Marketing Maxwell Street

Does the city want to promote it or demote it?

Roosevelt University economics professor Steve Balkin loves markets: Farmers’ markets, street markets, flea markets, and, especially, the Maxwell Street Market.

At least what’s left of it.

“First the city took the location; then it eradicated the blues; now it wants the junkmen gone,” Balkin writes in a letter (third item) to the Tribune today.

Balkin’s complaint is that higher fees that Maxwell Street vendors now have to pay to the city – in order to subsidize free Jumping Jacks for neighborhood festivals – will put Maxwell’s “used goods merchants” out of business.

“Secondhand-goods merchants recycle goods, performing an environmental useful function,” Balkin writes. “It is part of the mix that generates sustainable cities. In this time of global recession, the city should be lowering Maxwell Market vendor fees to encourage workers, sloughed off by their employers, to sell at the market to try out entrepreneurial ideas and earn money as a safety net to help support their families.”

Mayor Richard M. Daley was never a fan of the Maxwell Street Market; he saw it as a dirty blight filled with stolen goods and an undesirable element. Others found more charm in the place.

But Balkin thinks Daley is missing out on a great marketing opportunity.

“The New Maxwell Street Market is the city's public market and should be maintained as a celebratory showcase of ethnic and immigrant pride and promoter of positive human relations across class - not another mall for yuppies.”

Instead, through constant location changes and now the higher vendor fees, the city seems to be doing its best to just kill the market.

“There are better ways to raise money for the city from the market,” Balkin writes. “Maxwell Street is world famous. The city should instead try to emulate some peddler street savvy and merchandise off of the Maxwell Street brand name - items such as souvenirs, books, CDs and even a TV show.”

Paging Bravo!

Similarly, you’d think the city could find a sponsor for its Jumping Jacks program, or, God forbid, actually charge neighborhood festivals rental fees.

Instead, Maxwell Market vendors will now pay those fees.

Here’s an idea: Let vendors set up shop next to the Jumping Jacks they are paying for and extend their market to the neighborhoods. Call it the Moving Maxwell Market. Merchants there are used to it.

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