Status quo for Mokena farmers market, at least for 2014
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent September 16, 2013 6:44PM
EggCetera Cafe owner Dino Bastas says his crowds shrink when Front Street in downtown Mokena is partially closed on Saturdays for the farmers market. | File photo
Updated: October 19, 2013 6:05AM
The Mokena Village Board last week approved a one-year contract with the Mokena Downtown Merchants Association to again hold the 2014 farmers market on Front Street.
It’s the first formal agreement between the parties since the market opened in 2012, and merchants association president Tony Dina said his group is “pleased” to have a contract. But he said, “It would have been nicer to have a longer agreement,” and board members indicated they would favor moving the market from the street itself back to the adjacent Metra lot in 2015.
That’s where the French Market, run by Bensidoun USA, was held for years until the village terminated the deal. But a noncompete clause in the contract with Bensidoun disallowed any other markets at the site until 2015. That was fine with the merchants association, Dina said, because it wanted the market on the actual street to highlight the Front Street businesses.
Others want the market back in the Metra lot, however, so Front Street isn’t partially closed on market days.
Dino Bastas, a Mokena resident and 10-year owner of EggCetera Cafe just off Front Street at 19709 Mokena St., said the market has been both a blessing and a curse for him.
“Saturdays are better (for business) when the market’s there,” Bastas said, referring to the Metra station lot. But when the market moved to the street — forcing traffic from busy Wolf Road to find an alternate route to his restaurant — his Saturday business took a hit, Bastas said.
Not only do “locals avoid the street when there’s a barricade,” he said, “but for folks that (live) within a one-mile radius, they’re not going to (look for) another way.”
Bastas said the temporary street closure is “definitely the only factor” in decreased Saturday revenue over the last two years. He said his second EggCetera Cafe, on 191st Street, is keeping his business afloat.
Dina doesn’t buy it.
“The village board could take it upon themselves to see what’s going on,” Dina said. He said a visit to the cafe on any Saturday between April and the end of October while the market is in season would provide an idea as to whether business there is affected.
“All this market has done is benefit people on Front Street,” Dina said.
Dina, a longtime owner of Dina’s Barber Shop on Front Street, and others in the association advocated for the Front Street market and said they don’t want to move back across the street.
Dina said he personally visited 25 of the nearby businesses in August and asked if they had been adversely affected by the market.
”I got one yes and 24 nos,” Dina said.
Dina noted there are other routes to EggCetera Cafe and to An English Garden, whose owner, Kim McAuliffe, also complained about business falling off. Dina believes they are complaining for personal reasons.
But McAuliffe, who spoke to the village board about her concerns after an August board meeting, said the number of walk-ins on market days dropped from about a dozen people to one or two before she moved to a different location. She said that some customers told her they could not figure out how to get to her floral shop.
“A blockade at one end (of Front Street) and a large truck where the market ends made the street look closed from that point on,” McAuliffe said. She said her business was beyond that point, and customers assumed the rest of the street was closed.
McAuliffe said she has always been an advocate for the market, just not on the street itself.
“People are going to go to that market no matter where it is,” McAuliffe said. “Where it belongs in the first place is the Metra lot. It needs to go back there.”
After the board approved the 2014 contract, trustees talked about the 2015 possibilities. Trustees John Mazzorana, Debbie Engler and George Metanias voiced strong support for moving the market back to the Metra lot, noting that potential new businesses in vacant Front Street shops might otherwise be scared off about potentially losing business on Saturdays during market season.
Trustee Jim Richmond also said he’s “all for moving it into the Metra lot in the 2015 season.”
“No one up here has any intention of hurting any of the businesses up on Front Street,” Richmond said. “We’re all working together for a common good — what’s good for the Front Street merchants. My take is that ... the year after next, you move into the Metra lot. It gives you 25 percent more square feet for sale space.”