Letter: All is Not Well with PrairieFest Food Vendors
Jun 25, 2015 10:30AM ● Published by Steven Jack
PrairieFest has been a very nice community event for many years, but all is not good. For example… food vendors. These vendors are small business folks, young people with full-time jobs, growing families, and big expenses. Many live in our community. What does the Oswegoland Park District do for these vendors in return? Customer Service? Those words are not in the Park District’s lexicon. The Park District only focuses on Self Service, like taking their money.
Let’s look at hypothetical vendor, Harry’s Hot Dogs. Harry has been a PrairieFest vendor for 10 years and pays $1,200 cash to the Park District for his space. In addition, he must get his health permits, hot dogs, buns, condiments, buy his food trailer, license it, buy insurance and pay his helpers. By the time PrairieFest starts, he’s spent $3,000 cash. At $5 per hot dog he has to sell 240 hot dogs just to pay the Park District fee, and 600 to break even on his investment for PrairieFest. Harry can tell you that he was wiped out financially for two of the last ten years by weather, and lost it all, but that’s the risk he took. The Park District had no risk—it got its money up front.
So, 2015 PrairieFest arrives and what happened to all the old time vendors? They were shunted off to sub-prime locations (read “low sales”) around the park so that the Food Channel could video new entrants with exotic new food entries like Serbian Burgers (not kidding; something close to that). In past years, all vendors had a map of where they were going to be located, and all “veterans” were placed in good locations.
Not this year. No map. Bad locations. Complaints are to no avail when it comes to the “Self Service” Park District. Harry can also tell you that to make an extra buck they sold bottled water, but the Park District often lets big companies into PrairieFest to give out free water to the public. Nice move for the public. Not good for Harry who has to throw out his bottled water alongside the unsold hot dogs.
This year Harry will tell you that he broke even and made a small profit, but he is not likely to return to Oswego anymore, because of the continuing unhelpful Park District attitude toward its vendors. They are just not worth the risk according to Harry. There are other summer festivals that treat Harry much better.
I know the Oswegoland Park District very well. They will all be applauding each other at the next Board meeting for another great PrairieFest. No one on the Board or staff will ask the vendors for their input. Some things never change.
Leonard R Wass, Oswego