Vendors Try to Save the New Maxwell Street Market

Faced with too high fees, too many regulations, too many empty spaces, and too much abuse, the vendors at the City run New Maxwell Street Market have formed the El Maxwell Street Market Asociación de Vendedores (also called the Maxwell Street Market Vendors Association) in the hope of stopping the steep downward decline of the Market. Most of the vendors and shoppers are Mexican immigrants and working class African-Americans. The Market size went from 1200 vendors in the early 1990s, to 500 in 1994 on Canal Street, to less than 100 today on DesPlaines St. and continuing falling every month.

Roosevelt University Professor of Economics Steve Balkin says, “This drop in market size and number of customers is NOT because of the jobs recession. It is because the Market has become the General Motors of outdoor markets – too costly – too inefficient – bad management. The Market is not run by people with significant retail experience; nor by people who are bilingual. The Market is run by English-only speaking City bureaucrats and regulators who know nothing of the bottom line; nor about Mexican culture; nor about grassroots community markets.”

Enrique Aurgueta, Vice President of El Maxwell Street Market Asociación de Vendedores (Maxwell Street Market Vendors Association), says, “We are being squeezed to death. The big decline started when the Market was moved to Desplaines St. with fewer vendor spaces. Then vendor fees were doubled to pay for the City’s Jumping Jack’s Program; then parking for vendors and shoppers was taken away. Now the City wants to increase our fees again to cost-shift their insurance expenses on to us. We are paying more but getting less services compared to similar outdoor Markets such as Swap-A-Rama on Ashland and the Rosemont Market.”

Professor Balkin says further, “The Maxwell Street Market Vendors asked me for help because they were all told to get one million dollars of liability insurance or they would not be able to continue selling there. There is no liability insurance requirement for general merchandise vendors at Chicago Street festivals; nor at Swap-A–Rama nor at Rosemont Market and their vendor fees are less than half than at the New Maxwell Street Market. But once I heard their complaints about how the market was run and the threats of retaliation the vendors faced, I knew the problem was much greater than just one more added fee.”

The New Maxwell Street Market is run by Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Michelle T. Boone and the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, which in under her supervision.

Mr. Argueta comments, “Commissioner Boone seems like a nice person but she is so rarely at the Market, no one is watching the store. They don’t seem to understand that the New Maxwell Street Market has a history and a tradition. It is not Taste of Chicago. We vendors want that tradition to be passed to our grandchildren and to the grandchildren of all Chicagoans.”

Board of Advisor member and neighborhood historian Peter Pero says, “Only Mayor Emanuel can save the New Maxwell Street Market. It needs a different management. It needs managers who care and whose incentives will be in line with the vendors, shoppers, and people of Chicago. Rahm should not continue to delegate everything to inappropriate and inexperienced people. He says he is interested in promoting international tourism but looks too much to the coasts and not enough inside to the people of Chicago. He does not know that promoting Chicago’s own immigrant and indigenous grassroots cultures, in authentic settings, are Chicago’s greatest attraction. The benefits of the New Maxwell Street Market go to everyone. ”