Typically it’s a leisurely crowd that browses through Tom Krenek’s Madison Street antique shop, but shoppers turned out in droves last weekend as the foot traffic from a start-up art festival spilled into the retail mainstays up and down the corridor.
“We had a really big day yesterday with lots and lots of people,” Krenek said early Sunday afternoon. “I had a lot of people working and they didn’t get a chance to sit down all day.”
At the Forest Park Emporium in the 7300 block of Madison Street, Krenek estimated he saw a 40 percent bump in sales over his usual weekend business thanks to the first annual Forest Park Arts Fest. A straw poll conducted at the cash register also indicated that new customers were largely responsible for the increase in sales, Krenek said, with several people saying they had traveled from as far as Naperville and Downers Grove.
Krenek’s experience is exactly what the Main Street Redevelopment Association was shooting for when it began planning the art festival more than a year ago, according to Assistant Director Kathleen Hanrahan. By featuring roughly 60 artists from the greater Chicago area, Main Street officials were counting on the quality of those craftsmen to draw new shoppers to the community. The Forest Park Arts Fest was held this past Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the area of Constitution Court and Madison Street.
“I definitely think we’re going to hit our highest expectations of 3,000 people,” Hanrahan said during the second day of the festival.
In addition to the array of paintings, sculptures, jewelry and photography being sold by the artists, Main Street also organized magic shows and craft events for children. Those features helped make it a family event, Hanrahan said, and hopefully an acceptable replacement for those parents familiar with Trick-or-Treat on Madison, which was canceled last year in favor of the art festival.
“The kids have more of a positive experience with the crafts and interacting with each other,” Hanrahan said.
Over at the trendy Heels boutique in the 7400 block, which specializes in women’s shoes and accessories, employees there were busy bustling about with customers coming in and out. A sign on the front door advertising 10 percent off everything in the store helped lure people in, and Amanda Harmon, whose mother owns the businesses, said she saw a lot of new faces over the weekend.
“We’ve only been open for an hour today and it’s already been a good day,” Harmon said shortly after noon on Sunday.
At Two Fish Art Glass, a specialty store also in the 7400 block focusing on artistic glass works, owner Tonya Hart said the increased foot traffic translated into a sales boost of about 25 percent over a typical weekend.
“Definitely, we’ve seen a lot of traffic,” Hart said.
For small business owners to see that spike in their bottom line at the end of the month is particularly helpful, Krenek said.
But for the event to continue to be a success, the artists who traveled with car loads of sometimes pricey items need to feel like it was worth their time. Roz Long, a consultant hired by Main Street to assemble the artists who serve as the main attraction, has stressed the importance of not only a big turnout, but strong sales figures to guarantee the artists’ return.
“That will be very important because we want this caliber (of artists) to come back again,” Hanrahan said.
Over the coming days Long will survey the vendors for their feedback on the inaugural event while the Main Street organization solicits input from its membership.