Posts Tagged ‘chicago festivals’

by Christopher Brinckerhoff and Albert Corvera

Before the Taste of Chicago began, security, vendors and Chicagoans weighed in on the celebration’s impact. Preparations for the city’s largest annual festival is one way to look at what the event means for Chicago communities.

At this pre-Taste, we spoke with a security guard, a business executive, and a teacher. All three said the crowd is the major attraction and concern.

University of Illinois at Chicago professor Gerri Gorman has lived in Chicago almost all her life, and she said she appreciates the city’s neighborhoods and diversity. Though she’s not going to attend the festival this year, Gorman said she used to attend the Taste when her children were younger, and the event wasn’t so large.

“But the crowds are becoming overwhelming,” Gorman said. “[The Taste] represents everything I find reprehensible in Chicago and in America. It’s too crowded. It’s too much consumerism. It’s excess; way too much of everything.”

On the other hand, a business executive said the Taste is a good opportunity for the vendors. Reggio’s Pizza president and CEO John Clark said his company has intermittently participated at the Taste since its inception 28 years ago.

Clark said it’s an expensive proposition to be a vendor at Chicago’s Independence Day fest due to labor, rising food costs and city commissions on the products they sell. But the promotional opportunity for Reggio’s Pizza brand makes it worth it.

“We don’t come out here to make a million dollars, but we do at least want to break even,” Clark said. “And, at the same time, be the beneficiary of this exposure. I’m hoping that the people that come here to the booth will like our pizza enough so [that] they’ll continue to frequent us during the other 50 weeks in the year.”

In addition to folks and businesses, organizers of the Taste provide security guards.

Ed Byrne has worked security for the Taste ten years. He said they prevent homeless from making homes out of the pre-Taste construction.

The veteran Taste security guard said July third is typically the busiest day at Chicago’s Taste. Byrne said that day has the highest attendence, and, therefore, safety concerns. Byrne summed up the high and low points of the event with one thing:

“The best is the people, and the worst is the people,” Byrne said.

Copyright 2008

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by Albert Corvera and Christopher Brinckerhoff

Buckingham Fountain is Grant Park’s watery centerfold. The famous structure streams water in the middle of many annual festivals including Bluesfest and Taste of Chicago. This is the spout.

Tourists are drawn not only to the festivals themselves, but also to Grant Park. Rainbows of flowers, lush green bushes, and perky trees quarter the spaces. These are the sprouts. Maintaining lakefront sprouts is a full time job.

Foreman for a private contractor for the city, Willie Riley, said his crew began working on the lakefront’s foliage at 5 a.m. on June 24, and was putting in a 12 plus hour day to prepare for the 2008 Taste of Chicago.

“We are here to help beautify the city by putting in flowers and shrubs and fertilizing the plants,” Riley said.

Their job was part of the Mayor Daley program, according to Riley. They plant and prune flowers, put mulch down, and pull up weeds. Working outside during the summer with a good group of guys has its moments.

“The guys I work with are a pretty nice group of guys,” Riley said. “We all pitch in together as a team and try to do things together to make sure everything’s done. We take pride in what we do.”

Riley and his men are hired scouts, but there is another type of scout to consider. As summer quickly rolls along, tourists become part of Chicago’s cityscape. Teenagers Toni and Sergio Pinon from Tallahassee Florida made their first trip to the windy city this year. Popping ears in a skyscraper elevator topped Toni’ list of Chicago experiences.

“We went to Buckingham, the Sears Tower, and the Hancock,” Toni said. “The most fun was the elevator ride on the Hancock.”

Chicago’s fast paced lifestyle put the kids’ approximately 200,000 hometown population in perspective with Chicago’s 3 million people.

“Chicago is very, very busy,” Sergio said. “It’s really a lot crazier [than Tallahassee]. It’s fun. I’m starting to get used to it.”

Copyright 2008

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