There are some clear similiarites between Oak Park and Galena, a small town in northwest Illinois that we visited last weekend.
Like Oak Park, Galena has a lot of personality. Eighty-five percent of Galena’s downtown buildings are on the National Historic Register. In the nineteenth century, city fathers made what seems the short-sighted decision not to allow the railroad to build a terminus in their city. As a result, other metro areas grew while Galena remained locked in the past, reliant upon a declining steamboat industry. Years later, it was discovered that tourism might be the way to keep the town alive, and so it was decided that the downtown area would be zoned to minimize modification of the old brick facades that give the town its character.
Currently, there’s not a single franchise restaurant to be seen on Galena’s Main St.
I like that.
Although I’ve bemoaned the encroaching enfranchisement of Lake Street in Oak Park, few would want to see more laws put in place to discourage business of any sort from setting up on our village’s main drag. It’s inevitable that we will see more generic food outlets like Potbelly, which moved in late last year, and Johnny Rockets, which will soon be right across the street.
I’m not saying I won’t patronize any of these franchise restaurants, but my strong preference is to spend my dining dollar at small local one-off places like Luo’s and Jerusalem Café, Marion Street Cheese Market and Mickey’s. I would rather Oak Park not come to look like every other Western Suburban city. Because it’s boring.
But what, realistically, can Oak Park do to avoid that?