Forest Park’s business community is seeking to revive the village’s short-lived summer tradition of hosting a weekly French Market this year, despite widespread acknowledgment that the last market, held in 2004, did not go according to plan.
The village first hosted a French Market, organized by the Paris-based Bensidoun Group, in 2003, at the corner of Elgin Avenue and Madison Street where Starbucks now stands. The event was highly successful according to nearly all who were involved, drawing a steady stream of visitors into town with a wide variety of vendors selling crafts, food and other unique products.
The following year, however, the market suffered from decreased visibility after relocating to the parking lot next to the Forest Park National Bank, leading to reduced interest from both vendors and shoppers. According to many, mismanagement by the Bensiduon Group also accounted for a large part of the problem.
“It moved to a new location and was kind of hard to see. That hurt it, as well as marketing efforts,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone. “I’d like to see the French Market again…it creates an additional attraction to Madison Street, lets people buy some products, and becomes a destination point.”
Main Street Director Art Jones agreed, acknowledging the reduction in traffic in 2004 but stating that “Even in the second year to some degree it did bring more people to the street and to the community.”
Jones noted that several current Madison Street businesses including Team Blonde and Two Fish Art Glass, were first attracted to Forest Park by their experience as vendors at the first French Market.
When the matter was brought before the village council for discussion in November, the commissioners seemed largely in favor of giving the French Market another chance, though Commissioner Terry Steinbach said she would need to see a commitment from the Bensidoun Group to manage the event more professionally before supporting the event’s return to Forest Park.
“Last time, (the disappointing season) was blamed on location. I thought the location was nice, but I didn’t see marketing…I can’t support something like that unless there are changes in how it’s being handled,” she said.
Calderone said that a meeting would be scheduled in the near future with Bensidoun Group representatives to discuss the possibility of bringing the market back. He said that he believed the group would be willing to make the necessary changes in management to again make the market an attractive option for Forest Park.
According to past reports, the cost to the village of hosting the market is approximately $14,000 per year, which includes trash hauling and other services provided by the village.
“With the right location and vendors the Chamber believes the market will continue to increase awareness of Madison Street, and be a definite plus for Forest Park as a whole,” said Laurie Kokenes, director of Forest Park’s Chamber of Commerce.
Kokenes also noted that the market could serve as an ideal testing ground for new or prospective businesses in town, as it did for La Piazza Cafe, 410 Circle Ave., when it first opened.
She said that, along with caffe De Luca owner and Main Street Association President Art Sundry, she recently conducted a survey of Madison Street businesses and Main Street members to determine the level of support for the market’s return.
Those surveyed, according to Kokenes voted 39-5 that they believe Forest Park can build a successful French Market in the coming years. According to survey results, the preferred location for future markets was the village-owned parking lot at Madison Street and Circle Avenue, followed by Constitution Court.
Those surveyed also voted overwhelmingly in favor of continuing to hold the market on Saturday rather than Sunday, and listed ideal products for the market as flowers, fresh produce from local farmers, gourmet foods, used books, and arts & crafts.
Respondents also expressed a desire for the market to include performance artists, and voted 36-14 in favor of adding live music to the festivities.