When the pandemic paused his video production business, filmmaker and Evanston resident Matt Wechsler took an unusual step – he launched Village Farmstand, 810 Dempster St., a farmer’s market-style store meant to support small and independent farmers. Nearly three years later, the store is dealing with new challenges.

Village Farmstand, 810 Dempster St., opened in 2020 to support small and independent farmers. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

“While we were seeing profits early on in the first six months, when pandemic habits shifted, we were faced with a new way of having to try to operate our business,”  he said. Business dropped by 35 to 40% in 2021.

While pandemic recovery remains slow, there’s a cloud of uncertainty over the business’ future.

“We’re one of the stores that’s in jeopardy of closing. It’s a really tough proposition… We have very high costs,” Wechsler said.

Earlier this year, downtown Evanston saw as many as four businesses shut down, with others like Al’s Deli and Edzo’s setting up GoFundMe campaigns to stay afloat.

With inflation climbing 6.4% last month, the farmers who supply the business are struggling, Wechsler said, noting the price of gas, seeds, boxes and other items are up. Farm income this year is forecast to dip $25.9 billion, nearly 15.9% from 2022, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Changing our food system is the fastest way to combat climate change,” he said. One of the farmers he hoped to source food from was Marty Travis from Fairbury, Ill., the subject of Wechsler’s 2016 documentary Sustainable.

“I never intended to be a grocery store owner,” Wechsler said, noting the pandemic’s impact on his film work and the livelihoods of those he knew compelled him to take the leap. The circumstances of his business journey, he said, meant that he did not have time to devise a long-term plan.

Initially, the store carried essential pantry items, such as bread, meats and cheeses, but has since expanded to include coffee, pastas, nut butters and jams, much like an old-fashioned grocery story.

Honey, balsamic vinegar, nut butters and jam line the shelves at Village Farmstand. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

Unlike chain supermarkets or big box stores, Village Farmstand is smaller and provides a more intimate shopping experience. The site used to be the location of Hewn, which moved early in the pandemic.

In its nearly three-year run, Village Farmstand has received warm support from the community, with shoppers appreciating the store’s personal touch, said Bonnie Nield, a store manager.

However, the business faces another hurdle: visibility.

“I think we still have so many people come in that have just discovered us,” she said. “Getting that message out of what we’re doing, I think, is one of the struggles.”

Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

Join the Conversation


The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *