By Dan Haley
Oak Parkers used to quake at the thought of stores selling liquor. Especially on Madison Street. "Why you know, it's a clear shot from the West Side to Maywood," went the refrain. White liberal Oak Parkers weren't proud of the images it all conjured in their minds: Scary black people. Pint bottles. Endlessly zooming back and forth along Madison. But there you have it. It could be messy being white and liberal back in the day. All that sloppy guilt.
These days you can buy beer and wine at the Jewel on Madison Street. Soon you'll be able to buy packaged goods — what an odd phrase that is — at the lovely new Walgreens at Oak Park and Madison.
Blessedly, we are all now free of the yoke of racial fear over malt liquor!
So now let's talk about beauty supply stores.
They are multiplying all along Madison Street. We've got the lovely Walgreens but the plain old empty big box former Walgreens near Home Avenue is already a Beauty One beauty supply and wig store. Then there's a fellow named Sung Park. He lives in Lake Forest. He partly owns 19 beauty supply stores in Chicago and Milwaukee. And recently, at bargain prices created by the recession and the failure of Park National Bank, he bought facing properties on the north and south side of Madison at Lyman Avenue. He plans to turn the former Head Start facility on the north side into a beauty supply store. And last week he razed three houses on the south side of the street and plans to build a 9,000-square-foot beauty supply store on that site.
And don't overlook that there are already two competing beauty supply houses just to the east on the first block of Madison, nearest Austin Boulevard. The owner of one of those shops has his attorney on the case looking to restrict further competition.
The Oak Park Plan Commission, always worried it is about to be steamrolled by the village board, was smart enough not to offer up a narrow restriction on beauty supply shops on a single street as had been recently suggested.
"No," said the savvy commissioners, "we've been played for saps in the past. Before we hand you our heads, village board, how about we consider, once and for all, every black-oriented business you want us to potentially restrict along Madison."
Oak Park currently uses zoning to limit any additional pawn shops in our fair village. There are currently limits on the number of barber shops, hair dressers and braiding establishments allowed on Madison.
This, folks, is complicated. The market is telling us that Madison Street is really good for beauty supply stores which draw the majority of their clientele, mostly African-American, from Austin and Maywood. Oak Park is considering legislating limits on the market by adding zoning restrictions. And simultaneously the village board this Monday "received" a $17 million consultants study to streetscape the bejeebers out of Madison Street. No one envisions spending that kind of money to support muffler shops, wig shops and, once a year for a month, Christmas tree lots.
Is it racism or just practical thinking to limit beauty supply outlets? Maybe some of both. Clearly if Oak Park had bowed to the real estate market 40 years back, the village would have quickly resegregated as did the whole of the West Side. So market forces aren't automatically Oak Park's friend. That doesn't mean that we can legislate Crate & Barrel to land at the empty village-owned corner of Madison and Oak Park.
In the meantime, my neighbors in east Oak Park would do themselves a favor by buying their next cake at Laury's Bakery or their next pair of goofy expensive gym shoes at Diana Shoes — both fine stores on Madison near Austin.
I do shop local, but I'm not planning on buying a wig anytime soon.