With upgraded shopping and entertainment options and an aggressive advertising campaign, organizers are hoping that this year’s Forest Park Summerfest will bring the annual Chamber of Commerce festival to the next level.
Last year, the festival added an antique sale to its list of attractions and stepped up its musical offerings from mostly rock cover bands to a diverse blend of performers often seen at some of Chicagoland’s elite music venues.
This year, while attractions have again been added, added publicity was the main focus.
“Last year, we had 4,000 to 6,000 people. We’d love to double it. We don’t set small goals for ourselves here,” said Cecilia Hardacker, co-owner of Two Fish Art Glass.
To accomplish this, organizers have placed about 300 promotional posters in areas ranging from Forest Park and Oak Park to Bucktown and Wicker Park. The event is listed in publications like Metromix, Time Out Chicago and Chicago Magazine, as well as local newspapers in the western suburbs, and has been advertised on WXRT radio.
“We have to pay the bands whether it rains or not, so we’ve always been a little cautious. But now we have to think bigger,” said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laurie Kokenes.
Due to the involvement of the Madison Street Merchants (M2), which is in the midst of its own $50,000 citywide advertising campaign, organizers were also able to take advantage of discounted rates from many of the media outlets that have grown increasingly familiar with Forest Park due to that push.
Hardacker said she is not intimidated by the challenge of attracting city-dwellers away from Chicago’s seemingly never-ending stream of summer festivals.
“There are a whole lot of summer festivals, but there are a whole lot of festivals in the city that are so crowded you can’t even get down the street,” she said.
“We don’t want people to think this is just another drunk-fest. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about families, fun and community ” that’s what Summerfest is about and that’s what Forest Park is about,” she said.
Summerfest, which takes place along Madison Street from Circle to Desplaines, will begin on Friday, June 9 from 5 to 7 p.m. with concerts featuring musical acts like Anne Burnell and Blues in the Night Band.
The festival really shifts in to high gear on Saturday, though, starting with an antique market and community garage sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In its second year, the antique market has grown from 19 to 24 vendors, according to Hardacker.
The event will also feature a beer and wine garden and a food court on Constitution Court, which will exclusively showcase Forest Park restaurants like Blue Max Coffee, Louie’s Grill and Jimmy’s Place.
“We really wanted local restaurants to be featured this year,” said Kokenes.
Saturday will also feature Summerfest mainstays like pony rides and face painting, as well as the sidewalk sale, which will feature local stores alongside traveling street fair vendors.
Two of these vendors will be Megan Nutley of Silhouette Blue Greeting Cards, and Nicole James of Nicole James Jewelry, both recent college graduates hoping to get their businesses off the ground.
“I spend all of my free time on this,” said Nutley, a graduate of Loyola. “I just graduated in May but I am already planning on running this business full-time.”
Many local businesses are also planning special promotions for the day, including Two Fish, which will host a “scratch and dent” sale, where merchandise with some minor imperfections will be sold at deeply discounted prices.
“People come and later they say ‘remember that music festival? We didn’t have time to check out all the shops’ or ‘we had a little taste of such and such restaurant but we want to try more,'” said Hardacker.
Though the tunes of bands like Code West, The Hoyle Brothers and Gin Palace Gesters will be among the attractions Saturday afternoon, organizers decided to delay the start of the music until 2 p.m. on Saturday to ensure that listeners are awake and on the street when the musicians begin their sets.
From 10 to 2, Brown Cow Ice Cream and Krazy About Kids will sponsor several performances geared toward younger festival-goers, including storytelling and children’s music, after which the grown-up music will last till 10 p.m.
Other new attractions for kids will include a skateboard and bicycle demo by the BMX bicycle company, featuring tricks by professional bikers, and “canoe races,” which allow kids to race down the street on “canoes on wheels.”
Kokenes could not provide much further explanation on how these races will work, but said that “Forest Park will love it. We love goofy stuff around here.”
For those on the other side of the age spectrum, the Forest Park Community Center will set up a “Senior Square” at Madison Street and Hannah Avenue, featuring bingo, raffles and other attractions.
Assuming that this year’s event goes as planned, Kokenes said future plans may call for an expansion of the festival. “One of our challenges over the years has been including businesses east of Circle and West of Beloit,” she said.
“Maybe we’ll even add a second music stage,” she said.