To simply call Amidei Mercatino a farmers market does not do justice to the family owned and run business in Lake Forest’s Market Square.
When asked if he describes his business as a farmers market, owner Ermanno Amidei smiled and replied, “but with class.”
The alley-turned-open-air market, which runs between Southgate and Northgate streets, is lined with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables as well as fresh flowers, preserves, pickles and, the most local product, Lake Forest Honey, which is labeled as such on shelves near the register. “The closest beehive is two blocks away,” said Amidei, who said he could not reveal its exact source.
The produce is organized in boxes and baskets along both sides of the alley. Bunches of bananas hang under an awning. Antique furniture, such as a Fannie May cooler case, is used to neatly display potatoes, garlic and assorted other items. A banner above one end of the alley heralds the market’s 25th year in Lake Forest.
Amidei Mercatino is open Monday through Saturday, from spring to fall. The family generally opens the market around 7:30 a.m. and calls it a day around 5 or 5:30 p.m.
Amidei found it difficult to name a single best seller at the market, which features produce from farms in Lake and McHenry counties as well as Amish farms in Indiana. Amidei travels regularly to each farm to pick up fresh produce, which varies by season.
“Tomatoes are the big item, and peaches and nectarines and melons,” he said.
And, said his daughter, Ruthie Amidei Palandri, “there’s a huge demand for kale this year.”
Amidei is assisted at the market by his wife, Judith, who also works as a school nurse at Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood, where the family lives, and their daughter, who lives in Lake Forest. Their son, Adam, stops by as often as he can to visit the family and take pictures of the latest displays.
The family has established a loyal customer base over the years and on a recent afternoon greeted some of them by name.
“After 25 years, you’ve developed so much trust. People know that I know what I’m talking about,” said the soft-spoken Amidei.
Amidei has deep roots in produce. His grandfather grew grapes in his native Italy, he said. When Amidei moved to the U.S. in 1965, he worked in an A&P produce department.
He said his market is superior to a grocery store because the produce is so fresh. He estimated that 90 percent of it is organic.
“Whatever grows yesterday, we sell it today,” said Amidei, who noted that his produce is no more than three days old.
Customers who aren’t sure how to prepare a particular vegetable know they can also turn to Amidei for recipes.
“I’m not only a produce seller, but I love to cook,” he said.
This season’s market will close at 2 p.m. Oct. 31, just before trick-or-treating begins. But the family will return the day after Thanksgiving for a three-week market featuring Christmas trees, wreaths and other greenery.
Then they’ll take a few months to recharge before the spring market begins.
Amidei said he heads south for the winter.
To Florida? a reporter wondered. Or perhaps southern Italy?
No, Amidei replied with a twinkle in his eyes. “I go south to Highwood.”
While the market’s season is long and the days can be tiring, Amidei said he has no plans to retire.
“I think I’m probably one of the happiest people, to do what I’m doing,” he said.