Fundraiser planned for Oak Park glass shop

Two weeks after building collapse, future still murky for three Arts District businesses


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

About four years ago, an Oak Park Italian restaurant was shuttered by a raging fire. It reopened months later after a massive renovation. Now the owners of Cucina Paradiso see another local business suffering through a similar ordeal, and they want to help.

Cucina, 814 North Blvd., plans to host a fundraiser for Prodigy Glassworks on Sept. 7, sharing 20 percent of all dinner sales that day. Restaurant co-owner Anthony Gambino said they identified strongly with Prodigy and its owner after the glass shop's building collapsed two weeks ago.

"We've been in the same position this kid's been in. There's a lot of questions with no answers, and I know exactly what he's going through because we've lived it," Gambino said. "It's horrifying that his livelihood is basically boarded up right now, with no answers."

Matt Kwilas poured "every penny" he had three years ago into opening his little glass shop on Harrison Street in Oak Park. Fast forward to today, and the 33-year-old Oak Parker can't enter his place of business, and the car he parked right out front is totaled.

Two weeks after the front of the building at 201-211 Harrison St. toppled, the building is still uninhabitable, according to the village. Kwilas said Wednesday that he doesn't have any money to relocate Prodigy Glassworks, after he spent $60,000 building out the space and adding a glass furnace.

"The fact of the matter is I am a starving artist. All of my life savings, every penny I have, I put into this business and this location," he said. "I don't have any money, I don't have any savings, and it's questionable how much my insurance is going to cover."

The collapse occurred the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 10, injuring one passerby and shutting down Harrison Street overnight. Last week, village hall issued 12 citations to the property owner, Chris Kleronomos, and the contractor working on the building.

Oak Park also deemed the one-story commercial property uninhabitable shortly after the collapse. The building is currently in foreclosure, and the court-appointed receiver who is overseeing it said Monday that it could take weeks before it's properly repaired for occupation.

Kwilas was working in his glass shop that day. He said it looked like a garage door was starting to close on the front of his storefront. Fortunately, the wall fell in such a way that none of the glasswork in his shop was damaged. However, his Ford Explorer wasn't so lucky.

"The only car I ever bought and paid for, crushed," he said.

Kwilas is nervous about the condition of his glass furnace, as it was shut down suddenly, rather than cooling down for hours as intended. He still has some blown glass left that he'll also sell at Cucina on Sept. 7, from 5 to 10 p.m. Kwilas said he plans to use any proceeds from the fundraiser to pay off some of the bills that keep trickling in.

Deerfield resident Paul Gong, 42, had been working to open an upscale Chinese restaurant called Yuan at the corner of the same property. He told Wednesday Journal in November that they hoped to start operating this spring, but it took much longer than anticipated to obtain permits, he said last week.

Gong, who also owns two nail salons in Oak Park, said he's thinks the restaurant will eventually launch.

"I'm still looking forward to opening the restaurant. I have confidence in that location," he said.

The building's other tenant, Briejo Restaurant, closed in July. Jody Andre, a consultant who helped start the eatery two years ago, said before the collapse that they planned to retool Briejo and revive it in mid-September with a new name and concept. On Monday, Andre said she and a prospective new owner, whom she declined to name, still hope to relaunch Briejo as an upscale pub called "Up."

But the sale is on hold until the restaurant reopens, Andre said, and the new partner is waiting to apply for permits.

"We still have all good intentions of reopening and getting this block going again," she said. "That's our biggest hope right now, but we're really under the gun with how the bank and village want to expedite this."

Kleronomos has not returned numerous calls seeking comment, and Steve Witt, the head of Oak Park's Building and Property Standards Department, could not be reached for comment.

Dan Harrington, the receiver who is overseeing the building, has been meeting with an architect, starting to redraw plans for the building. He said their main priority is getting the tenants back inside, but realistically it could be a couple of weeks before the interior work starts.

Reader Comments

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Michael Murphy from Forest Park  

Posted: August 31st, 2011 4:01 AM

Business owners should buy enough insurance to cover property losses.

Alice Culbert from limerick, ireland  

Posted: August 31st, 2011 3:40 AM

What a tragedy the poor guy, please let the people responsible get off theirs asse,s and step up ! whats the matter with those guys he did not go in and do this himself , so stop hideing and do whats right, he deserves this ...xx

Cucina Fan  

Posted: August 29th, 2011 4:24 PM

Again, the brothers Gambino come through to assist a town they don't even live in. Way to go Nick and Anthony!!


Posted: August 24th, 2011 7:13 PM

I'm suggesting some type of small business loan and/or accelerate the process of determining if the building is safe to occupy and if not, make the current owner bring it back to a safe condition. The longer this plays out the more likely that OP will lose another business or even several more on Harrison. That seems such a waste after OP has been trying to rebuild the area. Tell your friends to come and support the fundraiser for Prodigy Glassworks on Sept. 7th

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 24th, 2011 12:39 PM

Right from Right -- are you suggesting that businesses have mandatory insurance to operate in OP? If no; isn't a government subsidy of businesses that have catastrophe on the edge of welfare?

Right from Right  

Posted: August 24th, 2011 11:10 AM

Harry, you are right. Our Village needs to create a something that helps private businesses out when they haven't bought insurance to protect their business.


Posted: August 24th, 2011 10:22 AM

Enough already, it is time for the Village of Oak Park to step-up and help this young man, who located his business and savings in the "Art District". Prodigy Glassworks is an asset to Oak Park and it would be a shame to lose this business while everyone sits on the sidelines waiting for insurance and possible lawsuits to play out. Oak Park should step up and provide an affordable funding option to help Prodigy Glassworks stay in business, rebuild and continue to serve the community!

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: August 23rd, 2011 4:01 PM

A civil suit will be costly and time-consuming. Better to deal with the owner and contractor's insurance companies.

Jimfrom OP from OP  

Posted: August 23rd, 2011 3:03 PM

He needs to take legal action against the building owner and the contractor as both were sited for code violations.By doing this he can recoup loss of income and monies for damages to property if any.Granted he won't get his money back right away but at least by doing this he won't be out his life savings and can start over if need be.

Be An Oak Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: August 21st, 2011 12:53 PM

Pan's grocery store has been on Oak Park avenue for many years. If people can stop going to the big grocery stores in town and visit a local business owner, it would be a lot better for business. Lets all do our part and shop at Pan's.


Posted: August 21st, 2011 11:03 AM

I love Prodigy Glassworks! It would be such a loss to not have it on Harrison. I hope the Wednesday Journal will let us know if and when a fundraiser is scheduled. (or better yet, when the loser construction company's insurance reimburses these business owners.)

Nancy Nowak from Romeoville, IL  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 5:24 PM

As a friend of Matt's mom and the owner of several of his pieces it would be a devastating blow to the art world to have his talents quelled in this way. I would like to entreat his friends and neighbors to do anything to help get his shop back up and running as soon as possible. I will be asking my friends to help as well. Insurance will only go so far so we all need to dig in and if each of us gives just a little it will add up to a lot to save something that is beautiful.

Harrison Street Neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 2:38 PM

Done from Oak Park: I really don't know, but I have a feeling that Kleronomos is to blame for all the things he failed to do. Note the citations from the Village (failure to shore up existing beams,etc.) as seen on page 11 of the print edition of the Wednesday Journal. I have really gotten tired of his general shoddiness. It's a wonder there is anything at all on Harrison Street with him around.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 11:30 AM

Harrison Street Neighboy, what do you think can be done?

Harrison Street Neighboy from Oak Park  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 7:02 AM

What a crying shame! Prodigy Glass is a jewel of a place! Their beautiful glass pieces, artfully displayed, are a joy to behold. Watching glass being blown and even having the opportunity to take classes are certainly a rare opportunities anywhere. I hope something can be done to retain this wonderful resource.

Loan from Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: August 18th, 2011 10:03 PM

Adele from OP. The Art District is not an Art District. Go to a real Art District and you will find the difference.

Adele from OP  

Posted: August 18th, 2011 4:46 PM

@Loan: I value having such a unique business in the arts district. The ability to take glass blowing lessons nearby, in addition to the retail, is quite an opportunity that I think adds to the arts district and our community. I, and others, would be willing to support if there is need beyond insurance reimbursement. This is not the local Subway...Your need to instigate some debate seems petty and unnecessary - go away.

Loan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 18th, 2011 3:05 PM

Adele from op, OP parent from Oak Park, ask Prodigy if you can pay a third each of the rent on the new place without asking for anything in return except the amount you paid in until Prodigy is able to pay you back. Now you can have a real feeling of helping others in business.

adele from op  

Posted: August 18th, 2011 9:34 AM

Prodigy is a huge asset to the arts district. please do hold a well publicized fundraiser - we want you to stay!

OP parent from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 18th, 2011 9:08 AM

I agree with Jim--perhaps the Village could offer Prodigy a no-interest loan until his business is back up and running? I hope Prodigy does decide to hold a benefit and that it is well-publicized. Oak Parkers generally want to help our local businessowners and I think a lot of people would show up in support.


Posted: August 18th, 2011 7:50 AM

He should make a claim with the owner's insurance. They should reimburse him for the value of the car and any money lost while his business was effected.

Aware from Oak Park  

Posted: August 17th, 2011 9:21 PM

When you go into business, you buy business insurance that will pay your average income. If you have 60 thousand to invest, you have the small premium to pay for the insurance, and contents damaged. The building should have insurance that will cover the damage to the vehicle, if not, check the vehicles insurance coverage.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: August 17th, 2011 8:34 PM

Does the Village have access to any funds that could be used to assist these business owners? It would be a significant loss to the Harrison St. Arts District if Prodigy Glassworks and the other businesses are not able to recover from this incident.

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