WeightWatchers approved to move to Harlem and Lake in Oak Park

Special-use permit granted for business to enter retail district


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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The deal has been in the works for roughly two years, but following approval from Oak Park's village board Monday, WeightWatchers will be one step closer to moving into the vacant property at 477 N. Harlem Ave., adjacent to the popular Trader Joe's location.

The 1,300-square-foot space on the ground floor of the Oak Park Place Apartment complex, more commonly known as the Whiteco building, has been empty since the building opened in 2008. Because the building sits in a transit-oriented retail overlay district, WeightWatchers needed a special-use permit to operate in the space.

The case was reviewed by the Zoning Board or Appeals multiple times and was approved about six months after the application was first filed with the village. In late June, the zoning board passed a recommendation 4-1, moving the issue to the village board.

On July 16, the request got the approval needed and now all that's left is signing a lease.

Anthony Gamez, vice president at David King & Associations, who helped his client lease the new space, said WeightWatchers' current location at 1019 W. Madison St. is too small. He said the building, located near Harlem and Lake, offers growth opportunities for his client and also creates a nice synergy with nearby businesses.

Being next to Trader Joe's has been a priority for WeightWatchers since groups can walk after a class and learn about what foods to buy for a healthy lifestyle. Gamez said the proximity to the Downtown Oak Park shopping district is another perk.

The retail designation of the district, however, is what made the move initially tricky. But unlike other cases, WeightWatchers received unusual support from the Downtown Oak Park business association and the Oak Park Development Corporation to move a primarily non-retail business into the area.

Sara Faust, president of OPDC, said WeightWatchers will likely bring 500 weekly visitors to the downtown area. It also plans to sell retail products at its new shop with the added space.

"We're thrilled," Faust said. "We think it's going to be a very positive use. They are a traffic driver."

Over time, she said, WeightWatchers' goal as a national chain has been to become more visible in communities, which means sticking closer to a city's downtown area. Faust said the spot near Harlem and Lake, a unique area tucked back from the typical downtown crowd, is a difficult sell for traditional retail.

Overall, Faust called the approval for WeightWatchers "a good compromise."

The support from the business organizations is what Gamez thinks pushed the issue forward. He suspects that because the location sits on the outskirt of the business community, north of Lake Street, the zoning board agreed the space is better suited for a service-type business.

Pat Zubak, president of DTOP, agreed with Faust that the location presents a unique situation. She said the isolation from other retailers makes WeightWatchers "highly complementary" to the retail district. Other non-retail requests in the district haven't received the same support, such as a dentist office seeking to move to Marion Street, but Zubak said the two areas have different customer bases.

Harlem Avenue doesn't have the retail to "feed off" each other, she said, and doesn't encourage as many people to walk by.

According to a village report, the property has been marketed to various retail tenants over the years through local business contacts, but no success at leasing the property was made. According to testimony at a zoning hearing, mainly national chains were approached to move into the property.

The building itself was put up for sale by Whiteco in May. The 14-story, 204-unit luxury apartment building was controversial from the start as it went through a multi-year approval process and many redesigns before receiving approval. The Trader Joe's on the ground level has been successful, and after WeightWatchers moves in, there is still one vacant space remaining.

No discussion was scheduled about the matter at Monday's board meeting, but in the agreement are two conditions and restrictions applied to this specific case. The special-use approval is limited to the current use and owner, according to the zoning documents. Any expansion or change in use without further approval would terminate the special-use allowance. If that were to happen, it would be considered a violation and the village's zoning administrator would have the right to take "appropriate action."

For now, however, the village's approval is a step forward for the property and a lease could be finalized within a month, Gamez said. The terms of the lease remain confidential since they're not officially signed, but WeightWatchers could move in as soon as the next few months.

File 2011

watching, weighting: WeightWatchers will soon occupy the space just south of Trader Joe's, formerly reserved for retail.

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy


Posted: July 22nd, 2012 10:54 PM

A pigeon pooped on me today.

Jason from Oak Park  

Posted: July 22nd, 2012 8:13 AM

The only organization in Oak Park more unethical and misleading than WeightWatchers is the Wednesday Journal.


Posted: July 21st, 2012 2:18 PM

Any edific containing a continuous?surfaces not withstanding overhead?interior?surface? will be given?or?decided?upon qualified servable for the?sale?of?goods?ultimately to consumers, now known as the end user with less than 1,000 square feet will be referenced to as shop. Structures constructed with continuous surfaces including overhead interior surfaces that function as the aforesaid sale of goods to end user with over 1,000 s/f will be known as a store.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: July 21st, 2012 1:40 PM

OP Resident #545 from Oak Park, the reason people like Pope and Raymond make up crap like retail overlay is it makes others think, WOW, I don't know what that means so I am an idiot. People just need to break it down. It means you transition from a candy store, to a store next to it that is a business that doesn't sell products. There is no real overlay going on at all. That's impossible, but those people like to think they are fooling people.

DrewM from OP  

Posted: July 21st, 2012 10:21 AM

Never, ever a problem with parking if you ride a bicycle to Trader Joe's. With a big basket on your bike, you would be shocked how many groceries you can comfortably carry. And on top of that, the exercise will prevent you from needed Weight Watchers.

Pills for everything......  

Posted: July 20th, 2012 4:49 PM

Fighting Fat: FDA Panel OKs Arena Diet Pill

OP Resident #545 from Oak Park  

Posted: July 20th, 2012 4:33 PM

"..the building sits in a transit-oriented retail overlay district". Someone went to work one day (on the taxpayers dime) and thought that one up. Does Berwyn have that? Does Hinsdale? No...nor does any other suburb I can find. What nonsense...

Seattle Sutton  

Posted: July 20th, 2012 4:16 PM

Trader Joe's is chockful of temptations that a weight watchers client would be advised to avoid. I didn't think fat people were allowed in oak park.


Posted: July 20th, 2012 1:34 PM

So now it will be impossible to park at TJ's to get in and out quick. Just seems like a crummy spot for a fat loss place


Posted: July 19th, 2012 11:51 PM

I think TJ's would be a better fit where the Linens N'Things was in RF. Bigger space and much more parking. Win WIN for RF. I think they need to expand.

Parker from Park City  

Posted: July 19th, 2012 7:21 PM

Isn't there a huge parking garage right there?

M on Ridgeland from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2012 6:41 PM

This will be a nightmare in that area to park! Hope this does not effect the Trader Joe's parking area. Probably will which is terrible. The design of this whole area is awful to begin with.

Officer Parking Ticket  

Posted: July 19th, 2012 6:27 PM

They better add more handicapped parking spots.


Posted: July 19th, 2012 6:19 PM

The parking is a huge problem in that area. I am not thrilled about this move.

Waiting and Watching from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2012 5:36 PM

Sounds like good possibilities for changing your weigh. But what about parking? That is a lot of cars....

Tom Scharre  

Posted: July 19th, 2012 4:30 PM

"...in the agreement there are two conditions and restrictions applied to this specific case." After considerable discussion, the Board abandoned a third condition: having the business re-brand itself as 'WatchUsWait.'

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