An Avenue of Lights in Palos Heights

By Jack Murray

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks lit in holiday style. Up and down Harlem Avenue, there’s a feeling of Christmas.

Hundreds of shoppers, browsers, diners and other revelers packed the Kris Kringle Market held last Friday and Saturday in the heart of Palos Heights’ Olde Palos Shopping Center, glowing with Christmas lights.

Servers from six local restaurants and 75 vendors selling their wares filled the market’s two heated tents covering the still-unnamed municipal parking lot. They sold crafts, jewelry, clothes, toys, housewares, artworks and lots more at their display tables.

Rich and Merline Jacobson made the Kringle marketplace their second stop last Saturday.  “We came here after we went to the library this morning for Christmastime in Palos,” Merline said.

“We went for the concert and sing-along,” Rich said as the couple enjoyed slices of pizza from Aurelio’s. “We live by the library, so it’s a nice short walk here. We love Palos Heights.”

Rich’s cap of remembrance for the crew of the USS Arizona, sunk by Japanese dive bomber 78 years before, sat on their table. “I wear it because today [Dec. 7] is Pearl Harbor Day. We were there five years ago.”

This was the Jacobsons’ second year at the Kringle market, now in its third season. A much smaller version without tents preceded it in 2016.  Like today’s Kringle mart, it was held in the same public square as the yearly Palos Heights Farmers Market.

 Vendors sold beer and wine in the food and beverage corner where restaurateurs purveyed their specialties.  

Highlander House restaurant owner Agnes Bobak, of Palos Park, served hearty Polish delights. The menu included grilled and fresh Polish sausage with sauerkraut, potato-and-cheese or sauerkraut-and-mushroom pierogi and stuffed cabbage rolls.

“We are here because I like the people from the town,” Bobak said. “They help me a lot, and I like to be part of the community.”

Bobak’s two sons, Stasiu, 12, and Frank, 8, and others helped to serve customers. “Business is good,” young Frank said. “We love to be in Palos Heights. I like telling people thank you for coming, and it’s fun.”

Across the food court, John-Michael Scumaci and Luca Mancuso served penne pasta with vodka sauce and meatball sandwiches from Capri Ristorante Italiano. Luca is the younger son of Capri owner Donna Mancuso and her late husband, Maurizio, who died suddenly early last year at age 52.

“We just want to thank the community for being so supportive all these years and allowing my mother and I to carry on the Capri name and tradition in Palos,” said Maurizio Mancuso, Luca’s older brother. Capri won a Keep Palos Heights Beautiful Award for its attractive exterior this fall.

Between one tented emporium and the other, Palos Heights Public Library staffers again poured free hot chocolate for marketgoers. The night before, Library Director Jesse Blazek helped man the table. The library celebrated the 75th anniversary of its founding this year.

The Kris Kringle market has grown so popular since its inception that traffic snarls the parking lots of stores and restaurants, crowded with diners last Friday night, throughout the business district. To help remedy the problem, a trolley now carries marketgoers back and forth between Kringle square and stops on College Drive.

“I like the expansion of it,” said Andrea, whose Intoxicating Illuminations business card bore no last name. “It gets better every year.” She sold decorative wine and liquor bottles glittering with rechargeable lights.

Besides food and shopping, the market offered a kids’ corner with crafts, face-painting, live holiday music and, of course, visits and photos with Santa Claus. Asked where he lives, Santa replied, “the North Pole.”

Serving as one of Santa’s helpers, Alexandra Schuble, 8, volunteered for the part at the holiday tree lighting at Lake Katherine on Nov. 29. This was the second year at the Kringle market for the 3rd-grader at Palos East. What does she like about it? “It’s Santa being here and the light-up toys, of course.”

“It’s a really big opportunity [to be a Santa’s helper] and it’s very fun because you get to sit by Santa all the time,” Schuble added.

The Kris Kringle Market is only one of a host of events celebrating the season organized by the 16-member Holidays in the Heights committee. The group consists of civic and business leaders, and members of the Palos area chamber of commerce and other community service groups, said Alderman Jeffrey Key (Ward 1). He serves as the city’s liaison on the panel, chaired by Bob Grossart, a leader of the city Business and Economic Advisory Committee.

“This is seriously a truly collaborative event,” Key said. “There’s no ego [among organizers] here. Everybody’s trying to do something good for the community.”

One member of Holidays in the Heights committee, former Regional News editor Anthony Cacioppo, cheerfully greeted marketplace visitors on both days outside the entrance. Mayor Bob Straz was in attendance for a tree lighting-ceremony opening the marketplace last Friday.

An outgrowth of the Holidays on Harlem event spearheaded by Diane’s Place owner Diane Goerg, Holidays in the Heights’ twofold purpose is not only to provide free or low-cost family attractions. Its other explicit intent is to boost local business.

 “So many ways to shop, dine and celebrate the holiday season in Palos Heights!” is this year’s slogan. And signs advertising the Kringle market urged consumers to “Stroll Olde Palos Shopping Center where unique local shops and restaurant await.”

The Regional previewed each of the many Holidays in the Heights events in extensive detail on Nov. 21. They are also listed on the city’s website, palosheights.org.

As for the Kringle market, the committee “pretty much breaks even,” Alderman Key said. Revenues derive mostly from business sponsorships and the fees charged to vendors for booth space. “We raised $11,000 from businesses in town,” Key gratefully noted. “This thing has grown into something that makes me proud that I live in Palos Heights.”

Article was published in The Regional News on December 11, 2019.