Evanston’s first indoor farmers market draws thousands

Chelsea Corbin

More than 1,000 people turn out each Saturday at Evanston’s first indoor market, city officials said.

Market manager Dennis Clarkson said the Evanston’s Farmer and Artisan Food Market features 25 local vendors selling products ranging from fresh produce and meats to baklava and organic soaps.

Clarkson said residents from Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette and Glenview visit the market at the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd. In its opening day Dec. 3, the market drew nearly 2,000 people.

That level of attendance is impressive, said Robin Schirmer, a former coordinator of more than 60 winter markets in Chicago.

“If you get 3,000 people at an outdoor market, you should only expect about 300 at a winter indoor market,” she said.

Schirmer is now an employee of Tomato Mountain Organic Farm in Brooklyn, Wis. Tomato Mountain sells salsas, soups, sauces and other jarred products at Evanston’s and other communities’ summer and winter markets.

The indoor market was planned to open Nov. 12, but it was postponed when its original location, 1615 Oak St., became unavailable due to property rights reevaluations.

Collaboration with the City of Evanston and its facilities provided the necessary space to host the market, Clarkson said.

“The Ecology Center was booked up pretty much through February, and they cleared the books for us,” Clarkson said. “The city really came through. Plus, the building itself is very conducive to a market like this.”

Vendors said the indoor event is different from Evanston’s summer markets and features a diversity of sellers and products not present at the outdoor markets. About half of the vendors at the Ecology Center did not participate in the summer markets in Evanston, said Clarkson, whose business, Crust & Crumb, sells fresh breads at the market.

New this season, shoppers can find vegan foods, organic skincare products, gluten-free pastries, caramel, coffee and more, according to a vendor listing on the Friends of Evanston Farmers Markets’ website.

“The summer market is mostly farmers, but I couldn’t get enough of them to commit through the winter, so we had to go to artisan foods purveyors,” he said. “These are young companies that are entrepreneurs and most of them don’t have any other distributors – you can’t find their products anywhere else. It’s a good thing for them, and it’s a good thing for Evanston.”

Vendor Suzi Beu agreed that the Evanston market provides an opportunity for local chefs to grow their businesses. Beu, owner of Desserts by Suzi, sells pound cakes, breakfast breads, cookies, cupcakes and granola online and at the market. She said the market provides a venue to network and “put out a lot of buzz” about her year-and-a-half-old company. Desserts by Suzi is one of five sweets sellers at the market.

Clarkson is working with Evanston150 to develop a year-round market hosted at a site dedicated solely to a local producers’ mart.

The project, called “A Market for All Seasons and Reasons,” aims to support the local economy and society by providing a venue for local farmers and artisans to sell their products and residents to shop locally all year. Clarkson said the establishment of a winter market is encouraging to the objective and its supporters.

“The winter market has been a major success – a huge success,” he said.

The Evanston Farmer and Artisan Food Market will be held Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ecology Center through April.