When you think of retail meccas in Oak Park, we guarantee that Chicago Avenue east of Ridgeland is not popping to mind as a choice destination. There's Domino's and a 7-Eleven, a place that sells ice cream bars by the case and a State Farm guy. Go further east toward Austin Boulevard and the disconnect between Oak Park and Austin comes into sharper relief even though there are some good shops there.
Now though, a woman who has made a mark buying beat up or ignored homes in Oak Park and then making them shine at a nice profit has turned her intense energy to retail and commercial spaces.
Colleen Maia is the proprietor for the past two years of Bee Home and Garden, a treat of a gift shop at 128 Chicago Ave. She took a two-story, mixed-use building slipping into decay and gave it life and an ascendant property value. Now she is at work on a string of other adjacent buildings in similar dire straits. Based on her prior successes, look for much better days ahead on this faded strip.
While it is exciting to see outside developers arrive in Oak Park with their major projects for already notable intersections, it is positively gratifying to see a neighbor with entrepreneurial spunk and a way with a sledge who can bring new eyes and energy to a neighborhood we've driven through for 25 years while trying not to look too close.