We've known for some while that if a person wants to run down Oak Park's retail prospects they invoke the specter of a dollar store. "The old Walgreens will probably end up a dollar store," we hear regularly.
So if you don't like dollar stores, what sort of business do you want in Oak Park? The village has paid consultants plenty to answer that query. We think we found out this weekend and the answer is free. On Friday, we posted a story at OakPark.com about a local guy, Brian Keyes by name, who is exploring opening a microbrewery in Oak Park.
Twenty-one beer-quaffing, wholly enthusiastic reader comments later, we declare the market research done. Oak Parkers are thirsty for a microbrewery. And, they told us, they prefer such a trendy, upscale business to either dollar stores or nail spas. Our readers even suggested specific locations, and we have to say the old and long-abandoned juice factory on Harrison Street might just fit the edgy, factory-modern look we've seen in businesses like this.
Keyes' declaration that he is exploring opening his Off Key Brewing in his hometown comes at an apropos moment. First, Village Manager Tom Barwin has been publicly lusting after a microbrewery for more than a year (and two of our commenters identified themselves as current village board members). Second, within weeks, the village's Liquor Control Review Board is forwarding its recommendations to the village board on ways to loosen up (and streamline) the village's liquor ordinance.
We've been encouraging the commission and the board to push the limits here and to actively create an ordinance that would welcome both a brewery and also a high-end packaged goods store. There are ways to write this ordinance that would make plain the type of business we are looking to attract. Reality is that Oak Park is not known as a simple place to open a business. Start from the position that a unique liquor license has to be crafted by a commission and then OK'd by the village board before you open. Well, a lot of entrepreneurs will simply look at the next town.
The reality is that alcohol is a key driver of economic development in Oak Park. It has been for four decades. Let's be pro-active here.