Naperville looking to solve parking problems before next Christkindlmarket
When thousands of holiday shoppers descended on Naperville in a festive mood late last year for the second annual Christkindlmarket at Naper Settlement, they left some downtown business owners less than merry.
Now those downtown merchants are raising concerns about Christkindlmarket visitors clogging downtown parking spaces and preventing regulars from shopping at their stores.
The market and Naper Settlement need to do more to keep some of the 4,000 downtown parking spaces available for other patrons, said business owners such as Chris Finck of Little Luxuries and city council member Becky Anderson of Anderson's Bookshop.
"We love the downtown. We love the festivals. But we are at a tipping point," Finck said Monday during a meeting to discuss Naper Settlement operations. "We cannot afford to have more events that take up the precious parking."
While some businesses are "raising the warning flag" about poor sales last holiday season -- due in part, they say, to the parking issue -- restaurants largely aren't complaining, said Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance.
"It's not universal. I'm not hearing everyone shouting, 'This was the worst!'" Wood said. "Those I'm hearing from are retail. What they're saying is, 'My regular patrons can't find places to park on the 20 busiest shopping days of the year, so therefore my business is getting hurt.'"
The German-themed market operated by German American Events drew an estimated 245,000 people during a 22-day run in November and December.
Market operators are under contract to use the Settlement as a venue again for the next two years, so Wood said she's already begun discussions about ways to ease the downtown parking crunch. It's a collaborative approach Naper Settlement leaders want to take as well.
"There's a lot more we can do if we join hands on this and work together, rather than taking a bunker mentality, where they see only a parking problem and we see a need to get people in for our events." said Steve Adams, a board member of the Naperville Heritage Society, which raises money to support the Settlement.
Adams and heritage society board President John Koranda say they tried running shuttles from the Metra station to the market in 2016, but the buses were sparsely used. The Settlement also tried remote parking at Centennial Beach, but Koranda said 70 percent of shoppers came from outside Naperville and didn't know how to find the beach.
Rena Tamayo-Calabrese, president and CEO of the Settlement, said she also made sure Christkindlmarket operators included some booths for local Naperville merchants, such as Sara Boo Creek, Le Chocolat du Bouchard and Twisted Olive.
"They have all done very well," she said.
City council members said they plan to look into ways to evaluate Christkindlmarket's effect on the Naperville economy before making any policy decisions about events at the 12-acre site.
"Having this many people come to Naperville is great for Naperville," Wood said. "We just have to protect the downtown businesses that are here all year, and it's such an important time for them to prosper."