Highland Park, News

Low attendance dooms Highland Park French Market

Farmers market in Ravinia alive and well

Gone are the summer days of sipping and shopping at Highland Park’s French Market, formerly known as the Artisan Market. 

As of June 13, the city has canceled the weekly market, which was supposed to be held every Sunday through the end of summer at The Lot, a makeshift downtown venue located at 525 Central Ave. that hosts many events throughout the warm-weather season. 

The French Market was put on by Bensidoun USA through the company’s partnership with the City of Highland Park. 

Per the cancellation letter Highland Park provided Bensidoun USA, “Because there is no Market Agreement Extension for 2024 between the City of Highland Park and Bensidoun USA, the City has decided to exercise its rights in halting French Market operations at the lot.”

The letter lists three factors that the city took into consideration to make this decision: “feedback from vendors and the public, future attendance projections, and site and logistical concerns.”

In an email to The Record, Diane Larson, Highland Park’s marketing coordinator, said feedback from the public included a desire for diversified offerings and more vendors (including ready-to-eat food, baked goods and flowers). Vendors expressed a desire for greater attendance and more signage. 

Though the city is waiting for the final report on attendance, Larson said their estimates indicate that 150 to 200 people visited the market on June 9. The Artisan Market in 2023 had similar weekly attendance numbers. 

This year, the Artisan Market was rebranded to the French Market in the hope of providing clarity on the market’s offerings and attracting more visitors. The rebranding campaign reached more than 54,000 people in two weeks on social media, but weekly attendance did not markedly change.

Among the site and logistical concerns, Larson noted that visual obstructions, including tall hedges, made it difficult for passersby to take note of the event. Additionally, the site can accommodate more than 30 vendors and is too large for a market of 25 or fewer vendors. 

“The June 9 market featured 18 booths, including a musician,” Larson said via email. “The volume of The Lot made the market seem more empty than it was, which could potentially dissuade visitors from attending and vendors from signing up.”

The Record reached out to three former vendors for comment but did not hear back by the publication date.

Highland Park will continue its relationship with Bensidoun USA through events such as Food Truck Thursdays, which routinely see more than 1,000 attendees. 

The Ravinia Farmers Market is unrelated to the French Market and is active and popular for 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays through October 30 at Jens Jensen Park, with Ed Kulger, the Ravinia market manager, telling The Record that the markets are not comparable and the lineup of vendors at the Ravinia Farmers Market will not be impacted. 

At the moment, Larson said there are no plans to replace the French Market at the Lot, but Highland Park “is currently exploring options for additional holiday programming downtown using leftover funds originally budgeted for the French Market.” 

The other events at The Lot will also continue as planned. Next on the docket, The Vintage Car Show is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 11. Larson said local vendors will be on site providing food and refreshments as visitors explore vintage and muscle cars, hot rods, antiques and the Batmobile.

The future of The Lot as an event venue, however, is in jeopardy. A majority of city councilmembers in May did not support a plan to renovate the space and make it permanent.

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Zoe Engels

Zoe Engels (she/her) is a writer and translator, currently working on a book project, from Chicagoland and now based in New York City. She holds a master's degree in creative nonfiction writing and translation (Spanish, Russian) from Columbia University and a bachelor's in English and international affairs from Washington University in St. Louis.

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