Lincoln Square’s Evening Farmers Market to Run Through Fall

By Patty Wetli | Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shoppers explore the Thursday evening farmers market in Lincoln Square. Photo by Patty Wetli.

Good news for fans of the Thursday night Lincoln Square Farmers Market and for those who have yet to discover this gem: Its run is being extended through October 28, with earlier hours, 3 – 7 p.m. (The market will take a break Sept. 9, returning Sept. 16.)

Conceived as a companion to the summer concert series in Giddings Plaza, the market, located at the corner of Lincoln and Leland Avenues, was originally slated to close up shop on September 2, but vendors wanted to keep it going, according to Melissa Flynn, executive director of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce. “I considered that a good sign,” she said.

In its first year, the market has faced its share of difficulties—namely the weather—but Flynn has been pleased with its overall performance and credits it with a number of successes: helping people shop locally, promoting Lincoln Square, and, perhaps foremost, offering residents an alternative to the Square’s Tuesday morning market.

Robert “The Pie Guy”—no last name divulged—of Marilyn’s Bakery works both the Tuesday and Thursday markets and can attest that the latter is reaching an entirely new audience.

“What’s surprised me the most is how different the crowd is at night,” he says. “It’s such a large group of unfamiliar faces. It’s really unusual to be expanding your customer base in the same location.”

With the Chamber of Commerce heading up the evening effort, opportunities opened up to attract new vendors, as well, many of them blocked from the city-run daytime version. “We’ve been able to highlight more of our local businesses,” says Flynn.

Newbies include Pizza D.O.C. and Angel Food Bakery. Stephanie Samuels, owner of Angel Food, viewed the market as a way to introduce her baked goods to people who might not be familiar with her storefront’s location (1636 W. Montrose).

An unexpected benefit to participating: She has been able to do a little shopping herself, picking up fruits and produce from other vendors, such as Seedling Fruit and Mick Klug Farms, to incorporate into her pastries.

“I use as many things as I can buy at the market,” she says, pointing to a plum-filled cookie as an example.

One downside, noted by Samuels and echoed by other vendors, has been lighter than expected attendance, in part due to the heat. Soaring temperatures throughout July and August kept customers away from the market?s sweltering blacktop as they hunkered down in their air-conditioned homes.

Heading into fall, Flynn expects more people to flock to the market, noting that more comfortable conditions on August 26 led to the market’s top week yet.

“Fall’s the best season,” concurs Robert the Pie Guy. “That first day in September where the air is crisp, our apple pies start flying off the table.”

Though the Chamber of Commerce has actively promoted the market through signage, emails, and newsletters, as with any fledgling enterprise, it has taken time to grow public awareness. “With the El right there, I figured we’d be slammed,” says Crystal Nells of C & D Family Farms, which sells a variety of meat products. “What do you see?” she asks, sweeping her arm toward the wide open asphalt running down the center of the market.

The market features a variety of locally grown produce, baked goods, and more. Photo by Patty Wetli.

“People are coming off the train and walking by and saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were here,’” adds Kara Schmuhl of Noffke Family Farms.

Now, with additional weeks to ply their wares, vendors like Nells are hoping for increased foot traffic. She, for one, suspects that once the concert series ends, customers might be more likely to make a purchase.

“You don’t want to carry frozen meat, a pie, and a watermelon and go listen to a band,” she says.

Challenges aside, the majority of vendors would be happy to return for a second year. “All parties are excited to bring this back next summer,” says Flynn. Though she can’t confirm with 100 percent certainty that it’s a done deal, indicators are pointing in that direction.

Meanwhile, residents have two more months to take advantage of fresh fruits, vegetables, brownies, and focaccia. “We’ll be here as long as we have stuff to sell,” says Schmuhl.

In addition to the Thursday night market, the Lincoln Square Tuesday Farmers Market runs through October 26 (7 a.m.?1 p.m.), and the Northcenter Saturday Farmers Market continues through October 30, 7 a.m. – 1 p.m.

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