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First 3 French Hens Market of season attracts large crowd

MORRIS – Pop Can Jewelry owners John and Janice Steel were back in Morris on Saturday for the season’s first 3 French Hens French Country Market.

The Oswego vendors have displayed their business, which features jewelry-like items made from pop cans, in many shows. John Steel rates the Morris event at the top.

“This is the best market there is,” Steel said. “We do about 150 shows a year and this is the best.”

The 3 French Hens market ushered in its sixth year Saturday with more than 130 vendors and an estimated crowd of 3,000 shoppers.

The event, which is organized by Morris business owners Monica Spence-Vogel and Traci Tessone, is held at Canal Port Park off the I&M Canal on the second Saturday of each month through October. It will conclude its 2014 slate at the Holiday Market, scheduled for Nov. 14 and 15 at the Grundy County Fairgrounds.

Spence-Vogel, the former owner of Ruby Begonia’s, now runs a retail venture called Bleu. Tessone, meanwhile, is the owner of Whimsy Fancy Goods & Fine Events.

“This year we have a lot of new faces,” Spence-Vogel said. “A lot of new vendors decided to join us. We’ve added some good, new vendors.”

Tessone, meanwhile, noted the variety of goods the market has available for shoppers.

“Not only do we have the farmer’s market aspect; we have the flea market aspect in the sense that we have antiques and handcrafted [items]. ... It’s kind of a nice mix,” she said.

The idea of the market, which started with 30 vendors in its debut, was initiated after some trips for Spence-Vogel and Tessone to out-of-town markets.

“We were attending some really great shows that were far away,” Tessone said. “We felt like, why not have one here and showcase all the great [artists and vendors] in the area? Then, of course, bring in some traffic to Morris. It really has helped the downtown. ... Everyone can see how charming it is.”

Their efforts have paid off to the tune of national recognition.

The 3 French Hens Market was rated number five in the Top 10 in the nation for “The Best Romantic Flea Markets in America” by the “Romantic Homes’” annual Flea Market and Collectibles issue in 2011. In addition, 3 French Hens also was named to the “Top 10” by Romantic Country Magazine.

Steel said a major reason for the local market’s distinction is the number of shoppers it draws.

“Everybody here buys. It’s an amazing event that [they] have put together for years. People know to come here for different, unique items. It’s a very special market,” Steel said.

Steel and his wife have taken their business to many locations, such as when they were invited by the country band Rascal Flatts to be a vendor at one of their shows a couple of years ago in the Chicago area.

“I used to be a country singer and songwriter,” Steel said. “They had seen our business on Facebook, and they asked us to be one of five vendors at the Chicago show. They were looking for something different, something unusual.”

Meanwhile, it was the second time at a the market for vendor Maria Zientar, who owns Vintage Candy Apples in Tinley Park.

“I think this is awesome,” Zientar said. “We were here in the fall for the holiday market. It was fantastic, really nice. We knew at the holiday market that we had to come back.”

Vintage Candy Apples is a mobile business that also sells online.

“We started our business about three years ago,” she said. “We just started with the original old-fashioned cherry candy apples. Over time, we evolved into a lot of different homemade treats.”

A newcomer this year is True North, which recently opened a storefront in Morris featuring various vendors of antique and vintage items.

“Our store has 12 vendors,” Stacey Olson of True North said. “A lot of them have been doing this market over time. We have people from all over, from Tinley Park, Plano, Sandwich, Wilmington. They come here, because Morris has such a great downtown. These markets help the downtown businesses. It also brings so many people to our town.”

“It has been fantastic exposure for us,” agreed Kay Holsted of True North.

Mijon Rose also has Morris as a major stop on its market schedule. It is owned by Katherine Lombardo of Joliet. Her mother, Elizabeth, assisted at Saturday’s event.

“My daughter makes a lot of gift bags and jewelry. Some old buttons for vintage jewelry; she repurposes them,” Elizabeth Lombardo said.

She was impressed how the Morris market has grown since its early stages.

“A lot more people,” she said. “A lot more vendors. It’s a busy year from the time it opens to the times its closes. It’s wonderful.”

Besides Morris and neighboring towns, vendors have traveled long distances to sell at the market, including Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, St. Louis and southern Illinois. Spence-Vogel said shoppers have represented far-away areas as well, such as Arizona, California, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

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