Small Business Ventures Thrive in Cook County Forest Preserves

A newly expanded concession program has seen a surge in small businesses like food trucks, mobile bike repair shops, and other unique offerings, serving the preserves’ visitors at the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

In an age where brick-and-mortar expenses challenge many small business owners, this open-air alternative provides an exciting, cost-effective opportunity. This is especially valuable information for those considering a low-capital, high-footfall business model.

Joe Ebervein, a Dunning resident and founder of “On The Fly Mobile Bicycle Repair,” is one of the early participants. Having started his mobile bike repair venture in 2002, Ebervein embraced this novel opportunity when approached by the Forest Preserves. “It’s kind of funny that 20 years later, I get a phone call from [the Forest Preserves] saying, ‘Hey, we’d like you to participate in this program,’” Ebervein remarked.

He is among 13 vendors who have set up across the county, serving visitors ranging from bikers, hikers, and casual passersby. These vendors, who hail from various parts of the city, can choose their spots, ensuring a diverse and non-repetitive array of services and products across the preserves.

The initiative debuted just last year with only five vendors. Yet, its 2023 season has seen a rich variety of concession stands, including offerings like organic honey, pierogis, and shaved ice. Lenora Dailey, the business development manager overseeing the program, is thrilled with its blossoming success. Dailey stated, “We’ve got all types of trucks this year… the opportunities are out there.”

Furthermore, the program keeps its doors open for all kinds of entrepreneurial ideas. Suggestions, including mobile dog grooming services, pizza trucks, and even pop-up blood drives, have come pouring in. The goal? To align with the needs and whims of the preserve visitors, enhancing their experience.

Ebervein’s service is a testament to this. As listed on his website, he offers bike adjustments and tune-ups, with appointments beginning at $95. His presence in Linne Woods, for instance, has been fruitful. “The reception has been really cool,” he stated, indicating an enthusiastic and appreciative response from bikers and hikers alike.

Another success story is Justyna Haluch, the owner of “I Love Grill & Lemonade,” a Polish delicacy stand operating at Schiller Woods on weekends. Haluch’s strategic decision to pick this spot resonates with the substantial Polish-American community that frequents there.

For potential entrepreneurs considering this venture, the cost is feasible. With just a $250 fee for a daily permit or $500 for an annual one, plus a modest $25 application charge, many like Ebervein and Haluch find the investment worth every penny.

The permit also mandates certain licenses, ensuring professionalism and safety standards within the program.

As more small business owners look towards cost-efficient yet effective ways to reach customers, Cook County’s initiative stands as a shining example. With flexibility in location, timing, and a low entry cost, it’s an avenue to explore for many seeking a fresh start in their entrepreneurial journey. As Ebervein aptly put it, it’s about getting on board early and seeing where the journey takes you.

Image: Cookcountyil

Joshua Sophy Joshua Sophy is the Editor for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 16 years. A professional journalist with 20 years of experience in traditional media and online media, he attended Waynesburg University and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. He has held roles of reporter, editor and publisher, having founded his own local newspaper, the Pottsville Free Press.