LAKE FOREST — A dwindling number of farmer participants helped prompt the City of Lake Forest to suspend its Open Air Market at the downtown train station parking lot Saturday mornings during the summer.
The City suspended the market for at least the summer of 2018 and possibly beyond while it looks for other opportunities to help stimulate commerce, according to Director of Community Development Catherine Czerniak.
“We’re looking for other activities that will be different, new and fresh,” said Czerniak. “People have a lot of retail opportunities to buy fresh produce around town.”
Czerniak said the city already has an alternative for the Open Air Market: the Garden Market at Elawa Farm, which opens May 18 and continues on consecutive Fridays through October 27. It has produce grown on the farm as well as goods from outside vendors.
With the competing outdoor markets selling fresh produce such as Elawa Farm and the Lake Bluff Farmers Market, both open on Fridays, Czerniak said the character of the Lake Forest market began to change.
“We weren’t getting the farmers,” said Czerniak.
Joanna Rolek, the executive director of the Lake Forest – Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce, said a lot of the farmers who participate in the markets along the North Shore are the same. She said it may not make sense for them to do Lake Bluff on Friday and Lake Forest Saturday.
Both Rolek and Czerniak said Lake Forest already has its own daily version of an open air market in Market Square in Amidei Mercantino. It has a wide array of produce picked the same day or the day before from mid April to mid October.
Though one purpose of the Open Air market was to draw business to downtown Lake Forest when people came to shop for fresh produce, Czerniak said other things are stronger pulls now. “Starbucks is now across street and the tables at Market Square are drawing people to downtown now,” she said.
The market started opened in 2011 in the parking lot behind City Hall. Rolek said at the time neighboring communities were using a similar idea to draw customers to their central business districts. She also said the removal of the pedestrian crossing at the east side train station shortly after the market was moved to the train station made it less of a draw for downtown.
“It isolated it a little bit,” said Rolek. “It’s not a failure. It’s one of the things we tried. You try it out. If it doesn’t work you try something else.”
Rolek said the chamber is actively working on a variety of ideas to bring more people to shopping areas in both Lake Forest and Lake Bluff.