It’s after nine. You’ve walked out of the Lake Theatre. What’s there to do in Downtown Oak Park?
“Normally, I go to Madison Street [in Forest Park] or just go home because there’s nothing to do [in Oak Park],” said River Forester Megan Carr.
When Carr learned that many restaurants and stores are open late, she responded, “I don’t think I really knew that, because no one’s ever out on Lake Street.”
Are Downtown Oak Park’s stores and restaurants not supplying what their customers want, or not letting them know what’s available?
In an informal street survey, a number of Oak Park and River Forest residents discussed what they were looking for late at night in the DTOP area. Oak Parker “Jake” was looking for “something like a good live music venue, where you could get a drink and enjoy the music.” To find that, he has to look to Madison Street’s bars in Forest Park or to downtown Chicago.
Another Oak Park resident suggested that DTOP foster a restaurant that was “more like Poor Phil’s,” with a feeling that was more like a casual bar or caf.
In addition to wanting more casual dining and drinking establishments, Oak Parkers want more active choices. Oak Park resident Seth Carey suggested a “store with more media,” that was open later and offered some entertainment. Another Oak Park resident suggested a public recreation room, a cross between a pool hall and an arcade that was open late and gave an alternative choice to eating, shopping, or the movie theater. Oak Park Billiards, in fact, is on South Blvd., just south of downtown.
Overall, the Oak Park and River Forest residents that agreed to the informal survey wanted later hours, more choices, and, more often than not, a bar.
But many downtown restaurants do stay open late. The result however has been a surprisingly low numbers of customers.
TGI Friday’s, the national chain restaurant/bar at 401 N. Harlem Ave., has seen very few of those late-night customers looking for a drink in a low-key atmosphere. Manager Guilleramo Rangel said, “Depending on if there’s a game or something, we’ll do a little bit better, but after 8:30 or 9 p.m., it slows down.”
Despite widely publicized hours on both television commercials and web sites, the restaurant sees very little activity outside their dinner rush and very few customers that aren’t families.
“We used to be open until 2 a.m., but that didn’t really bring in any customers,” Rangel said.
Mancini’s Restaurant, located just west of the Lake Theatre, experiences a similar late-night slump. Nadia Rendina, assistant manager, said that despite being open until 11 p.m., “There’s not a lot of business after the dinner rush.”
Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream is experiencing not only a seasonal slow-down, but a lack of customers late at night as well. Manager Nonnie Rocha keeps the ice-cream shop open until 9 p.m. on weeknight and 11 p.m. on weekends, but said that “our general spurts are when the movies are letting out and between 7 and 9 p.m. on weekends.”
If late-night shoppers want more to do, and restaurants and stores are staying open later to accommodate them, why are there still dissatisfied browsers on Lake Street?
“Maybe people have to rethink their notion of Downtown Oak Park,” said Nancy Deuchler, manager of Barbara’s Bookstore and secretary of the DTOP Merchant’s Association. “I don’t know if they want more something that’s quieter or something with more action?#34;it’s interesting.”
Pat Zubak, the DTOP business association’s interim executive director, was unable to comment. However, the association’s summer “Thursday Night Out” program has aimed at keeping shops open later and keeping shoppers downtown later.
? Ben and Jerry’s: Ice cream, 1025 Lake St., 9 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekends.
? Chipotle: Quick Mexican food (alcohol served), 1128 Lake St., 10 p.m. everyday.
? Cold Stone Creamery: Ice cream, 134 N. Marion St., 10 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekends.
? Cosi: Caf with sandwiches, coffee (alcohol served), 1101 Lake St., 10 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekends.
? Jerusalem Caf: Middle Eastern fare, 1110 Westgate (moving to Lake soon), 9 p.m. everyday.
? Los Cazadores: Mexican food (alcohol served), 1113 Lake St., 9 p.m. everyday.
? Mancini’s Restaurant: Italian, 1038 Lake St., 11 p.m. everyday.
? Maple Tree Restaurant: Diner, 1034 Lake St., 10 p.m. everyday.
? Puree’s Pizza and Pasta: Pizza, pasta, and sandwiches, 1023 Lake St, 10 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekends.
? Starbucks’s: Coffee and pastries, 1018 Lake St., 10 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekends.
? TGI Friday’s: Casual dining and bar, 401 N. Harlem Ave., 11 p.m. everyday.