My time With Tom Straub and Pat Mueller started in a vacant property adjacent to the recently opened Vliet Street Oasis. With some of the original foundations dating back to the Civil War Era, the property is a testament to the rich history of the Vliet Street area. More recently, the building and the 3800 block of Vliet Street, which was once a booming business corridor, has lost its lucrative businesses and attractions. The property itself fell into the hands of a notorious “Slumlord” who owns several properties in the Near West Side.
Pictured above: The vacant property across from the Vliet Street Oasis.
Today the 3800 block of Vliet Street has a much more positive outlook than it did 10 years ago. In the last few years, the area has been introduced to Triciclo Perú and Pete’s Pops, both of which are now in buildings that have been redeveloped by Tom Straub, owner of CMS Contracting. Straub has now turned his sights to the vacant property adjacent to the Vliet Street Oasis, and to the future of the area. At the center of this transformation is the Vliet Street Oasis.
To hear Straub talk about his involvement with the Oasis click the link below:
What is now a promising urban space on the corner of 38th and Vliet Street, started as an unassuming vacant space. Straub, a property owner who has been heavily involved in the area, rehabbing old buildings and bringing in small business to operate in these refurbished locations, saw that the lot could be used for the nearby Pete’s Pops storefront for patrons to enjoy their popsicles. Eventually Straub came to NWSP about the possibility of a Farmers Market. Enter Pat Mueller.
Pictured above: The seating area and stands of the Vliet Street Oasis.
Pat Mueller has been a resident of the Martin Drive neighborhood for some time, and since moving to the area has been actively involved in the community. When she first arrived in the area, she was appalled by the reactions she would get from friends who could not believe that she decided to move to the Near West Side. “That caused me to join the block watch and attend police meetings”, Mueller explained, she expressed that she had always felt safe in the area, but maybe there was danger that she was not aware of. While she never found herself in any sort of danger, Mueller did find that the area was scarcely populated with attractions to bring people into the area. What was once a thriving area had seen many of its businesses close or move away. Surely, she thought she could at least bring something attractive to the area. This is when her first contributions to Farmers Markets began.
Mueller started her first Farmers Market outside of the Washington Park Senior Center. She admitted that it was never what she wanted. The one part that worked however was the produce, “the farmers came from virtually across the street”, Mueller explained, “they were people that lived in the neighborhood, and they were consistently there”. Unfortunately, Mueller’s market only lasted seven years, and the area became a food desert once again. As the years passed by Mueller observed vacant lots continue to pop up in the area, and an idea dawned on her, ”what if you had a produce stand like you do in the country, but you have different vendors to share it different days of the week?”
To hear Mueller talk about Vliet Street and her Farmers Market click the link below:
Eventually Mueller was able to bring these ideas to a community meeting with Straub and other residents who had been looking to create a Farmers Market at the vacant space that is now the Oasis. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic the plan for the market was never able to materialize. After the Safer at Home order was lifted Mueller was notified that there would be another meeting surrounding the Farmers Market, so she wrote up her ideas for the stand and sent them out to those involved with the meeting. Mueller initially intended for her plans to just be a consideration for the following year. However, she discovered that everyone loved her idea and Straub himself built a stand in the space soon after. What was one stand quickly turned into two, and Mueller wasted no time finding vendors to fill the stands.
One of the benefits of bringing the produce stands into the community is that is has created a source of fresh food for the local community. Straub, whose grandparents were farmers and grew up in a house with a vegetable garden knows the importance of accessibility to fresh foods. “Working in this area you realize that there are no fresh foods, there are no fresh vegetables, and there are a lot of kids in this neighborhood, so I thought there was a huge need to bring that into this area”, Straub explained to me. Mueller thought along the same lines, she explained to me that she had the luxury of owning a car, allowing her to go to a variety of stores miles away to find precisely what she wanted, she was quick to point out however that, “many people who live around here can’t”. While this stand may not be an immediate solution to this issue, it may prove to be a model for the community to expand on in the future.
To hear both Mueller and Straub talking about the importance of bringing fresh foods to the area click the links below:
While the stands at the Oasis have been a resounding success so far, the ongoing pandemic makes you wonder what the possibilities of what a post Covid-19 Vliet Street Oasis may look like? Straub believes that the expansion of the Oasis could turn it into a full-time Farmers Market, large enough to compete with other markets, but small enough to ensure that the local vendors are profiting from their sales. “Tom’s vision is better than anything I could have imagined, and we have all of the pieces to make it happen”, Mueller told me. With stakeholders like Straub who are passionate about the projects that are undertaken in the area, surely it must be a matter of time before Vliet Street is transformed into a booming business corridor once again.