2016 Devon Community Market Cancelled

The Devon Community Market has been canceled for this summer. The official reason is that construction of the Devon streetscape prevents access to the parking lot the Market has called home since its inception. The short-sighted thinking reflected in that reasoning is the primary reason for the Market’s failure.

It also reflects a lack of imagination. Far be it from the organizers to consider moving the market to another location, or changing its name, or responding to the community by changing the farmer-vendor ratio. Put simply, I think the organizers wanted it gone as much as the residents did.

No public announcement was made that the Market would not continue; I confirmed it  once I noticed that the Market did not appear in any listings of the Ciy’s summer market offerings. The City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) always included independent markets in its listings. In one of the first of its ongoing disastrous decisions, organizers of the Devon Community Market separated it from DCASE during its first summer, thereby refusing the expertise and support the City would have gladly provided to make the market successful.

It was clear from the first Market that the concept and execution were wrong. The Market lacked support from the merchants it was supposed to showcase and from neighborhood residents, who wanted a true farmers’ market but were ignored. Even when the Market go off to a good start, as it did the last two years, it failed to capture residents’ interest. Vendors drifted away because they couldn’t make any money. Market managers attempted to attract attention with solid entertainment offerings, but the name, location, and reputation of the Market doomed all efforts at improvement.

It is now too late to line up vendors for a 2016 summer market in West Ridge. While it’s possible to create a successful farmers’ market for 2017, I think that it, too, is doomed  unless it is developed and guided by a representative cross-section of West Ridge residents–a true grassroots operation.

I’m advised that a market requires about a year of planning. If the community wants a 2017 farmers’ market in West Ridge, the time to start working on it is now.

 

 

 

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2015 Year in Review – Part II

This is the second part of the month-by-month listing of events omitted from the alderman’s 2015 year-end mailer and newsletters. Events from January through June were published on January 13.

July
2906-10 West Devon Lawsuit

  • Ccourt hearing cancelled
  • Defendant-Owner not yet served
  • Two more defendants added to suit (KJS Properties LLC and Centrue Bank)

Devon Community Market

  • Off to strong start, with superb performances from the dancers of Performing Arts Limited and Music House Academy of Music and Dance
  • Good selection of vendors

Town Hall Meeting

  • Alderman hosts annual meeting with constituents
  • Speakers from City government and local CAPS office address residents’ concerns about rats, flooding, crime, and other problems
  • Alderman introduces speakers. but contributes little to discussion
  • Some of ward’s most affluent residents express dismay over presence of homeless people walking on streets and blocking access to parking garage driveways as well as having cell phones (i.e., folks living under a bridge in Lincolnwood not quite poor enough); police action requested
    • Stunning lack of compassion for fellow human beings leads to involvement of social workers, who relocate homeless people to shelters, out of sight of offended well-to-do residents

August
2906-10 West Devon

  • Court hearing cancelled
  • Defendant-Owner served August 27, after hearing date

Devon Community Market

  • Annual slide into irrelevance begins as customers and vendors fail to show up

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

  • Alderman hosts community meeting with Bob Kingsley, owner of Green Gate Compassion Center, who outlines plans for MMD and engages residents in discussion
  • Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) votes 2-1 to grant tentative approval to Green Gate Compassion Center
  • Board member Sheila O’Grady, former chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley, absent; will vote later

India Day

  • Organizers set up performance area six feet from residential housing; hours of loud, screeching entertainment force nearby residents from homes
  • Organizers once again fail to meet City requirements for public performance events
    • fail to notify nearby residents in advance of proposed concert
      • residents denied opportunity to object to rock concert-level loudness of musical performances
    • fail to notify residents of street closures
      • street signs not installed until late afternoon
      • street signs not properly placed, permitting traffic to enter Washtenaw at Arthur but not to exit except through east-west alleys
    • fail to obtain permit to exceed City’s noise regulations

 LEARN Coalition

  • Coalition launched to begin process of fundraising and site selection for new Northtown library
    • Founding groups include West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, North Boundary Home Owners League, Rogers Park Business Alliance, West Rogers Park Community Organization, and Jewish Community Council
    • Official name is Library Enhancement and Renovation of Northtown (LEARN)

September
Friends of the Northtown Library

  • Group organized by Pete Sifnotis to raise funds to support library programs
  • First meeting plans two-day book sale to benefit library

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

  • ZBA Board member Sheila O’Grady votes against MMD; zoning change denied
  • ZBA not at full strength; one position unfilled; 2-2 tie vote appealed by Green Gate lawyer
  • Pot bust in Warren Park at 4 p.m., when and where children play; three adults, two teenagers, several pipes, and bag of drugs taken into police custody
    • Police at park because of report of man with handgun

Economic Development News

  • Building leveled at Pratt & Western
  • Alderman announces she knows nothing about site plans

October
2906-10 West Devon

  • Various affidavits and summonses issued
  • Case returned to management call

Devon Community Market

  • Market Manager holds community meeting to discuss reorganization
  • Six residents attend

 Devon Streetscape

  • Phase 3 of streetscape (Western to Rockwell) completed without fanfare
    • No ribbon-cutting, cameras, or aldermanic presence marks occasion
    • Alderman schedules no appearance by or pictures with Mayor enmeshed in Laquan McDonald scandal

Devon Arts Festival

  • Collaborative Palette Project organized by Richard Trumbo, owner of Music House, as part of Chicago Artists Month
  • Residents enjoy collaborative art projects and musical entertainment
  • Arts celebration expected to become annual community event

November
In Re Estate of McDonald

  • Alderman announces she “watched in disbelief the video of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald….”
  • Now believes “…there needs to be a more detailed investigation…”
  • Now agrees “…that the U.S. Justice Department [should] intervene”
  • Does not refer to nor explain her April vote to pay McDonald family hush money to make matter go away

Devon Community Market

  • Market Manager tells me market must remain on Devon (within SSA district), retain current name, and remain in current parking lot location
    • Who made boneheaded decision not stated

2906-10 West Devon

  • All parties finally served
  • Lawyer for defendants files appearances
  • Court hearings to be determined

Friends of the Northtown Library

  • Friends group hosts successful two-day book sale
  • Raises more than $1,000 to support library programming

 Ward Committeeman Election

  • Important unpaid position responsible for overseeing integrity of elections
  • George Milkowski is Green Party candidate for committeeman
  • Pete Sifnotis is Republican candidate for committeeman
  • Alderman’s husband to run as Democratic candidate again; re-election guaranteed; family’s hold on power to continue
    • After February election, Silverstein family pettiness ensured precinct assistants disappear from some precincts that did not support alderman
    • Election judges in those precincts denied traditional largesse of morning coffee, lunch, and end-of-day candy as thank-you gift for long day
    • Bernie Stone’s example of grace in power lost on raptor-like Silversteins

December
Medical Marijuana Dispensary

  • Final rejection of 50th Ward MMD when newest commissioner, Jenner & Block attorney and Preckwinkle ally Blake Sercye, votes against economic development opportunity for 50th Ward
    • Alderman’s behind-the-scenes role unclear

Ward Committeeman Election

  • Silverstein in-law challenges Sifnotis nominating petitions
  • Sifnotis knocked off ballot

Economic Development News

  • Another dreary holiday season on Devon marked by absence of holiday decorations and seasonal joy
    • Sparse strings of lights wound around bare light poles from Maplewood to Rockwell and Mozart to Sacramento provide clue that holidays occurring
    • Lack of interest in acknowledging other people’s holidays continues to negatively affect sales performance of former premiere shopping district
    • Residents leave ward for holiday shopping and nonresidents shop elsewhere
  • Streetscape fails to attract shoppers

Goodbye to all that.

 

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Update: Devon Community Market 2016

I was disappointed to learn that only six people attended the October 21 community meeting called for the express purpose of involving neighborhood residents and businesses in planning the 2016 community market. Without community input and support, this endeavor will fail yet again, and this time the community itself will have to accept the blame.

Farid Muhammad, the Market Manager, is eager to work with residents and businesses to create a market that reflects our neighborhood’s diversity. He would also like to attract the kinds of vendors–especially farmers– that residents want and will support, and to select the kinds of entertainers and artists who will appeal to residents and draw shoppers from outside the neighborhood.

The 2015 market got off to a very strong start but weakened mid-season and finished poorly, although entertainment was superb throughout. The market’s history worked against it, as did the location,  lack of parking, late start that led to poor vendor recruitment, and the slow sales that saw many vendors drop out after one market. Farid is committed to improving the market, and at this writing nothing for 2016 is carved in stone. He is still weighing all options.

But he needs help. He can’t organize the market by himself. It’s only a small part of his job as SSA Manager for the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce. Successful markets in other neighborhoods rely on residents and businesses to staff committees, make phone calls to recruit vendors, handle publicity, etc.

A core of committed volunteers from the community is the only way that West Ridge will get the market it wants.

I think this is the make-or-break year for the market. I think that it needs a new name, new location, perhaps a new day and time, and maybe a shorter season. Farid has indicated that he is open to all suggestions.

I’ve sent e-mails to potential new vendors and will be talking with some merchants who haven’t been part of the market. We’re a big neighborhood, with lots of artists and shops who haven’t yet been a presence at the market but perhaps should be. We should also be looking outside the neighborhood for businesses that would appeal to residents.

Please feel free to contact Farid at ssa@westridgechamber.org, with any and all ideas you have, or to volunteer your time and talents for the 2016 market.

Your ideas and your support are needed.

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!

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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