Editor’s note: This story has updated to include comments from a city news release issued Wednesday morning.

Representatives from Friends of Evanston Farmers Markets (FEFM), a local nonprofit that advocates eating local, are scheduled to meet with city officials next week to discuss concerns about a recently issued consultant report that called for moving the outdoor Saturday market to the Fountain Square area.

FEFM has come out strongly against the recommendation, found in the action plan proposed by Philadelphia-based Interface Studio as one way to improve the city’s retail districts.

The report recommended the city consider moving the market from its current location at the intersection of University Place and Oak Avenue, adjacent to the city’s 1800 Maple Ave. parking garage, to Fountain Square. 

At the existing location, farmers can arrive at “3 a.m., and start unloading and everything, and all that noise downtown [in the Fountain Square area] probably wouldn’t be welcome,” said Vikki Proctor, president of the FEFM board, explaining the group’s opposition.

The farmers also need their trucks close to them, “and there’s no room for that in Fountain Square. … It truly would probably just kill the market,” she said.

In a news release emailed Wednesday morning, the city describes the Evanston Thrives recommendation as “simply a suggestion for the City to contemplate over the long term.”

“There are no immediate plans to move the Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market,” the news release states, emphasizing the passage in boldface type. “Any future consideration of a potential move would involve robust community engagement and discussions with key stakeholders, including Friends of the Evanston Farmers Markets.”

Evanston’s farmers market, which runs on Saturday mornings for about half the year, is hosted in a lot at the corner of University Place and Oak Avenue. Credit: City of Evanston

The farmers market friends group had fought off a similar proposal from the city in 2021 to move the market to the core downtown area. Lawrence Hemingway, then the city’s Parks & Recreation director, assured FEFM members that “if there was any change in the location of the market, that the Friends and the market manager would be invited to that conversation,” recalled Proctor.

“The Friends of Evanston Farmers Markets was more than cool to this plan when it was proposed in 2021,” the group said in a posting on its website. “Aside from any other reasons, that was largely because there had been no contact with the Market Manager or with vendors to obtain opinions and data about whether the notion was feasible, and how the change of venue would affect the market’s size and popularity.”

To ‘prepare and pilot for’ a move

The Evanston Thrives Framework created through Interface’s action report has given new life to the idea of transplanting the farmers market. And, although the creators of the draft plan appear to have done a lot of outreach in developing their proposals, that outreach did not include the current management of the market or any of its nearly 60 vendors, the group said.

Last year, the city contracted with Interface for $245,000 to conduct a study for a plan to improve the city’s business districts as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. One recommendation of the action plan was for the city “to prepare for and pilot” a farmers market move to Fountain Square.

Noting that the city does not own the property where the market currently takes place, the report’s authors speculated that if the current owner, Northwestern University, chooses to redevelop that property, the market would need to find a new home.

“Exploring options for a future location makes sense,” they maintained. At present, they stated further, “it’s possible to be in downtown Evanston on a summer Saturday and not even realize the market is happening.”

Dimitra Gianes, who is originally from Evanston but now lives in Rogers Park, checks out the winter squash on the last day of the market in November 2022. Credit: Susy Schultz

The consultants spoke of the strong public response they received putting together the study, reporting that a total of 2,093 surveys were completed, with a total of 202 business owners participating. Proctor said she and other members of the board, and farmers too, were not among them.

“I was pretty shocked when the report came out,” she said, describing her reaction. “I don’t know who they talked with. I have no idea. … I read through the whole thing. I think we were just poorly served. To me, how could they not talk at least with the market manager?”

Proctor said she understood the challenge dealing with the pandemic that businesses in the Fountain Square area went through. “A lot of businesses were closed,” she said. “You just have to take a quick walk downtown and you can see that, right? But to think the farmers market is going to save downtown is just not clear thinking.”

Audrey Thompson, current Parks & Recreation director, did not respond to an email from the RoundTable requesting to talk to Myra Gorman, the city’s manager of the market for the past 12 years, to get her perspective on the proposed move.

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager, whose department worked closely with the consultants on the report, did not respond to a call and text, either.

Sarah Kellerman, Interface Studio’s point person on the project, and Annie Coakley, executive director of Downtown Evanston, also did not reply to emails from the RoundTable.

In an April 2 letter to the RoundTable, Proctor and other members of the Evanston Farmers Market Board laid out other concerns, including the city and consultant report ignoring the needs of market vendors and shoppers.

“The farmers, vendors and market shoppers have not been contacted by Downtown Evanston or the city’s economic development department even though the market is managed by the city,” the board members contended.

Vendors have adequate space to sell at their current location, they said, citing some of its benefits, such as free parking for patrons in the Maple Avenue self park garage and quick access to trucks for farmers. The farmers, who often arrive in the middle of the night, can set up without disturbing residents.

“We recognize that the current market location, a parking lot space owned by Northwestern, might be sold in the future; the market would have to be relocated,” FEFM said. But that is not the primary issue at this time, board members added.

The report failed to take into account some essential features the current location provides, as well as the deficits involved in moving the market to Fountain Square, said Emily Guthrie, an FEFM board member and secretary.

When the city floated the idea two years ago, she said a move would come with a condition that farmers would not be able to park their trucks on the street and would have to park them in the garage.

“There’s no garage for two blocks any direction,” she pointed out, “and a lot of the bigger farmers never completely unload their trucks. They take out enough to put in display, and then when they need more corn, they bring out more corn. They’re not going to walk two blocks and schlep back a couple bushels of corn.”

Columnist Jean Cunningham (front left) staffs the Evanston RoundTable booth with CFO Karen Larkin Young (center) and Marketing Manager Carolyn Lvoff at the Evanston farmers market in June. Credit: Evan Girard

The notion that moving the market to Fountain Square would enhance surrounding businesses is not necessarily true, Guthrie said, recalling the effect on a store she ran in the Chicago Avenue/Main Street area during the early years of the Custer Street Festival of the Arts.

“There was music and lemon ice and all kinds of stuff there,” she said about the fair. “They [fair attendees] just didn’t go into our businesses. It killed our business that one day. So the idea was you’re going to run this for 27 weeks in the downtown where retail is already hurting?

“Saturdays are typically the busiest day of the week for any retail,” she observed. “So you’re going to kill them [the surrounding businesses] at the same time. So, it’s like, ‘OK, who did they [the consultants] talk to?

“You haven’t talked to any farmers, because they will tell you, ‘I don’t want to park my truck two blocks away from Fountain Square.’”

Current market already generates business

A survey conducted by the Parks & Recreation department during the 2015 market season found farmers market shoppers spent $1.95 million at downtown businesses.

“Significant, I think,” Proctor said.

She said members of the Friends board have a planned meeting with Mayor Daniel Biss and other city officials April 19 to discuss their concerns.

At that meeting, Friends members said they hope to learn how a plan was developed “without consulting the people who currently make the Downtown Evanston Farmers Market a continuing success.”

In its April 12 news release, the city said any consideration of a potential farmers market relocation would involve getting more stakeholder input and noted that the Evanson Thrives “report itself calls for a discussion with the Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market organizers on its long-term future.”

The release concludes: “The City is committed to being open-minded to all recommendations and assessing them in a transparent and critical way, and we ask that community members do the same.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Moving the market to Fountain Square would foul up the beautiful water fountains that so delight us with fruit and vegetable debris. ??? Wait, what happened to our beautiful fountains. Or is the city just letting the contractor who put these in just FLOAT AWAY.

  2. Regarding the April 12 RoundTable article about the “Evanston Thrives” report, the consultant suggests relocating the weekly summer Farmers Market to Fountain Square. The thought is that it would improve downtown Evanston and create more activity there. The Board of Design Evanston has some concerns about such an idea. Those concerns deal mostly with the logistics. Fountain Square is too small for the market and the traffic and space around the square is too complicated to allow for the necessary trucks needed to bring in the farm goods for set-up and take-down of the market. There is no shortage of parking downtown but added car traffic will probably bring unpleasant congestion in the area. The current market though is literally next to a parking garage for the convenience of the people who want to drive. Maybe some other type of sale or event would be more appropriate for Fountain Square.

  3. Who came up with the idea of moving the Farmers Market to Fountain Square.
    As the saying goes :
    Location, Location, Location
    Where will the Vendors and Customers park?
    How will this decision affect the others merchants in the downtown areas?
    Hoping they go back to the table and reconsider.

  4. The Evanston farmers market is a gem and we shouldn’t risk destroying it. Nothing should be done without consulting the vendors. I have trouble believing they’d tolerate the logistics and space constraints of Fountain Square.

  5. From the article :
    “it’s possible to be in downtown Evanston on a summer Saturday and not even realize the market is happening.”

    And whose fault is that? If Downtown Evanston wants to reach the 10,000 people who go to the market on a busy August or September day, they should be there! Bring a tent. Hand out maps showing downtown businesses. Have restaurants provide coupons. Wear a sandwich board advertising businesses.

    There are so many way to take advantage of the crowd and it’s not happening.

  6. “She [Proctor] said members of the Friends board have a planned meeting with Mayor Daniel Biss and other city officials April 19 to discuss their concerns… At that meeting, Friends members said they hope to learn how a plan was developed “without consulting the people who currently make the Downtown Evanston Farmers Market a continuing success…”

    With the Farmers Market being a major draw, *how* on earth did this happen!?

    The city needs to spend *less* of our taxpayer money on half – baked “studies” done by outsiders, and *more* time engaging with local parties such as The Friends of Evanston Farmers Markets that have “their feet on the ground” and can provide valuable input on matters…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  7. City of Evanston, don’t move the Farmer’s Market to downtown Evanston due to so many reasons. For one, the market has a “brand” which it took years to develop, such as easy in and out for the farmers, residents can park right next to the set up area, people with mobility issues can use their walkers and modernized chairs and attendees have been educated over the years as to what to expect from the FEFM experience! How do you think the downtown condo owners will feel about their Saturday sleep being interrupted by the farmer’s market ? All this will do is add to the lack of convenient parking downtown with No guarantees this will bring more shoppers to the existing stores.

  8. I was shocked to hear that this was even a consideration. The Farmer’s Market is in a great location and Northwestern should consider it a permanent contribution to the city from which Northwestern benefits greatly. And I always think “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”

  9. Why move the current location. It’s super easy to get to, the parking is awesome, and there’s a ton of vendors. Why make it harder to get to, park, and make it more challenging for vendors? Seriously, what’s goal / point of moving?

  10. Will Fountain Square ever have its fountains working again? That would be nice for families on summer Saturday mornings.

    1. It would be nice to have a smaller farmers market in Fountain Square – just a few vendors that could comfortably fit into the space; it could be a weekday evening. It would be a “win – win” for everyone… and it would complement the Saturday market.

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  11. I, for one, will be hard pressed to visit the Farmer’s Market very often if it is moved to Fountain Square! No convenient parking, everyone packed into a small space, etc. Lastly, when I go to the FM I’m not interested in doing other shopping – just enjoying the ambience of the market, getting fresh food, and taking it home. Having market customers vying for parking with downtown shoppers is NOT the way to encourage shopping downtown!

  12. Attempting to move “OUR MARKET” is a mistake! Spending $250,000 without having the people involved in the EVANSTON Farmers Market is a MISTAKE!

  13. Moving the market to Fountain Square is absurd. Where would anyone including the vendors park? Why kill a successful thing?

  14. A move will send customers to Wilmette and probably have vendors concentrate there as well.
    Poor thinking and disgraceful not to consult those affected.

  15. Setting aside whether this is a good move for the Farmers Market or not, the City needs to address the underlying issue with Fountain Square: No market, music festival, public dining, nightlife or general economic retail development can ever succeed in what is essentially an island in the middle of traffic. Three streets isolate the space. It’s impossible.

    The City needs to do what every thriving downtown community across the country has learned (especially most recently through COVID) that retail loves pedestrian thoroughfares. The economic return is worth the traffic disruption on say, a Friday night and Saturday morning. Consider Mountainview CA or Knoxville TN…heck even NYC and Chicago neighborhoods understand this.

    1. The farmers market should be expanded to Sunday also with music and community festival. To move to fountain is wrong. Make it better at the traditional site with common sense

    2. Jeff Cohen wrote: “Setting aside whether this is a good move for the Farmers Market or not, the City needs to address the underlying issue with Fountain Square: No market, music festival, public dining, nightlife or general economic retail development can ever succeed in what is essentially an island in the middle of traffic. Three streets isolate the space. It’s impossible…”

      Indeed, it’s truly a “dead space”. The charmless concrete dreariness of the place reminds me a bit of old Soviet Bloc “city planning”, e.g. the center of the old communist East Berlin, Germany, with the grey 1970’s expanse of the Alexanderplatz. But, at least, the Alexanderplatz had a fountain or two, which our “Fountain” Square presently lacks…

      Gregory Morrow, Evanston 4th Ward resident