Oak Park considers retail-only on business district blocks


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

The Village of Oak Park is looking at placing restrictions on two high-traffic business districts to keep storefronts filled with retailers, rather than dentists, nail salons and day care centers.

The zoning restrictions would apply to the 100 blocks of South Marion and South Oak Park Avenue, the blocks immediately south of the CTA Green Line tracks. Oak Park had considered putting such guidelines in place on those blocks back in 2007 but changed its mind because of the more service-oriented makeup of those two blocks.

Now village hall is sprucing up South Marion, spending about $5.4 million to add brick streets, granite sidewalks and a canopy of overhead lights to the one-block stretch. And the village is contemplating something similar on South Oak Park Avenue in the near future.

As a result, staff suggested that Oak Park consider applying retail-only zoning changes south of the tracks. The Oak Park Plan Commission gave its initial approval in July, in a 5-1 vote and hopes to finalize its recommendation to the village board this Thursday, according to Village Planner Craig Failor.

"You need to protect the zoning so that you have opportunities to encourage and support retail as much as you can," said Linda Bolte, chair of the commission.

But some aren't completely sold on the idea. Mary Jo Schuler — head of the "Pleasant District" business association on South Marion, and owner of two businesses there — said she has mixed feelings about the restrictions. She understands that Oak Park wants to cluster retailers together and bolster its collection of sales tax. But at the same time, she said, residents want financial planners and other services that are a short walk away.

"If I was somebody who had to vote on this matter tomorrow, I'm not sure how I'd vote," Schuler said.

Mike Fox, who owns properties in both the Pleasant and Avenue business districts, worries about putting more restrictions on property owners. His first intention is to usually fill an open space with a retailer, but that's not always easy in a poor economy.

"It's one thing to have vacancies because of a tough economy, but you don't want to have vacancies because of tough zoning," Fox said.

Village President David Pope said the proposed zoning changes echo the suggestions in Oak Park's master plan for its downtown shopping districts. Similar guidelines have been placed on the 100 block of North Marion, which has filled up with restaurants and stores.

"The rezoning on North Marion has obviously been highly successful in encouraging the development of a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented retail and restaurant magnet in our downtown," Pope said.

Failor expects the village board to take up the recommendation sometime next month, likely on Sept. 6. If approved, the changes would only apply to new businesses.

Reader Comments

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Eilene McCullagh Heckman  

Posted: August 30th, 2011 4:03 PM

Nothing says "failed business district" like empty storefronts. Why not "carrot" owners for renting to retailers rather than "stick" them with empty retail space by changing the zoning?

T.J. from OP  

Posted: August 24th, 2011 6:07 PM

You can't fit a square peg into a round hole. Oak Park should be happy with anything other than a vacant storefront.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: August 23rd, 2011 5:20 PM

This type of top-down centralized government intervention is yet another example of the arrogance of village officials who believe they know the local economy better than the free market interests of property owners, businesses and consumers. Uniqueness, diversity and complexity arise from the decentralized process of variation, selection and self-organization, not from the centralized politburo mindset of command-and-control planning.

Epic Putz  

Posted: August 23rd, 2011 2:19 PM

Northside business districts get heated sidewalks and restrictions requiring certain retail whereas southside business districts get housing projects and beauty stores....funny how this is playing out.


Posted: August 23rd, 2011 12:47 PM

Hopefully after Marion and Roosevelt are given their attention, there will be more focus on drawing businesses to Madison. Madison as a whole does not seem like it serves Oak Parkers well.

Julie from Oak Park  

Posted: August 23rd, 2011 11:29 AM

Here's a fun addition to this discussion...guess what's going into the old Walgreens on Madison.....a BEAUTY STORE!!! And, its not Ulta.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 22nd, 2011 6:41 PM

Silly, Wow! I go by John. Mr. Murtagh gives met the shivers.


Posted: August 22nd, 2011 4:20 PM

I actual agree with Mr. Murtagh. The owner of the Certified building is the owner of Pans. Now that is funny. I think the owner of the business was a cousin. Anyway you look at it, a private party bought the building for ALOT of money. SOLD.

Shop Oak Park from Fair Banks, Illinois  

Posted: August 22nd, 2011 3:42 PM

John Murtagh, Pan's is a nice independent grocery store. People should shop more at Pan's then the other grocery stores in Oak Park.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 22nd, 2011 3:17 PM

Certified Foods had a dynamite location, poor sanitary habits, high prices, limited selection, and a customer service attitude that was appalling. I felt sorry for the checkout people who had the owner on their back full time. With 100 Forest Place across the street,and the downtown workers nearby, it took a lot of bad work to fail. If Pan's had that location, they would have had a gold mine. I lived at 100 Forest for five hears and dreaded every trip I HAD to make to Certified.

Sillier from Oak Park  

Posted: August 22nd, 2011 2:38 PM

Silly, last week a mountain man came into Trader Joe's with some fur to trade for beans and salt. They didn't want to Trader Joe didn't want to trade. Certified was a good store to have in the area.

New Consumer  

Posted: August 22nd, 2011 2:30 PM

Read last weeks NYT's story "The Dollar Store Economy" http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/the-dollar-store-economy.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all Dollar Stores are booming and becoming the new normal with shoppers earning $70k & fearful of being the next layoff/foreclosure. Look at Chicago & Harlem (near OP's major tourist attraction) - many independent retailers (Mixed Company, Amazing Space, Memento) all tried but lost, now mostly services.


Posted: August 22nd, 2011 2:06 PM

Brian, Only one business from Lake and Forest relocated somewhere else to my knowledge. The pancake house. That tells me the business model was flawed and those businesses were weak to begin with. Prob not much tax revenue anyway. I'll take a Trader Joes over Certified land any day of the week.

What from Oak Park  

Posted: August 22nd, 2011 11:44 AM

Brian Slowiak, the stores must have had enough of a group of people who have no business experience telling them what they need to do. That attitude will not bring in any real business on 100 S. Oak Park Avenue. No business person wants an unsuccessful board of people telling them what to do.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: August 22nd, 2011 8:10 AM

The stores at Forest and Lake that were torn down by the VOP did not relocate to Oak Park? I wonder why?

Makes Sense to Me from Oak Park  

Posted: August 22nd, 2011 7:08 AM

The trustees want to ensure retail but at the same time they want to "anchor" our #1 business district with an apartment building (Lake and Forest). Who's smoking what?

Lake Street Doctors from OP  

Posted: August 21st, 2011 9:40 PM

Last time I looked, our bustling, vibrant, Lake Street was full of doctor's offices, clerical services, etc. Why not restrict Lake St. to retailers, too? ANSWER: The vacancy rate would go from 40% (including empty buildings torn down for parking lots) to 80%. This town is a joke. Spend another $10 million to put granite bricks and heated benches somewhere and get your kickbacks.

Paddy Boy  

Posted: August 21st, 2011 12:33 PM

Why not a head shop? The gas station on the s/w corner of Harlem & Chicago Ave. sells rolling papers and I haven't seen anyone crack up their car as of yet. But whatever you do, Paddy Boy says hands off the Irish Store - it's the best gift shop we've ever had.

Stupid from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 7:41 PM

OP resident, you are making to much sense. That was a big deal with bringing in the big girls shop. Who would be occupying that space right now, if it wasn't them? Once again, we need the few to tell the masses what they need, want and what to do. Having the right businesses on 100 S. Oak Park avenue will make the WJ investment look nicer.

OP resident for too many years  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 4:02 PM

From the folks who didn't want a certain retail clothing shop on Lake Street (there are no large women in Oak Park?) we now have another great idea - empty store fronts! What's wrong with services? A successful business is a successful business. We can all pick out a retail and/or service businesses that's an eyesore. But we all can also identify both retail and service businesses that we like, use, and need. What are they trying to accomplish?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 12:41 PM

While bldg. height remains the same, the bldg. massing has substantially changed. In the initial design, the tower was setback to reduce the perception of height, and was thusly approved by the PC. In the amended proposal, the tower is no longer setback, and the perception of the bldg. height is now enhanced, rather than reduced. Therefore, bldg. height should be reviewed by the PC, as it is inseparable from bldg. massing, which has been substantially changed.

Why not from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 12:40 PM

Zebra from OP, why do you think no one else moved to those locations? Angry Birds, OP has always tried to keep ahead of Evanston. Freddie McCabe, a head shop is retail and should be welcomed since Marijuana use will come out of the closet.

Freddie McCabe  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 10:09 AM

Head shops are retail.Would serve a custiomer base, and I dont just mean the high school.

Angry Birds  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 9:30 AM

Wow - What are the trustees actually trying to accomplish? That is the elephant in the room. Keep the west side clientele away from the the heart of OP. Nice planning. Keep day care, beauty supply, affordable housing in one area on Madison, pat yourself on the back because you are supporting diversity, then make sure it doesn't travel elsewhere. The planning looks like Evanston. Pack the downtown with density, put low-income, low quality retail in one spot, and claim to be integrated.

LiquidEvil from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 9:07 AM

Oak Park isn't in a position to turn down any tax paying business at this point. If the economy takes a big upswing and we have some kind of retail shortage (don't hold your breath) we can always zone the "undesirables" out and give them the boot. Right now if a dentist wants to move in and pay his property tax, I'm all for it. I'd rather see strip clubs and pawn brokers before an empty store front at this point.

zebra from op  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 8:46 AM

I'm actually in favor of this plan. I understand the comments that see this as unworkable, but I was very disappointed to see two nail salons open in prime retail spots near Lake St. and N. Oak Park Ave. Also disappointed to see bank branches planted in prime retail locations. I do like that OP leaders are trying to come up with a plan for a diversified business district. The more OP business thrives, the better for all of us who live here.

They Fiddle and Fiddle from OP  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 6:36 AM

Yes, let's make up all sorts of rules to make it even harder to do business in Oak Park. This decision is brought to you by the same geniuses that decided spending $5 million on a South Marion beautification project was a good use of taxpayers' dollars. They continue to fiddle while the recession blazes on. Don't worry...they will complain about empty storefronts and blame it on something else later...then fix it by spending more money unwisely on an ill-conceived project.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 20th, 2011 12:00 AM

Gee Bridget, I wish you hadn't brought the beauty supply store up. It an easy bet that the village visionaries will move it to Madison St. so it can be next to all the beauty stores that already grace the street. it already. If that happens will they rename Madison -- Beauty Boulevard?

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 11:51 PM

Another nail in Madison St's coffin. When questions arose on the undesirable retail property on the first floor of the Grove Apartments, formerly the Comcast Building, the village pop up and said don't consider just retail. The space could be used for doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs office. Flip, flop, flip, flop. Obviously, Madison St. is a flop. Who wants to claim responsibility for it?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 10:29 PM

Aren't beauty supply stores retailers? They may be a B2B, but they are also a B2C, aren't they? They just don't fit the swanky mold for Oak Park's near-downtown areas, right? ;)

Ridiculous from Lost Springs  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 8:39 PM

Oak Parkers! We no longer need business district organizations to determine what is needed. The Village will now take care of that for you. They will tell you what you can do. Follow and pay attention to the new order.

Stupid from Oak Park  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 8:30 PM

Gold has finally taken off. Regardless what economists will tell you, gold is still the best way to measure the real economy. So with that, I would suggest a combination of packaged liquor and bar in the largest store front available. This must be exciting news for property owners who thought they made the decisions who they rent to. What a bunch of smart ass people playing with others property.

south sider from oak park  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 8:11 PM

whither Madison. 26 years in Oak Park and it's only gone downhill. vacant storefronts as far as the eye can see. cross Harlem and you'll see what we could have been...


Posted: August 19th, 2011 7:56 PM

I think the people in charge of this "stuff" are nuts! We are in a bad recession and they are spending 5 million for granite and brick?? There is nothing wrong with dentists and beauty supply stores and they are in for a rude awakening if they think retail will fill the stores! Wake up, the recession is not going to pass over Oak Park!


Posted: August 19th, 2011 6:29 PM

What about the proposed Senior Services Center on S. Oak Park Ave? The Township recently purchased the building. Will they be denied a permit??

Marty J. Stempniak from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 6:15 PM

Graham, you are correct. It would only apply to new tenants.

Graham Johnston from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 5:55 PM

Hey Paul, just to clarify and I'll double check this with our reporter, the restriction would only apply to new tenants. No one would be getting the boot from their current space.

Paul from Oak Park  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 5:42 PM

Are banks retail? Is the Vet Center retail? There is an office for Maxim Home Health on the 1st fl of Lake street. It's simply a storefront with a sign in it. Will they be foreced to close? Will realtors be allowed to have offices on the first floor? When will VOP learn to trust the market?

sandydec from oak park  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 5:42 PM

Can we give retail a "preferred" status only? In this economy, I would hate to see the dentists, beauty supply stores, and day care centers kicked out in favor of empty storefronts.

epic lulz  

Posted: August 19th, 2011 5:36 PM

Since the VOP is opening up this can of worms, can we also put a cap on the number of nail salons in OP?

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