The La Grange Farmers Market provides a variety of fresh produce and other products to consumers. But it has a dual identity. It is also a place where local vendors can take a step toward achieving their dreams to expand or build their businesses.
“The farmer’s market is a testing ground for entrepreneurs who have products they want to introduce,” said Nancy Cummings, executive director of the La Grange Business Association which organizes the market.
She said it provides a place where business owners can meet their customers face-to-face in an informal environment.
“They get immediate feedback. That’s a really valuable thing for entrepreneurs to have,” she said.
La Grange resident Dana Dreves, owner of CraftWater, a company that sells premium, naturally flavored water, is a good example of how interacting with customers has benefited her company. She founded her business in October and is working hard to get the product on store shelves.
In her booth, she offers samples of her waters that come in such flavors as cucumber lime, strawberry lemonade and lemon ginger.
Even if she doesn’t make a sale of a bottle of water, Dreves gets input and tips from people who stop by her space.
“I’m getting feedback on the product and ideas on where I should go to put it in other stores,” she said.
A customer suggested she try placing her water at Kramer Foods in Hinsdale. She followed up and the store now sells her water.
“It’s a local vendor and we love local vendors,” said Ron Ludwigson, owner of Kramer Foods. “It’s a good flavored water and something people will like.”
Zorra Penafiel of Westchester sells 30 different scented soaps at her booth. Her business is Island Soapies and she is slated to start selling her soaps in three locations of Pete’s Fresh Market.
She said that opportunity came because the owner of the store stopped by and liked her soaps.
“It’s a beautiful day when the owner (of a store) comes by and says he wants your soaps in his store,” she said.
Nick Kametas, a grocery buyer for Pete’s Fresh Market, confirmed that the store will offer Island Soapies at several locations including in Oakbrook Terrace and Oak Park.
“We have more and more shoppers wanting that type of thing,” he said.
The market, which takes place from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays through October, has about 30 vendors and no plans to get bigger. Providing space where entrepreneurs and their customers can interact comfortably is important to the market’s success, Cummings said.
“We want to keep it spacious and give people the opportunity to browse and circulate,” she said.
Stopping at the market recently, Kara Lapso of Brookfield, said she likes being able to try local products.
“I like to eat locally and fresh. It helps me do that,” she said.
She and other shoppers can look forward to seeing some of those local products on store shelves.