Uniquely Thursdays had humble beginnings
Two decades later, concerts draws hundreds to Burlington Park for music, food and fun
Last updated 8/9/2023 at 4:52pm | View PDF
As a business owner in Hinsdale, Lynette Lovelace was always looking for new ways to provide for the people of Hinsdale - and new ways to attract those people to the village's downtown.
Lovelace was at a meeting of the Hinsdale Chamber of Commerce when she suggested the idea of a downtown concert series to draw people to the business district. The events would be held on Thursday nights to coincide with the later hours of several downtown merchants.
"Everybody looked at me like I had three heads," Lovelace recalls of that meeting more than 20 years ago. That conversation was the beginning of Uniquely Thursdays. Now in its 21st season, the event has grown immensely from those first concerts held on First Street.
"We would hand walk our grill down," and grill burgers and brats for concertgoers, said Lovelace, who lived three blocks away from her store, Kokopelli, on the corner of Garfield Avenue and First Street. Concerts took place on the street itself, with a stretch of First Street closed to traffic.
"Every week, more and more and more people came," Lovelace said.
Eventually, the crowds outgrew the makeshift concert venue and Uniquely Thursdays moved north to Burlington Park, where it's still held today. Food trucks long ago replaced Lovelace's backyard grill, and Uniquely Thursdays now draws hundreds of people to its weekly concerts, held each summer from June through August.
But while the series itself is just 10 weeks long, Amanda Wagner, the chamber's marketing director, said the job of planning Uniquely Thursdays is a year-round task. Even before the current season ends on Aug. 17, Wagner said work already has begun on Uniquely Thursdays 2024.
She and other members of the chamber look carefully each year at what worked and what needs to be tweaked to make Uniquely Thursdays the best it can be. Booking bands, renting porta-potties, selling sponsorships and coordinating with the village are all part of the job, she said.
"They do so much," Wagner said of village staff, who close off streets, provide security and more to make the concerts safe and enjoyable for all.
Adding new vendors and sponsors keeps things interesting, said Wagner, who hopes to add to the Uniquely Thursday food choices next year.
New to the concert series in 2023 was Bella Cosa Jewelers in Hinsdale. Owned by Hinsdale residents Joe and Amy Molfese, the business sponsored a band this year and showed up almost weekly with giveaways and fun activities for the crowd. Other businesses have offered balloons, face painting and games, Wagner said.
Joe Molfese said Bella Cosa gave away teddy bears, beach balls and light-up bracelets and offered a photo booth in which guests could take their pictures in a Uniquely Thursday branded frame.
The photo booth and the giveaways will return for the final concert of the season Aug. 17, Molfese said.
"Going to the event is nice to see our existing clients," and to meet new potential customers and friends, Molfese said.
"It's a family event."
"It's important for the businesses to get out there and meet with the community," Wagner said.
Without businesses to sponsor the series and Hinsdale residents eager to attend, Uniquely Thursdays would not happen.
Wagner said Thursdays are long days for her as she prepares for each concert and sees it through to the end. But she said it's all worth it when she sees the people of Hinsdale having a good time.
Lovelace handed over the reins of her brainchild long ago and now enjoys Uniquely Thursdays like any other Hinsdalean.
"We wander down now. I love to see how it's grown," she said.
People were nervous when the whole thing started, Lovelace said, but summer concert series have since become a staple in nearly every Chicago suburb.
"We have this sweet, charming town," Lovelace said.
Uniquely Thursdays is one way to celebrate it.