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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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