves of preconceived notions about the kind of market  the neighborhood should have as well as any bad memories of what the market has been. We need to start fresh.

It takes about three years for a market to develop a customer base. DCASE (the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events) supports markets during that time, providing organizers with the support and advice that helps develop the right vendor mix and assists with vendor recruitment. The market can then become independent. Unfortunately, the organizers of the Devon Community Market chose to become independent after the first year, foregoing the kind of assistance that makes a market successful. As a result, the Devon market has encountered avoidable problems and earned a poor reputation among vendors as well as potential and actual customers.

I think we should scrap the name and start over. A more inclusive name would give the market flexibility in both its style and location and would send a strong signal to potential vendors and customers that the 2016 market is a new and exciting endeavor.

It’s absolutely critical that a new location with ample parking be found. The association with Devon Avenue must end if the market is to have a new beginning. Participants on various social media forums have suggested other locations, such as Warren Park or one of the many vacant lots throughout the neighborhood, especially along Western Avenue. There are many possibilities that can be explored for 2016 and beyond. We should not exclude the possibility that the market may not find its permanent home in 2016.

What style market does the community want? A farmers market? A community market?  A combination that truly reflects the neighborhood?

A true farmers market seems to be what a lot of residents want, but, given the poor reputation of the Devon Community Market, it may be that many potential farmer-vendors will be leery of signing on. Farmers want to make money, and there hasn’t been enough business at the current market for them to do so. Many farmers have already locked in their participation for 2016 at more successful markets, some of which are held on the same day and times as the Devon market.  The list of farmers willing and able to take a chance on our new market may be short, and it may be necessary to reconsider the market’s day and time.

At least two of this year’s farmers might return. Fehr Bros. Farms sold fresh meat at the 2015 market, and did well enough in its three weeks that Brian Fehr indicated a willingness to return when I spoke with him. Steven Frank Farms was a returning vendor in 2015, and may well come again next year. It’s entirely possible that farmers would want to participate in a new, exciting market in West Ridge. It’s doubtful that a true farmers market could be created for 2016, but an increase in the number of vendors selling farm-fresh foods is a must if the market is to have any chance of success.

Maybe the right kind of community market can succeed in West Ridge. Imagine a weekly shopping excursion to a community market comprised of farmers offering produce, flowers, and farm-fresh meats and dairy products as well as local merchants offering foods and merchandise from around the world, such as grains, teas, olive oil, and imported candies.  Imagine ready-to-eat food from local restaurants, bakeries, and food cart vendors. Our neighborhood has a great deal to offer, but no one’s ever asked some of the neighborhood businesses to participate in the community market. We should explore those possibilities now.

I’ve talked with local grocers who import specialty merchandise. They’re located west of California, not members of the Chamber of Commerce, and have not been included in recruitment efforts. They’re eager to succeed, open to reaching the wider community, and willing to take a calculated risk to grow their businesses. Exploring with local merchants the possibility of participating in the 2016 market should be a priority.

One merchant I’ve talked with imports chocolates from the Middle East as well as lead crystal servers, Iraqi art, and decorative handcrafts.  Another has a wide selection of imported teas and tea sets for serving. Some of the small grocers sell other specialty products, like spices, dried fruits, and imported coffee. There are businesses east of Western Avenue that sell beautiful fabrics and offer tailoring services. There are small shops and restaurants throughout West Ridge that might welcome the opportunity to showcase their businesses.

Let’s not forget our local artists and performers.  Indeed, in 2015 the performers were the market’s real attraction!. West Ridge is home to many talented artists and performers–photographers, painters, sculptors, woodworkers, jewelry makers, musicians, dancers–all of whom should be invited to participate.

If we’re going to have a market in West Ridge, let’s make it truly evocative of the entire community.  Provide something for everyone, and invite everyone to participate and enjoy.

We have the talent and the resources within this community to dazzle the rest of Chicago. Let’s put on a show!