What now for Harrison Street?

Opinion

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Monday night was the final night for La Majada, a pioneering restaurant on Harrison Street, which once had the easy panache of being Oak Park's destination spot. The Haggar family — Mom, sister, brothers — were the face of the place, welcoming, sometimes gruff, always present.

Truth is that 35 years back, the competition to be Oak Park's destination restaurant wasn't very intense. The village had just begun to allow restaurants to serve beer, wine, and, in the case of La Majada, margaritas. Dry for decades before that, Oak Park was known for hot spots such as the Cottage Cupboard (now Maya del Sol) and The Fry-er, the deep fried chicken place that preceded La Majada.

My recollection is that the Haggars started La Majada in just the single Fry-er storefront at Harrison and Harvey before they began their door-by-door march east until they had the whole half-block to the alley, taking over what had been, in my youth, Welch's Village Bakery, Frank's Barber Shop, Frank's wife's short-lived beauty salon and some sort of printing business where the windows were painted green and only on the hottest days of the summer was the front door cracked open a few inches.

La Majada was there as the rest of Harrison Street went into the crapper. The small retailers closed, the anchor Pan's grocery story departed to Oak Park Avenue, and the entire core of what we now know as the Oak Park Arts District hollowed out and disappeared into the Kleronomos family's fantasy land. 

Now, after a long, unpleasant, unrelenting decline, La Majada is gone and the whole block from Lombard to Harvey is failed. Most of the block is owned by River Forest's Chris Kleronomos and now labors through a never-ending foreclosure process. The multiple buildings are either empty or underutilized, though entire facades have not crumbled off onto the sidewalk in … what? … two years. So there's that.

La Majada has been on the financial ropes for multiple years. The long string of attached dining rooms have been variously closed off like bedrooms in an aunt's oversized Victorian. A few months ago we were ready to report the story that La Majada had lost its Oak Park liquor license for non-payment of liquor taxes when some last-minute fix was found.

The Haggars, sadly, seem more ready to blame others, mainly the village, for their slow-motion decline. Truth is, this hasn't been a happy place for a long time. And the menu and the décor were stuck in the last century in a town where dining has become an adventure in fresh flavors and perpetual reinvention.

Meanwhile the family says its La Majada Express location on Lake Street in River Forest will remain open, though it sits on the end of a block destined sooner than later for total redevelopment.

The Arts District, remarkably, survives. Not sure how the east and the west wing of small galleries and odd shops makes a go of it while the heart of the district at dead center, the portion with the larger storefronts, now totally flatlines. 

The village's government has sat on the sidelines of this decay for decades. To me, an observer of this activist government, it has been inexplicable. No blizzards of code violations. No property buying sprees. No strict enforcement of a vacant buildings ordinance. Just a bunch of sorry hand-wringing. If the village has been waiting for Harrison Street to hit bottom, this would appear to be it. 

This street is now emptied. So what's the rejuvenated Oak Park Economic Development Corporation going to do on Harrison? What's the village government going to do? Who has a plan? 

Or does this part of southeast Oak Park just not count at all?

Contact:
Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

12 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

@long time resident  

Posted: April 27th, 2014 10:31 AM

Are you trying to say that parents enjoying a drink at dinner with the kids present somehow is linked to high school binge drinking? If so you'd be wrong. It's actually the opposite.

FOPO  

Posted: April 27th, 2014 1:09 AM

I like that Hamburger Mary's will be family friendly gay-orientated. I don't want guys in thongs grinding in my face.

FOPO  

Posted: April 27th, 2014 1:07 AM

GO TO MADISON STREET FOR ADULT FUN

long time resident  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 10:47 PM

I would love it if some of the alcohol oriented places in town did cater to adults only. Instead we encourage the whole family to enjoy a meal under the "eat-drink- and be merry" martini sign. Starting that message early means the kiddies don't have to wait until high school to learn that drinking is a fun and cool.

OPGuy  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 6:53 PM

@Shawna: Are you kidding me? EVERY place in OP is family friendly. How about a place that caters just to adults?

Harrison  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 5:09 PM

YOU DISRESPECTFUL PEASANT DON'T EVEN DESERVE TO SMELL MR. KLERONOMOS' FLATULENCE.

Joe Coffey  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 9:46 AM

May we please just wait for tHE bRAD TO OFFER HIS ADVICE. aDVICE? i MEAN, ADVICE YOU CAN TAKE OR LEAVE. pERHAPS tHE bRAD CAN tell US WHAT TO DO.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 9:35 AM

Cottage Cupcake is where Maya del Sol is now? Did not know that. When we moved to Oak Park in mid-80s, I vaguely remember an Eastern European place there (though I could be wrong). Brataslava, maybe? Didn't know about Fry-er at all. I appreciate the historical detail.

Shawna from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 6:49 AM

I would love to see that property become a retro family friendly joint with vintage arcade games, pizza, pop in those old red plastic cups, beer on tap. A place for simple birthday parties, post game gatherings, etc. Oak Park needs a spot for families with kids between 7 and 14 to gather.

Queary from OP  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 11:51 PM

Well thanks, Mr.H for at least clrifying why I couldn't get a drink in that place back in November. My next question: are OP liquor taxes on restaurant owners backbreakingly high?

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 10:17 PM

Really a pathetic column. His usual "stuff" nothing but calling out problems, issues -- that one on the street can call out. Then says who is going to fix all of this?

M on Ridgeland from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2014 10:26 PM

Mr Haley you got it correct. The village has forgotten about the Arts District. This is shame full. All the past money spent on the metal signs that are not attractive at all and the stupid crosswalks painted for what??? Mr Anan and the Board needs address this area, but they need to address all the areas as all of them are disappointing. Will not hold my breath that they will. All we get are promises and some sort of Development Board to spend more money on!

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