The city of O’Fallon has reaped another accolade for its downtown farmer’s market development: Most Engaged Community Partner Award from the Illinois Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
In three years, O’Fallon Station and Vine Street Market has grown into an integral city hub, spurred revitalization of the Downtown District and attracted attention across the state because of its success.
The website contest, called “Silver Lining Stories,” stated:
“Vine Street Market at O’Fallon Station is one of the largest farmer’s markets in southwest Illinois. Folks from neighboring counties and communities look forward to vending at the market, and shopping at the market each Saturday. During the pandemic, Vine Street Market changed their model to a drive-thru approach and continued it for weeks. They even expanded to a Tuesday night drive-thru, which people really responded to.”
In his report honoring the contributions of employees and community volunteers, Mayor Herb Roach announced the good fortune at the O’Fallon City Council meeting Monday night.
He praised Vine Street Market Coordinator Sarah Burton, the Parks and Recreation staff, volunteers from the O’Fallon Rotary Club and the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce, and the local vendors for their efforts since 2019.
“The people make the difference. Sarah Burton has taken the ball and run with it,” Roach said.
When contacted Tuesday, Burton said O’Fallon Station and Vine Street Market was built for and continues to be focused on the community.
“We are very excited and proud to win the award! Winning this award proves how amazing our supporters and community is and we couldn’t be happier, Burton said.
The market is held every Saturday morning from May to October, and has programs special events throughout the year.
Winter Market and Tinsel Around Town
Returning as a signature holiday activity, the Winter Market will be from 3:30-7:30 p.m., on Saturday, Dec. 11, at the O’Fallon Station. About 50 vendors will participate in the Vine Street Market-sponsored event.
This is the same day as Tinsel Around Town, an O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce event that will promote shopping at downtown businesses. Tours of the caboose, Madrigals walking around singing, and Christmas stories at Avenue Realty will be part of the festivities.
“It’s a day to get you in the holiday spirit and into the downtown businesses,” Chamber Director Debbie Arell-Martinez said. “There will be so much going on downtown.”
Market Plans in 2022
During the Monday, Dec. 6, meeting, the council approved the special event permit for the 2022 market season, which revealed new plans.
“We are excited for the 2022 market season and have several new additions in the works,” Burton said.
Expansion of the market footprint into the lane on the north side of the Chamber building will be the first and most noticeable change, Burton said.
More activities geared towards children will be featured, based on survey results.
“It confirmed that our community wants more activities at the market,” Burton said. “We will be adding two tents, one with children’s activities and the other offering interesting demonstrations and services that visitors can watch or participate in.”
More seating and an additional food truck are also in the works.
“The focus will continue to be on local food and creating a space that the entire community can enjoy on Saturday mornings,” Burton said.
The market is planned from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays from May 14 to Oct. 15, 2022, with an expected 500-700 people in attendance.
A new traffic plan has also been worked out for the time period.
Early Success Story
Construction of the O’Fallon Station began in spring 2018, approved in 2016 as part of the Destination O’Fallon initiative.
Key initiatives included the city commissioning a downtown action plan and established a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district for the area.
The $1.5 million pavilion opened late in 2018 in time for the holiday season, but officially was ready in spring 2019.
The all-season plaza was designed to create a central gathering place in the heart of the community, with the idea of small festivals, gatherings, a farmers’ market, and other events to be held there
After years of little attention and investment in downtown, the city, chamber and downtown businesses banded together to create a coordinated strategy. They wanted to make the district attractive to residents, visitors and businesses, and it has become both a magnet for community activity and commerce.
The chamber and business owners formed the O’Fallon Downtown District, which revamped the branding, marketing and online presence for the area.
The city added more than 125 paved and lighted parking spaces downtown and installed holiday lighting to help encourage new events during the Christmas season.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department oversees O’Fallon Station and its rentals.
In its first full year open in 2019, the O’Fallon Station exceeded its goals, and the Vine Street Market attracted many quality vendors.
Positive feedback from community
Community support and positive feedback were encouraging, Burton said. They had planned to offer cooking demonstrations. But then the coronavirus pandemic happened in March 2020 and plans for the traditional market opening in May were scrapped.
With a delay in reopening, a new idea sprouted to give shoppers another option while supporting local farmers and businesses. Burton opened a drive-thru market, which was available from 5-6 p.m. every Tuesday on the O’Fallon Station parking lot, with only pre-orders and pre-pay accepted.
Burton said she borrowed the idea from other area farmers’ markets and adapted it to fit what they could do. It was a great success.
“We wanted to offer a shopping option in lieu of going into a store, plus it supported our local farmers and businesses. Our setup allowed us to eliminate close contact transactions, like exchanging money and people gathering in one location. While this concept goes against everything a standard farmers market is about, in terms of meeting the person growing your food and interacting with your community, from a safety standpoint it was our only option,” she said.
Regional Award in 2019 Recognized Cooperation
Only a year after opening O’Fallon Station, the cooperative efforts of the city, chamber and businesses in revitalizing and transforming the downtown were recognized with a regional award.
The East-West Gateway Council of Governments presented one of its Outstanding Local Government Achievement Awards to the city, O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce and O’Fallon Downtown District in November 2019.
Representatives from the three civic endeavors received the Exemplary Collaboration, Partnership or Regional Initiative Award, which was given for the partnership the city, chamber and local businesses formed that has made downtown a destination.
Each year, the outstanding local government achievement awards honor the extraordinary work of individuals, municipal and county governments/departments, special purpose districts and public educational institutions in the city of St. Louis and Franklin, Jefferson, St. Charles and St. Louis counties in Missouri and Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties in Illinois.
In its awards program, the Gateway Council stated: “With the support of residents and taxpayers, the city’s downtown area has been transformed into a flourishing hub of community activity and commerce. The proof is in the receipts: over the past eight years, sales tax collected in downtown O’Fallon has increased by 177% and the food and beverage tax collected has increased by 134%.”
“The coordinated approach from planning to action steps makes downtown’s resurgence from forgotten commercial corridor to a bustling hub energy and source of community pride a truly remarkable accomplishment,” the program stated.