I just went over and did a bit of Mother's Day shopping on Harrison Street. Surprisingly, it was pretty active. Merchants were upbeat. The goods and services were lovely indeed. For those of you that have not visited this area, you are missing stylish women's apparel, jewelry, art work and of course, The Buzz. Harrison Street Gallery Walks, held the third Friday (from 6-9 p.m.) of every month, are a great way to get to know the area. Consider it my invitation to you. It is the most unique shopping area in our village.
Unfortunately, it is probably that only invitation that you will receive.
Certainly, it doesn't appear that anyone in Village Hall is going out of their way for the over 40 merchants in the Harrison Street Arts district.
For those of us that live in the neighborhood, it is no secret that the village gives a cold shoulder to the merchants in our neighborhood. I have personally spoken to current village hall staff and past board members who dismiss the area out of hand. While Oak Park is pouring tens of millions of dollars into Harlem, Lake and Oak Park Avenue, it gives little or nothing to merchants and, by extension, area residents. We are simply forced to go it alone in the Harrison Arts District. This all sounds pretty shortsighted to me.
It must be a case of a short memory for the big Harlem-Lake-Oak Park Avenue spenders in Village Hall. How long ago was it that downtown Oak Park suffered from huge vacancy rates and the lack of anything that can even modestly be called first class merchandising? How many restaurants failed at the site of the prosperous and tasty Papaspiros?
Today, you can get a bad burrito (Chipotle), dreadful steam table Chinese food (Panda Express), dresses and sweaters for women that were over produced for Target (Dress Barn), bad fleece shirts (Old Navy) and bad fleece shirts that are over priced (Gap). What would we do without progress!
My point is, if you want to be as far sighted as that fabulous Whiteco project and the rest of the incredibly expensive development that our tax dollars are at least partially supporting, we'd better also be thinking a bit out of the box and find some of the low priced and out of the way opportunities that incredibly expensive consultants might neglect to tell us about.
Maybe the new village board needs some other incredibly expensive consultants that specialize in out of the box and low priced opportunities. Or, they could walk a few blocks south of Village Hall and find out what a gigantic opportunity they are currently disregarding. Buy some jewelry, get a Late, do some Yoga, meet some of the merchants that you are currently disregarding. The walk will do you good.
While we have some new board members, we still have a staff that is only interested in a very small portion of our beautiful village. To me, this is just another example of a village staff that is out of step with the desires of the village citizens. The last board got voted out for doing the staff's bidding instead of the bidding for the citizens of Oak Park. At least in my neighborhood, this is a commonly held belief. Let us hope that the new board acts in a slightly more independent fashion.
Harrison Street is a golden opportunity. It is a gateway to our community. It is worthy of a recent mention in the New York Times. By disregarding Harrison Street, the village not only turns its back on the merchants in the area, but turns your backs on the area's homeowners.
? Jay Arbretman is a member of the Harrison Street Arts District