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By Anna Lothson
The Downtown Oak Park (DTOP) business association's annual meeting typically allows the group to reflect back on the high points of the past year. However, since this year's meeting was held in May, the group focused on what it can look forward to for the rest of 2012.
Pat Zubak, DTOP's executive director, and Bob Johnson, president of the board of directors, spoke to a crowd Tuesday on the rooftop patio at Oak Park Place Apartments, where they highlighted the growth of the group's outreach and the increasing community engagement in the downtown business district.
"By all our measurements, we are very proud of what we do," Zubak told the crowd Tuesday. "But we could not do it without you."
Karen Morava, the owner of Careful Peach Boutique, 1024 North Blvd., was recognized as the district's merchant of the year. Oak Park Place Apartments, represented by general manager Tracy Vegeler, was recognized for being the property owner of the year.
"I was definitely surprised. I was very honored," Morava said. "But it obviously wasn't just me. It's the shop that won the award. We wouldn't even be approached for winning if it wasn't for the people."
Across the downtown business district, Zubak said, sales, holiday rebate merchant participation and gift certificate use are up. Although DTOP doesn't track specific numbers from stores, she said anecdotally they've heard from merchants that sales are on the rise.
The annual events put on by DTOP, such as Oaktoberfest, saw all-time high attendance rates. The beer sales from that event brought in $65,000 in 2011 — roughly $20,000 above the previous year. Thursday Night Out, which kicks off again May 24, has also grown in popularity, Zubak said. New events are added each year, including the upcoming Uncork Illinois event on June 2, which will showcase wineries from across the state.
"Many [business owners] are reporting their best years yet. … Generally, everybody is happy," Zubak said. "That's a great thing to say as a downtown manager."
She said social media was a cornerstone focus for the association the past year, sparked by the addition of Anna Wilson to the staff as communications specialist. The marketing outreach for the group and its members continues to rapidly expand through the use of Facebook and Twitter, an effort she said has also increased merchant participation.
Village President David Pope, along with a handful of trustees, attended the event, and Pope spoke about the benefits the association brings the rest of the community.
"Downtown Oak Park is a model of collaboration," he said. "We are really excited about the opportunity to work together."
To learn what's happening in the district, visit www.downtownoakpark.net.