Oak Park gets props for its public schools and choice location. But when it comes to nightlife, many younger Oak Parkers turn toward Forest Park or the city of Chicago. So the village is hoping to woo the contemporary crowd by starting up a summer block party every week in the heart of the community’s downtown.
Village leaders are labeling the event a “mid-week market” that would take place every Wednesday evening from 4 to 9 p.m. The event would include local food vendors, fresh produce, music and maybe even alcohol.
A new market would hopefully provide a weekly venue where “the community comes together and celebrates Oak Park,” said Loretta Daly, business services manager for village hall, who has been working with others to arrange the affair.
“We really want to create an environment where that can happen,” she said. “I just think of people getting off the el and calling their friends to say, ‘Hey, let’s come down to the market.”
Leaders in the local business community have been researching the creation of a new outdoor market for the past three months, according to Daly. She stressed that Oak Park doesn’t want to simply replicate its farmers’ market – the outdoor produce sale that’s been going on for 30 years and long located at the Pilgrim Congregational Church parking lot at Lake and Elmwood.
This new market would be held every Wednesday from June to September at the newly created parking lot on the south side of Lake Street, just east of Harlem and north of Westgate. The parking lot was formerly home to the controversial Colt building, which the village bought from a developer a few years ago for $7.5 million and had demolished for another $1.45 million.
The group planning the event hopes to have 30 to 35 booths for local restaurants, growers and retailers who are “agrarian” in their offerings – selling products such as flowers or organic soaps. They also hope to have music, beer and wine sales, and a different guest chef each week to do demonstrations.
A committee of people from several Oak Park business districts, along with Daly and Village Planner Craig Failor, has been chewing over the possibilities the past few months. The idea is still cooking, but they eventually hope to bring a recommendation to the village manager, who would decide the next step in planning the event. The committee hopes to start hosting the midweek market this June.
Daly anticipates that costs would be minimal to the village, and says that the Downtown Oak Park business association hasn’t expressed any concerns about losing a high-traffic parking lot for one night a week over the summer.
The midweek market would attract a different crowd than its Saturday-morning counterpart, while also encouraging people to shop locally, said Pat Zubak, executive director of Downtown Oak Park and a member of the committee planning the event.
“It gives people another reason to come downtown and hang out and enjoy themselves, and that’s what we’re looking to accomplish,” Zubak said.