Little market on the prairie
Wheeler Mansion to host farmers market Wednesday nights starting next week
05/30/2012 10:00 PM
The South Loop is getting a new farmers market this year, but it’s not going to Grant Park, where officials were talking about 12 months ago.
Plans for a market on South Michigan Avenue are officially dead, according to a rep for Bensidoun USA, the company that hoped to organize a market there. Leslie Cahill, the company’s Midwest manager, said they couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract with the park district.
But further south, the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance is starting a new market at the historic Wheeler Mansion, 2020 S. Calumet Ave., a 142-year-old house that functions as a bed and breakfast.
Beginning next Wednesday evening, June 6 and running through the end of October, the mansion will host 25 to 35 vendors in its back yard selling everything from fresh produce and humanely raised meats to jewelry and clothing.
Every week from 4 to 8 p.m. the market will have live music as well, and Bill Tyre of the Glessner House Museum will offer free tours of the neighborhood each week. The goal, according to PDNA head Tina Feldstein, was to get started by making the market a destination.
“We knew we wanted to do something more than just making it a place to come buy food and vegetables,” Feldstein said. “I really felt like we needed to treat it more like an event and less like a place to come shop for food. We felt like that would be a more successful concept.”
The PDNA had been looking for a place to start up a market for years, Feldstein said, but had struggled with finding the right place to locate one. The biggest hurdle, she said, was finding a street to block off. With few options on the table, the project was put on the back burner, she said.
But when the Wheeler Mansion’s Stephanie Lu Jokich approached them and asked about starting a market, the concept took off quickly.
Jokich has some experience with markets in the city. She’s worked for a vendor at Lincoln Park’s Green City Market, and she’s volunteered at several events promoting sustainable agriculture. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to her, she said.
“I just knew that a market would do really well in an area like this,” she said. “We really wanted the community to tap into the energy of what this area used to be, and of course we want everyone to shop, and plentifully. We were really interested in creating this social vibe as well. Tina’s events are pretty successful, and it’s pretty apparent that people need things to do in this area.”
They’re also experimenting with a new idea: A pre-order program where locals can pick out items in advance and pick them up on the day of the market.
“It’s a way for people to save time but also guarantee they get what they want,” Feldstein said. “It’s also great for the vendors to get an additional revenue source and sell more product.”
For now, though, the market is definitely a trial run. The event is a money-loser for the Wheeler Mansion right now, Jokich said, and it needs to catch on with the community to be renewed for next year. Several hundred people need to come shop at the market each week to make the market sustainable, she said.
Time is money for vendors, too, and they’re taking a chance by coming to a new market — one reason that it’s on Wednesday nights instead of the more typical Saturdays or Sundays.
“Let me tell you, it is not easy at all to get purveyors. Number one, there’s a lot of competition, and many purveyors are very shy about new markets. It’s difficult to get them to give you a shot,” Feldstein said. “But when we explained to them what the Wheeler Mansion was going to be all about, and explained to them the power of the PDNA. … We’re really grateful for these purveyors to take a shot in the dark with us, but it’s a very calculated effort.”
This story has been corrected from a version that originally appeared online and in print to reflect the proper spelling of Stephanie Lu Jokich's name.