Downtown sales tax revenue climbs 30%

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As of the end of April, sales tax revenue generated in Downtown Oak Park (DTOP) was up approximately 30 percent over the same time last year.

As to whether the upswing will be reflected in pending reports on the summer and winter months, however, outgoing DTOP Executive Director Donna Ogdon Chen said to "stay tuned."

"Since the [Bank One] lot closed, I've had many merchants reporting that their sales are down. The past two months don't seem to be positive, at least with any of the mom-and-pop [businesses]," she said.

Sales tax revenue in downtown reached its peak in 1999, shortly after the Shops of Downtown?#34;-the retail development at Harlem and Lake?#34;-opened its doors, said Ogdon Chen. At the time, sales tax figures climbed close to those of downtown's "department store era," she added.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, revenue dropped 12 percent to $344,900, the lowest amount in recent history. Sales increased slightly in 2003-04, reaching $367,442.

Sales stated picking up significantly in 2004 and continued through April of this year, with the peak increase seen in February, when sales were 35 percent ahead of last year's figure. January through April revenues totaled $132,764.

Ogdon Chen said it's hard to pinpoint the cause of the recent spike.

"We still have the great merchandise mix we had earlier," she said, adding that DTOP typically waits to see full-year data before drawing conclusions. She also said the figures, garnered from state reports, can be flawed.

Though parking problems are one suspected cause of a recent downturn in sales reported by area merchants, Ogdon Chen cautioned that there's no clear explanation yet.

"When people are talking about July, they have said that things have just dropped off. I heard some complaints about June. Some people say it was really hot, or this or that, but it's really hard to pinpoint what the reasons are," she said.

?#34;Katharine Grayson

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