It’s the 18th season for this popular vendor extravaganza located on Second Avenue and 54th Street. Every Saturday, from 9am – 2pm, over 100 vendors line the streets offering services ranging from fruits and vegetables, to the finest arts and crafts, to a delicious plate of tacos, to a great live musician performing for you.
The Kenosha HarborMarket has served a generation of Kenoshans with a meeting space to shop, catch up with friends, and just take in the amazing beauty of Downtown Kenosha and our gorgeous Lake Michigan.
But there is one big thing missing this year from our beloved Kenosha HarborMarket, and that is the founder himself, Mr. Ray Forgianni. We lost Ray last year, but the HarborMarket carries on just as strong as ever. Today, Donny Stancato sits down and talks to the new Executive Director of Kenosha HarborMarket, Andrea Forgianni.
Q. What inspired your Dad, Ray Forgianni, to come up with the idea of the Kenosha HarborMarket?
A. HarborMarket started in 2003, thanks to the hard work of SEVERAL individuals. My Dad’s inspiration for HarborMarket came from his visits to outdoor markets in Europe. That kind of environment, it just resonated with him. It wasn’t just the look, but also the ‘feel’ of the markets. That included the visual aspect (white tents), but also the pedestrian-only nature of those environments, and, of course, the music, sights and general positive uplifting atmosphere. He immersed himself during those trips, absorbing everything that he could, and brought it back to Kenosha.
Q. What are your first memories of the HarborMarket?
When HarborMarket first opened in 2003, I was in grad school in Madison. When I really started visiting, around 2005, it was starting to take off. I remember those trips down to Second Ave., and visiting my Dad in his element, as a highlight of my weekend visits home. I cherish the memories of my kids and niece visiting the market, and their Papa ‘dancing’ with them at the music tents.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge since taking over the Kenosha HarborMarket?
A. My biggest challenge was, and to some extent continues to be, establishing my role with HarborMarket outside of my Dad’s shadow. He’ll always be a part HarborMarket, of course, but even he recognized that evolution and growth of the organization was necessary. Remaining true to our roots and core mission, as we continue with our story as an organization, will continue to be a challenge, as it is for many nonprofits.
Q. For 18 years your dad built has the Kenosha HarborMarket into a regional draw, how do you deal with the pressure of taking over something that is such a staple to the community?
A. First, it wasn’t just my Dad who built HarborMarket. Over the years, many have contributed to its regional success, including the small businesses (over 140 this season) who have and continue to participate.
HarborMarket continues to be a team effort, with each of us leaning into our strengths, and learning in the process. It’s more of a responsibility that I feel to continue to deliver HarborMarket as the original, award-winning, small business incubator and customer-favorite outdoor market event every week. Dedicating my professional life to betterment of the community by joining the nonprofit sector was an easy decision ten years ago; this still-new role feels like a natural progression of that.
Q. What can people expect each week at the Kenosha HarborMarket?
A. People can continue to expect a diverse array of vendors including local produce, prepared foods, pantry staples, arts and crafts, on-site services and live entertainment. We have over 140 vendors over the course of the season and completely fill up 2nd Ave, from 54th St to 56th St and the adjacent Place de Douai; during the peak of the season, vendors can also be found along 56th Street.
HarborMarket was designed to be an immersive experience, with wonderful things to see, hear, taste and do. Our environment, nestled within green space with shade trees and surrounded by the Lake, is perfect for just relaxing and enjoying the scenery. Customers are welcome to sit at a table and enjoy their purchases and the free entertainment.
Q.Has the look of the market changed this season in 2021?
A. Yes and no. Last year, with the pandemic, only specific vendor types were allowed to attend and live entertainment was not permitted. This season, all types of vendors are back, including arts and crafts, as well as musicians, other live entertainment, nonprofits and more. We do still have vendor booths spaced out. However, the overall vibe of HarborMarket, of it being a happy, enjoyable and relaxing shopping, eating and entertainment experience is very much back, and thriving.
Q. From your point of view what makes the Kenosha HarborMarket so successful year after year?
A. I think that the community embraced, and continues to embrace, the idea of HarborMarket, and what it brought to the Kenosha community, starting almost two decades ago. HarborMarket exists for altruistic reasons, which comes through in everything that we do, including facilitating and supporting the establishment and growth of local small businesses, creating a fun and festive atmosphere for customers and fostering partnerships with other community nonprofits. These are all central to our mission and are what I believe to be the primary reasons HarborMarket is successful, and has been since 2003.
Q. Does HarborMarket have a wish list? Any dream vendors?
A. We wish for many things, including the continued success of so many of the small businesses which sell at HarborMarket. We don’t have specific “dream” vendors per say, but are always looking to add new vendors who offer new and unique products.
Q. What could the HarborMarket look like five years from now?
A. That’s something we are working on in our long-term organizational plan. Much depends on what the community – businesses and customers – need and want from us. We are a nonprofit, as such we are here to contribute to the betterment of the community; that will never change.
Q. What makes the Kenosha HarborMarket stand out from other events/activities in the area?
A. A few things come to mind. Our vendors regularly tell us that customers come up from Chicago and down from Milwaukee just to visit HarborMarket. Our reputation as the pioneer and leader in the region when it comes to both European-styple outdoor and year-round markets continues to expand as we (meaning HarborMarket, HarborMarket vendors and customers) grow and evolve. Our setting is perfect for an outdoor market event, nestled within abundant green space, with shade trees and surrounded by the Lake. That environment, where people can relax and enjoy the sights, sounds, tastes and smells within a casual, relaxed and beautiful setting, continues to draw more and more customers to Second Avenue every summer Saturday. We as an organization have been evolving, and will continue to do so, to best meet the needs of our community; we exist for and because of the community, businesses and people whom we serve.
Q. How do vendors/ entrepreneurs get involved with the market?
A. Anyone interested in becoming a HarborMarket vendor is invited to visit our website, kenoshaharbor market.com. There is a lot of information on vendor types and rules involved with vending, as well as the application itself. We have a committee that reviews all applications that are submitted. It’s worth noting that we welcome several new vendors every year, so individuals interested in becoming involved with HarborMarket for the first time are encouraged to apply.
Q. The HarborMarket is a non 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, can you explain what that is? What is your nonprofit goal?
A 503(c)(3) nonprofit organization is one that has been approved by the IRS as being a charitable organization that is exempt from income tax. Basically, we exist to contribute to the betterment of the community and don’t have owners. Our goal as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization boils down to providing services that improve the community and the lives of the people within it. We seek to support small business owners as they establish and grow their businesses, provide an event-experience that enriches the lives of community members and help support fellow nonprofits as they also work to improve the community.
Q.How many board members does HarborMarket have, and is this a paid position?
A. We currently have ten Board members, and no, our Board members are all volunteers.
Q. What can you tell us about the commercial kitchen rentals for your vendors?
A. The Kenosha Incubator Community Kitchen (or the K.I.C.K.) was a dream project of several years of my Dad’s and the organization’s. The K.I.C.K. opened up this past spring with a handful of small vendors utilizing the space. Now, in mid-summer, both the number of businesses that operate out of the Kitchen and the number of hours that the Kitchen is utilized has about doubled. It’s just another example of the community partnerships that are at the heart of our mission as a nonprofit organization. HarborMarket vendors do get priority in usage of the space, and a discount on the rate.
Q. The city renamed a portion of Sixth Avenue after Mike Bjorn, with your dad being such an icon for the city of the Kenosha, do think they should re-name Second Avenue in his honor?
A. Any recognition of my Dad’s contributions to Kenosha I leave in my Mom’s very capable hands. She is the one who sacrificed the most over the decades as her husband dedicated so much of his life to public service.
Q. Will your indoor market come back this year?
A. We’ll have some exciting news to share on that front soon.
Q. You are about half way into your first year as Executive Director of the HarborMarket – How has the experience been so far and what grade would you give yourself?
A. It’s been rewarding and challenging at the same time. Stepping into this role under the circumstances was difficult on a personal and professional level, of course. Over the past eight months, though, with the unwavering support of the Board and so many vendors, customers and others in the community, I feel more comfortable with and find tremendous fulfillment in this still new role. As for a grade, I’d say pretty good, but always with room for improvement.
Q. So far, the 2021 HarborMarket season has been a huge success and you should should be very proud with all the hard work, effort, time, and love you’ve put into it. How do you balance it all?
A. Thank you! Sometimes I don’t balance it well, and I think that’s a common issue with working parents. However, more often than not, I am able to balance it because of the steadfast support of HarborMarket’s volunteer Board and my Mom. Our Board, particularly our Executive Committee, works very hard to continue to put on a hugely successful event every Saturday. My Mom is actually the “invisible” support behind HarborMarket. She watches my kids while I work and even prepares some amazing meals for my family. Time with a few close family members and friends also helps to keep me grounded. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so they all help me “dial it back” when necessary, and remind me of what’s really important in life.
Interview by Donny Stancato
Edited and layout by Jason Hedman
This interview originally appears in an abbreviated form in the July 29th, 2021 print edition of The Smart Reader magazine