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Hot Talk But No Decision on French Market

After more than two hours of discussion Monday night, the village board voted to delay a decision on the fate of the French Market so residents could weigh in. Here's what made the talk so hot.

After a two-and-half-hour, hotly argued Mokena Village Board meeting, board members voted to hold off on for two weeks so the community can weigh in.

Watch village video of the two-hour debate. Click on "Extension of license agreement with Bensidoun, U.S.A."

The two-week delay, approved 5-1 with Trustee George Metanias the sole vote against, will give residents a chance to weigh in at the March 19 board work session at on whether to extend the contract for five years

The board will vote on the issue March 26.

This means Mokena might not make it on the application farmers, grocers and other vendors will use to plan their 2012 season, Assistant Village Administrator Kirk Zoellner said.

"(Market management company Bensidoun Inc.) wanted me to call them after the meeting to let them know because they're going to send (the applications) out tomorrow," Zoellner said last night.

Here are some of the issues that made the French Market such a hot topic.

What's in the Contract?

Bensidoun's current 10-year contract expires this spring. It includes a three-year non-compete clause. That means if the village goes with another market than the French one, they can't hold the market at until 2015.

The contract extension up for a vote will keep Bensidoun running the market for five years. It has a one-year non-compete clause.

The extension will move Mokena to a different price tier, cutting the rates vendors would pay to sell their goods at Mokena's French Market.

The Sticking Points

Non-Compete Clause

Some residents and board members had harsh words for the non-compete clauses in both the old contract and current extension plan.

Trustee Don Labriola said a non-compete would only serve to give Bensidoun "leverage" in five years.

"If they want to be here for six years, why don't we just give them a six-year contract?" he said.

Mayor Joe Werner said negotiations whittled down, but did not eliminate, Bensidoun's standard three-year non-compete.

"The answer was, 'We would prefer not to eliminate it completely because that sets a precedent we're not comfortable with,'" Werner said.

Resident Jim Giglio questioned why the village entered into a non-compete for the market when they wouldn't for construction work or any other village contract.

"Did we enter into any other contract with any other company that holds us to a non-compete?" he said.

Zoellner said staff was never directed to submit request for proposal or request for qualifications documents to look for other companies or individuals to run a market.

Trustee Joseph Siwinski, who voted for the first contract 10 years ago, said the village looked at other options with the first search.

"I know we looked initially," he said.

Vendor Price

Vendor Celine Narel, who has sold Avon products at the Mokena market for 10 years, said vendors are going other, cheaper farmers markets than the French Market.

"Nowadays, if you go, it's a very short list," she said.

Zoellner said the market started with 28 vendors a week, dropping to an average of 20 over the last six years.

Under the extension, the price to sell at Mokena would move to the same—and cheaper—price tier as Bensidoun-run markets in New Lenox and Homewood.

Narel said that price is still too high for many vendors. Werner said the village can't change Bensidoun's prices.

"I can't solve that problem because that's their business and their model," Werner said.

Local Competition

Others were concerned the village should not contract with a market that gives public space to an out-of-town company and out-of-town vendors.

"I think that actually takes away from , from , from ," Giglio said.

Trustee John Mazzorana said he has never heard those local businesses or others complain that the market takes away customers.

"My opinion is they don't give a hoot about the French Market," he said.

Metanias said the temporary market does not compete with permanent local businesses.

"It's open for six months of the year for six hours of the week," he said. "That's it."

Siwinski said if the village continues to have a market, they should find a Mokena resident to run it.

Labriola said he had not seen any evidence the village looked for other companies or people, local or not, to run a market.

"I have not seen one alternative proposal or anything," he said.

Sign up for a Patch user account to join the conversation in the comments below.

Christine Redmann March 13, 2012 at 12:30 PM
I would not renew the contract...I am an avid farmers' market fan and I think New Lenox blew it when they did not renew the contract for Merrill's a few years back and went with Bensidoun's. It's not nearly as authentic or as high quality. No offense to Beggar's pizza, but they have no place at a farmers' market. The model for a successful farmer's market is Frankfort. I'd take the hit now and dump Bensidouns. Those of us who are farmers' market fans will travel to another place in Mokena to go to a better quality market.
Kim McAuliffe March 13, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I want the farmers market to stay in the same location in downtown mokena. I moved my business here over 4 years ago & even though I do not have many people coming down to my shops An English Garden & A Monster Mash from the market, it is so beneficial to keeping your downtown area open. There are a couple of us who have been working to keep the look & feel of our area. please stop by & just take a look. I would love to have the same people who created the Frankforts farmers market to do ours...but what about the non compete clause.A good proposal would be to sign a 2 year contract with rates of 25.00 - 30.00 per booth per week with absolutely NO non-compete clause. Kim An English Garden & A Monster Mash
Wizzo March 13, 2012 at 01:52 PM
What happened to Trustee Metanias? He used to be an advocate for the residents in Mokena. Now he's carrying the Mayor's water. Wake up trustee Metanias, the people voted for you to be a voice for us on the village council. Now you follow whatever direction the Mayor points you in. Your defiant nay vote to table the French Market decision just shows us how much you've changed. It's not a change the citizens of Mokena want.
Marty & Liz Connolly March 13, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Liz Connolly To echo Trustte Labriola's comment, has anyone looked at another location? The price for the vendors is vital...it will attract more vendors, which makes for a more desirable market. Yes, the downtown would be a great location, and it could be brought back there if we don't sign with Bensidoun. A temporary location would not hurt at all. I think it's something to consider..I also think we can find someone to run the market.
DomeHome March 13, 2012 at 06:30 PM
I vote NO to Bensidoun. If they are soooooo good, tell them 1 year to create a market that offers much more, brings in more people and NO NON-compete. If they don't agree to it, give it up. Then the Chamber of Commerce (ahhhh the Business people!!) can take it over, Bensidoun does not have a contract with them!!! Hey how about a farmers market at a FARM?--I believe this community has one that would be a perfect setting. TO THE VILLAGE BOARD: please think out of the box on this one.
Marty & Liz Connolly March 14, 2012 at 12:51 PM
That's a great idea...at the Farm !! I saw the "new" prices...still too high for vendors. I have always asked vendors at other markets to join ours...it's the same story, weekly fee too high. Other markets charge by the season...anywhere from $150-$250...and single days are $20. That's how you get vendors, that's why there's a waiting list if you don't sign fast enough. Please consider the Farm...I'm sure there are people willing to run it. I plan to be at the workshop on Monday.
nick March 15, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Dump Bensidoun and lower the vendor fee. Hopefully the market would gain more vendors and possibly some local growers of heirloom vegetables and fruits that aren't available in a store.

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