It’s not just a market, it’s an event at the Kenosha HarborMarket!

It’s not just a market, it’s an event at the Kenosha HarborMarket!

The Kenosha HarborMarket, the city’s original European-style outdoor shopping and entertainment experience, has been the hotspot to be every Saturday for over 20 years, continuing the wonderful aspects which has made it such a success— including a large number and wide array of vendors offering fresh produce, ready-to-eat foods and a cornucopia of arts and crafts. Executive Director Andrea Forgianni joined us for this exclusive Q&A.

Q. What are your first memories of the Kenosha HarborMarket?

A. My first recollection of visiting Kenosha HarborMarket goes way back to 2003, which was its first year. Those early memories are pretty spotty, because I was in school in Madison at the time. What I do remember is that it was small but was nice to visit. Interestingly, my family missed the very first Kenosha HarborMarket; opening day was the same day as my sister’s college graduation in Chicago. 

One early memory that stands out is from back in 2005. I brought Andrew (then boyfriend and now husband) down to the market and to meet my family. My Dad, being super protective, basically told Andrew to leave me alone. Slowly but surely, he did warm up to Andrew. The two of them shared a love of music, especially jazz. They even worked at my Dad’s HarborMarket booth together a few times.

It really is amazing how Kenosha HarborMarket has evolved over the past 20 years.

Q. What has been your biggest challenge and biggest accomplishment since taking over leadership of the Kenosha HarborMarket?

A. The biggest challenge was stepping into a role that I didn’t see coming, at a time that I was least equipped to take on anything. That first year in its entirety involved a lot of learning on the fly and figuring out what needed to be done to keep Kenosha HarborMarket on a successful path. At the time, I was navigating a lot of emotions and learning how to balance work with being a mom to two young kids. Thankfully, each year has gotten easier.

The biggest accomplishment would be the continued success and growth of  Kenosha HarborMarket (KHM)). For the outdoor season of KHM, we’re seeing year over year increases of nearly 20% in terms of number of vendors. Customer counts are steadily increasing and are now well over 8,000 most weeks so far this season (“bad” weather days notwithstanding). Holding on to the success of KHM, while expanding our locations to include Racine and Pleasant Prairie is another notable accomplishment.

To be clear, none of what HarborMarket has accomplished has been “my” accomplishment. The amazing team of hard-working and dedicated employees and volunteers strive to continue to make Kenosha HarborMarket the best market in the region.  Absolutely none of that would be possible if not for the fantastic small businesses who sell at any of the three HarborMarkets – over 180 so far in 2023 – that we serve.

Q. What can people expect each week from the Kenosha HarborMarket?

A. Every week customers can find over 100 vendor booths, live music at two booths, a beautiful setting with greenspace, flowers and trees, and ample seating to enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes at Kenosha HarborMarket. The amazing lineup of vendors, ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to unique artisan creations, means customers have a lot to explore.

With dozens of prepared food options this season, including several new cuisines, there is plenty to enjoy while at the market, and to take home to enjoy later. Options include gourmet french fries, Hawwian food, Indian curry, soul food, fresh squeezed lemonade, tacos, waffles, wraps, burgers, Filipino dishes, BBQ, teriyaki-based dishes, empanadas, roasted corn, refreshing tropical beverages. Brazilian food, egg rolls and more. Literally one can enjoy food from a different prepared food vendor every week over the course of the entire outdoor season!

Q. What improvements/upgrades have Kenosha HarborMarket made this season? 

A. One thing that we set out to do during the off season was increase the number and diversity of prepared food options. This season we have just under 40 different prepared food vendors serving up excellent cuisine. One of the ways that was accomplished was by openly welcoming food trucks on Place de Douai, which was something that we tinkered with in 2022 and fully embraced for the 2023 outdoor season.

On that same note, over 175 businesses are participating this season at KHM alone. We peak at about 140 booths for several weeks. Both of those are significantly higher than last year. I’m happy to say that during the majority of the season, we fill up 2nd Ave from 54th to 56th St and also the adjacent Place de Douai.

Q. Last year you started the Racine HarborMarket, can you tell us how that is going?

A. Now in its 2nd year, Racine HarborMarket (RHM) draws customers who enjoy the sounds and tastes that the market has to offer. With RHM taking place on Thursday evenings, we see a lot of customers do a bit of shopping for produce, baked goods, artisan items and such; purchase some prepared food; grab a table; and enjoy the live music. With it being on a weekday evening in the summer, the focus of the shoppers is on prepared foods, which is a bit different than what we are used to seeing in Kenosha. 

Q. New this year is the Pleasant Prairie HarborMarket?

A. Yes! This is an exciting new venture. The Pleasant Prairie HarborMarket (PPHM) is happening on select Sundays this season. Originally, PPHM was scheduled for just the 3rd Sundays of June, July and August. Due to the popularity of the event in June and July with customers and vendors alike, we added a 4th date on Sunday, September 24.

Holding true to the “Harbor” in “HarborMarket,” the PPHM is held on the shore of Lake Andrea, which is within Prairie Springs Park in Pleasant Prairie. Just off of Hwy 165, it’s a stone’s throw away from I94 and easily accessible by customers throughout the area.

PPHM has already grown to about 60 vendor booths on Sundays. There is a similar diversity of products as at Kenosha HarborMarket including produce, baked goods, artisan creations, and of course, many prepared food options, including food trucks. Notably, PPHM is immediately adjacent to the Lake Andrea Beer Garden, which is open during the market.

With ample tables, live music and a serene setting, PPHM is a beautiful and fun way to spend a Sunday. We are extremely grateful to the Village of Pleasant Prairie and Visit Pleasant Prairie for working to make the PPHM possible and the success that it is, and to the vendors who took a leap of faith and signed on to join this brand new event.

Q. From your point of view what makes the Kenosha HarborMarket so successful year after year?

A. There are the obvious things that contribute to the success of KHM, and have, for the past 20 years. Those include the welcoming scenery with green space, flowers, trees, the Lake Michigan shoreline a stone’s throw away. The live music, aromas from food that vendors are cooking and abundant seating add to that.

But what I think is becoming increasingly important is the quality and diversity of vendors and products, as well as the sheer size of KHM. All of that draws customers, and interestingly new vendors as well. It’s become a positive feedback loop.  The obvious success of KHM and its vendors begets new vendors, hoping to find their own success at our events. The addition of quality new vendors, in turn, draws more and more customers. More customers mean more demand for additional products, thus the addition of new vendors. And so on. It really is the vendors and customers who make all of our events so successful, and it is the success of our vendors that defines the success of KHM.

KHM’s ongoing success, and I’m talking about post-pandemic success here, has been accomplished under difficult circumstances, often with the proverbial deck stacked against us on several fronts. So to not only keep our flagship operation of KHM running, strong and growing, but to expand to other areas speaks volumes as to the dedication and talent behind the organization. Speaking for myself only on this part, having that personal connection, legacy if you will, makes the work that I do not “work”. Rather, it’s an opportunity to bear witness and contribute to the success of small business owners as they pursue their dreams and to watch thousands of customers every week shop, eat and simply enjoy the best of what local businesses, and the Kenosha community, has to offer.

Q. What could the HarborMarket look like five years from now?

A. Looking back to 2018, I certainly didn’t see HarborMarket looking like it does now in 2023, including my position in the organization. What I do know is that Kenosha HarborMarket will always hold true to our basic tenets of supporting local small businesses and enhancing quality of life by connecting food producers, creators and artisans with consumers at our year-round event.

Q. What makes the Kenosha HarborMarket stand out from other events/activities in the area?

A. KHM isn’t just a place to shop, it’s a place that is designed to be lingered at and savored. The entire setting on 2nd Ave and Place de Douai is park-like with a lot of green space and trees. With the area open to only pedestrians during the market, customers can leisurely stroll the event, shop, sit and enjoy the scenery. There is truly something for everyone with tons of fresh and local food options, live music, the Kenosha Public Library Bookmobile, and the museums a stone’s throw away, as well as indoor restrooms. That diversity of activities and welcoming environment is certainly part of the equation.

The other part is what is behind the year-round KHM, and that is the steadfast support of the mission of our organization by our dedicated volunteers and staff. When one, and in this case a lot of people, put their heart and energy into something like this, it shows. We’re about building everyone up and helping to fuel their success.

Last, KHM isn’t just an event; rather it’s 175  small business owners’ dreams come to life so far this year. Remembering that fuels us to continue to be the best market, and one of the best outdoor events, in the region.

Q. How do vendors/entrepreneurs get involved with the HarborMarket?

A. Over 180 businesses and nonprofits are involved in at least one HarborMarket so far in 2023, which is a big jump from last year and bigger jump from 2021. All vendors must submit an online application ( and include specific information on their product or service as well as photos.

Applications are reviewed on a continual basis. We have specific rules for what is and isn’t allowed, which can also be found on the websites for all three markets. Interestingly now, in late summer, we still are receiving several applications every week for the outdoor season.

Q.  How many board members does HarborMarket have? 

A. Kenosha Common Markets, which operates Kenosha HarborMarket as well as Racine HarborMarket and Pleasant Prairie HarborMarket, currently has 11 volunteer board members. They donate their time and expertise in fields including marketing, PR, finance, graphic design, organizational management and event planning. Their involvement is crucial and appreciated.

Q. Will your indoor market come back this winter? 

A. Yes, absolutely the Winter HarborMarket will be back. As in previous years, it will run from the first Saturday in November through the last Saturday of April so as to continue to provide a year-round market for shopping local products and foods.

Q. You are about half way through your third year as executive director of the harbor market, 2 questions here… hows the experience been so far & what would you grade yourself? 

A. It continues to be challenging and rewarding, with a direct correlation between the amount of challenge taken on and the magnitude of the reward. That said, this job, especially on market days, is so much fun. Every time, when I park and walk toward 2nd Ave on 56th St during setup, I am in awe of the event that we put on every week and feel an energy in the air. And, of course, I’m excited to be able to walk the length of the market, talk with vendors, explore the amazing foods that are available, and do my own shopping.

Sometimes I don’t have my name tag on, such as on days “off,”  and randomly strike up conversations with customers, just to hear about their experiences at HarborMarket. Those interactions are really helpful, enlightening and a lot of fun. There are so many dedicated people whose time and talents make all of our operations possible. I find it a privilege to work alongside both our volunteer board of directors and our operations team, and find myself learning from both on a regular basis. 

As far as grading myself, I’m my harshest critic. There have been, and will continue to be, many successes as well as challenges to overcome. I’d give myself an A for always giving 110% effort. As to achievement, a good barometer is the success of the markets themselves, and specifically the vendors, as well as the happiness of the customers. That feedback continues to be overwhelmingly positive, but there’s always room for improvement.

Q. With you organizing three markets, may I dare ask what’s next for the HarborMarket brand?

A. We’re in a good place right now with three markets. I will say that in the weeks during which we have all three, things can get a little crazy. And absolutely none of it would be possible without our “day of” team handling on-site operations as well as the behind the scenes team. They do a phenomenal job.

Organizationally speaking, we pursue opportunities that benefit the communities we serve, including the small business owners and the customers. That’s something that I believe that we’ve accomplished in all three locations. As for what’s next, there are several opportunities that we are looking at. Discussion at the board level and with the people whom we serve will ultimately determine which of those opportunities we pursue.

Q. So far the 2023 Harbor Market season has been a huge success & you should should be very proud with all the hard work, effort, hours & love you’ve put into it, so I got to ask how do you balance it all?

A. Thank you!

Balancing it all….that’s funny! Short answer is that every day is a new challenge to find balance between work and family responsibilities, and that balance often involves a lot of help.

People make juggling possible. My Mom, truly, she’s amazing. She watches the kids three days a week over the summer, which is no small feat as they have a lot of energy. Knowing that the three of them have such a great time together, with fun experiences, working on reading, little trips and such is heartwarming. I love that they have that kind of relationship. Again, I’ll sing the praises of our volunteer board of directors and operations staff. They contribute SO much and are instrumental in all that we do.

One thing that helps tremendously, and for which I am immensely appreciative, is being able to work from home during the week. It provides flexibility and makes it easier to juggle it all. I love being able to meet the school bus both in the morning and afternoon, hear about how exciting school is every day, and not lose any time with a commute. It makes focusing on work, with all of its intensity, easier because I can still be present for my kids, in all senses of the word.

For me balance involves prioritizing. That means prioritizing my family, especially the kids. Being able to have that family life, and also do a job that I love, is very fulfilling. I am immensely grateful to be able to do both.

For more on the Kenosha HarborMarket, click here

Q&A by Donny Stancato • edited & photos by Jason Hedman