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The Chicago French Market: Neither Chicago, French or Marketable

1. From Kurman Communications:

Chicago French Market Celebrates 1st Anniversary Dec. 17-18. Guests enjoy market-wide tastings, gift certificates, music and more at Chicago's first indoor, year-round market.

CHICAGO - Join Chicago French Market for its 'Bon Anniversaire,' a two-day celebration honoring Chicago's first and only year-round, indoor market beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 17 and Saturday, Dec. 18.

Guests attending the celebration will enjoy free tastings throughout the market, as well as live music, entertainment and the chance to win gift certificates and prizes. Beginning at 10 a.m. each day, 1,000 guests receive a complimentary reusable tote bag, perfect for purchases made at one of the market's nearly 30 artisan vendors. Doors open at 7:30 a.m. Friday, and 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to the complimentary market-wide tastings, Chicago French Market vendors will distribute 'scratch off cards' to customers for the chance to win gift certificates to the market valued at $1 to $20 to use at the market. There is no purchase necessary to receive a scratch off card. Quantities are limited to one per person.

Anniversary Festivities: Friday, Dec. 17
From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, enjoy a live concert from Chicago folk artist, Andrew Calhoun. There will be a drawing at 6 p.m. for a $300 gift certificate to L2O, a Michelin three-star restaurant. There is no purchase necessary to enter the drawing, and the winner does not need to be present to win.

Anniversary Festivities: Saturday, Dec. 18
Visit Santa Claus at the market from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and enjoy a special cake cutting and refreshments at 1:30 p.m. While there will be live entertainment 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., a special performance from the LaSalle Academy Carolers will be from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. A drawing will be held at 5 p.m. for two separate $300 gift certificate to L2O, a Michelin three-star restaurant. There is no purchase necessary to enter the drawing, and the winner does not need to be present.

About Chicago French Market
Chicago French Market is a European-inspired market offering an array of local produce, meats, seafood, breads, pastries, cheese, wine, chocolates, pastas, artisan-made goods, specialty drinks, flowers, prepared meals and a seating area for customers. Chicago French Market's diverse group of local vendors stay open year-round, six days per week, and is located within the new MetraMarket development at 131 N. Clinton St. (between Washington and Randolph Streets). For more information, visit www.chicagofrenchmarket.com.

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2. From Crain's, Oct. 11, 2010:

"Last December, Mayor Richard M. Daley proudly unveiled the Chicago French Market inside the Ogilvie Transportation Center. It had taken some $25 million, including $8 million in tax subsidies, to see the overall MetraMarket project to fruition. For Mr. Daley, long charmed by the urbanity of Paris, the fresh-food court was worth the money from tax-increment financing.

"'The city has to put some skin in the game, and that's what we did,' he told the crowd.

"Today, many others with skin in the game are scraped and bruised. Except for the French Market and a nearby coffee shop and CVS drugstore, MetraMarket is as empty as it was when the West Loop project began eight years ago. Almost 35,000 square feet of retail space - enough to accommodate 13 restaurants or stores - remains unoccupied. A second space, across West Randolph Street, contains another 33,000 square feet.

"The French Market has vacancies, too. Three of its original vendors closed over the summer, and others say they are struggling. They say the 15,000-square-foot food market, tucked beneath the center's Metra train platforms, suffers from a trifecta of maladies: too few passers-by with time to shop, an easy-to-miss location and the lingering economic malaise."

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3. How to fix it, from Paul McAleer at phonezilla:

"Just last year, Chicago got its own permanent market. Located in the Ogilvie Transportation Center, the Chicago French Market opened to much fanfare. Fast forward to today, and it seems that the market is languishing. What's the deal?

"I'm a big fan of these types of markets. I admit that I've only been to two, in Toronto and Milwaukee, but both of them are fabulous. Toronto's St. Lawrence market is a big, old warehouse-y space with myriad vendors, wonderful smells and sights, and lots of unique items. Milwaukee's is smaller and newer than TO's but feels very comfortable and integrated with its surrounding neighborhood.

"In contrast, the Chicago French Market is small and soulless. But it can be fixed."

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"Let's talk about location first. The CFM is located in something called MetraMarket, a number of retail spaces built in the main station concourse one level below the trains themselves. MetraMarket, named for Metra commuter rail, has three tenants: CFM, CVS, and Lavazza. The remaining storefronts are empty. The CFM, then, gets equal billing and visibility as any other store there.

"Worse, the CFM is not truly integrated into the train station. One must enter the market between two tracks like any other store. This doesn't work with the traffic flow. The trains are indeed one level above MetraMarket, and the vast majority of commuters in this concourse are simply passing through to get to buses and their offices. In addition, many more commuters exit from the train level of the station which empties directly into CitiCorp Center . . . and there's more, separate retail there . . .

"Having temporary spaces for some vendors in the concourse, as the CFM has started to do, is good. Go further and make those spaces permanent. Bring more of the market out onto the concourse, where there are thousands of people every day.

"And don't discount bringing more of the market up to the train level of Ogilvie, either. Just one or two vendors would be a start.

"It's just plain hard to get to the market. At least one elevator shaft needs to be built, for the current accessibility is laughably poor. The current signage, imploring people leaving into CitiCorp to, 'Turn around and go downstairs!' is also a miss. These signs are in locations where people are leaving, not lingering. So change the wording and placement. Maybe buy ads on Metra?"

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"Anytime I've mentioned the CFM to people who haven't been there, they automatically think all of the food is French-only. It's understandable as the name is meant to evoke not the cuisine but the style of market . . .

"I also heartily endorse changing the name. How about The Chicago Market at Ogilvie? Drop the 'French' term; it's too easily misunderstood by the audience. Speaking of which, the customer base needs to be really clearly defined. This market doesn't serve the community, as it's closed on Sundays and has poor Saturday hours; it doesn't serve commuters by having fresh fruits and veggies in bulk."

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"The Chicago French Market is located in one of the city's major commuter rail stations, so it has an enormous opportunity to be a community hub, a purveyor of exotic foods as well as the basics, and a showcase of all of the great locally -made and -sourced foods we have in this city. Instead, it's a mall food court with a couple of fresh food stalls. If that isn't sad, I don't know what is."

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on December 13, 2010


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