Though no resolutions were passed or final decisions made, all five Forest Park commissioners voiced their support for a return of a French Market to the village next summer, as long as the necessary efforts are made to promote and manage the event.
Representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street Association presented the council with marketing plans for a French Market at the northwest corner of Circle Avenue and Madison Street, which was identified as the preferred location for the market in a survey of both residents and business owners.
The market, organized by the Paris-based Bensidoun Group, was a widely acknowledged success in 2003 when it was held at the corner of Elgin Avenue and Madison Street where Starbucks now stands. The following year, however, it was moved to the Forest Park National Bank parking lot, and depending on who is asked, either lack of visibility, promotion or competent management led to a disappointing season.
Art Sundry, owner of caffe De Luca and Main Street Association President, said that he had recently met with Bensidoun group representatives, and they were willing to commit to reviving the market.
Bensidoun, according to materials presented to the council, has agreed to hire a new manager for the Forest Park farmers market, provide incentives to encourage vendor participation, and will consider adding entertainment to the event. A booth will also be made available for rotating use by local merchants.
The plan given to the council also included a major boost in advertising efforts by Bensidoun, which included ads in local papers as well as the Chicago Tribune as well as publicity on Metra trains.
The Chamber and Main Street also vowed to solicit publicity from numerous magazines and web sites and distribute mailings, posters, and “bag stuffers” for local merchants.
The village was asked to post signage to advertise the event, and to chip in an estimated $5,000 to finance it. The Chamber and Main Street will also contribute $1,000 each.
Despite their general support, commissioners still expressed a number of concerns they would like to see addressed. Commissioner Mark Hosty noted that, in the past, vendors have indicated that the last hour of the market was extremely slow, suggesting that the hours of operation be reduced so that parking can be made available earlier.
Sundry agreed, stating that he would be willing to end the market at 1 p.m. instead of 2 p.m. Hosty also insisted that a firm deadline be set for removal of all market-related materials so that parking can reopen in a timely fashion.
Though they noted that they would need a commitment from the village before working out the minor details of the event, the Main Street and Chamber representatives present seemed willing to make the changes suggested.
Commissioner Terry Steinbach expressed concern that Bensidoun might not live up to the promises made, noting her dissatisfaction with their performance in 2004.
Dorothy Gillian of Main Street noted that Bensidoun has built a stellar reputation for its French Markets in Villa Park and Wheaton, among other locations.
“We think over a few seasons we can build a very successful market,” she said.
Steinbach commented that the Wheaton market seems to attract a higher quality of vendors than the Forest Park market. Chamber Director Laurie Kokenes agreed, but said that those vendors were attracted over time, noting that Forest Park actually had more vendors at the end of its first market than Wheaton did at the close of its first year.