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Unofficial Vendors a Boon for Visitors, Entrepreneurs on Bloomingdale Trail

By Alisa Hauser | June 16, 2015 8:36am
 From lemonade stands to ice cream vendors, folks of all ages are trying to make a buck along the Bloomingdale Trail.
Grassroots Commerce Along, Near The 606 Bloomingdale Trail
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WICKER PARK — After I posted another 6-second Vine from The 606's Bloomingdale Trail, a 2.7-mile-long universe that runs through Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park and Logan Square, a reader tweeted, "Is this your new office?"

Since it opened earlier this month, I've joined thousands of excited neighbors in biking or trekking up and down the path almost every day.

On Sunday, I tried not to notice anything, or at least to not "document" on my day off.

But there were some surprising pop-ups that I did notice. Like a handmade garage sale sign with an arrow scrawled on bright pink poster board along a fence by Humboldt Boulevard.  

Near Milwaukee and Leavitt in Bucktown, I saw kids selling cups of lemonade for 50 cents.  Face painting was also available for a $1, according to a sign that looked like it was re-purposed from a science fair.

A limestone boulder, part of the serene, rock-filled "Park 567," at 1805 N. Milwaukee Ave, served as a makeshift table for the impromptu business.

[DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

I was intrigued, but fought the urge to write, lest I get them in trouble. Last week, two sisters in Texas made headlines when their lemonade stand, set up to raise $150 so they could pay for a Father's Day gift, was shut down for not having a permit.

"Brilliant!"  "I'm so thirsty" and "Smart kids!" were some of the phrases I overheard people saying about the stand as I waited to buy two cups.

At the Western Avenue ramp, an ice cream vendor, Jose, was surrounded by teenagers.

"It was not crowded in the rain [earlier] but now, everyone is here," Jose said, gesturing at the trail, where droves of people paraded past, on bike, foot, skateboard, roller blades.

Two plastic baggies stuffed with ice cream wrappers tied to the handlebars of Jose's bike cart showed how busy the late afternoon rush must have been.

"I've been on the trail all day every day.  Everyone is having a fun time, the ice cream man is even here," said Joshua, 14, who grew up in Humboldt Park.

Joshua and his friends explained to me that they were all riding "fixies," a one-gear bike.  Another kid, Christian, 16, offered to sell me his fixie for $600 — yet another entrepreneur on the trail.

I dug $2 out of my pocket and bought an ice cream sandwich.

Joshua already knew Jose, who's been selling ice cream locally for 16 years, from the streets below. But now, up on the trail, they all seemed happy to be running into each other again.

[DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

It struck me on the ride back home that the garage sale sign I'd seen earlier, which seemed so novel and exciting on the trail, was no different than the same sale signs taped to street poles on sidewalks "down below."

Is stuff happening atop the trail any different than the world below it?  Is The 606 just a new sort of community on top of another community, minus the cars and the commotion?

On Monday, I reached out to the Chicago Park District, to see if posting garage sale signs along the trail or selling lemonade or ice cream were okay things to do.

"A permit is required for both activities, as outlined by Chapter 7, (Section C - Designation of Park Facilities, 9-10),  of the Chicago Park District Code. Vendors without a permit will be asked to leave the premises, and unauthorized signage will be removed," a spokesman wrote back.

On that note, I'll keep my lips zipped — but for Chicagoans planning a trip to the trail anytime soon, consider packing a couple of bucks to support our new local (and elevated) economy.

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