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Local

Shopping the Geneva French Market

Open-air attraction popular with vendors, shoppers

GENEVA – On a recent Sunday, the Geneva French Market was awash in bright spring sunshine, and throngs of shoppers were buying fresh produce, honey, flowers, jewelry, eggs from free-range hens and other items.

“We come every Sunday to look at vegetables, to look at what’s new, the different crafts,” said David Cullum of St. Charles, who was shopping with his wife, Gabriele. “It’s an excellent market.”

As they gazed at the fresh produce from farmer Joe Wolf of Eau Claire, Mich., David said his favorites were the zucchinis, mushrooms and asparagus.

“Those green beans look marvelous,” added Gabriele Cullum, as she gazed at the baskets of green and yellow beans.

“Everything is fresh,” David Cullum said. “We dabble in a little bit of everything. We recommend it.”

The Geneva French Market is an open-air, European-style market that operates from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday from mid-April through mid-November in the parking lot between Fourth and South streets near the Third Street Metra station in Geneva.

Owned by Bensidoun USA Inc., the company’s website, www.bensidounusa.com, states it has more than 100 open-air markets worldwide since it started in France about 60 years ago. The company lists 10 other Illinois communities where its French markets are located, including Chicago.

As his employees wrapped and bagged produce, Wolf said he has been coming to the Geneva French Market for 16 years.

“I love it,” Wolf said. “It’s kind of a nice environment. It has a little bit of everything and brings in lots of people.”

Geneva Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Laura Rush said the Geneva French Market has grown over the years, both in size and popularity.

“You know something has made it when people call to find out, ‘When does it open?’ They’re calling shortly after the holidays asking when it’s going to open, what are the hours,” Rush said.

“What it brings to Geneva ... is another dynamic of people. Vendors and visitors are coming for the French market. It might be their first visit, but – once they come – they start exploring Third Street, then State Street. Then they get a visitor guide and see that Swedish Days is coming,” Rush said. “I think it’s another avenue to bring people to discover Geneva.”

That observation would ring true for vendors such as Dorn Cheske, selling vintage and repurposed jewelry, who said she has been at the Geneva location since it opened.

“It’s really fun. I call it live theater. A variety of people – it’s all good,” Cheske said. “We’re all artisans here.”

Aurora resident Nicole Wright, shopping with her mother Valerie Wright, said this was her first time at the Geneva French Market and vowed she’d come back.

“I’ve already made one trip to the car with fresh produce,” Nicole Wright said.

Le and Elizabeth Nguyen of Geneva had their arms full of produce, but their sons Ryker, 7, and Cooper, 3, had eyes only for cookies baked by Hahn’s Bakery in Geneva.

“We love to come for all the different foods and the flowers, and my husband loves all the fresh vegetables,” Elizabeth Nguyen said, as her boys munched on their cookies. “It is the place to shop.”

St. Charles resident Ray Ehlen was shopping with his son, Declan, 4, buying eggs, meat and fresh vegetables.

“I come for the fresh giardiniera peppers,” Ehlen said. “There’s no soybean oil – they’re in olive oil – and they’re all organic. They taste better. This is the only place I’ve been able to find it. I came here last summer, and I’m hoping she’s here again this summer.”

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