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!

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