Let us stipulate that Oak Park does not discriminate against “plus-size women.” We are far too progressive for that. And, in the case of many of us, far too fat for that. While we may be open to “an intervention” on behalf of chubby gals, while we proclaim that some of our best friends are round, we don’t discriminate.
What then, exactly, are we doing in the current contretemps over whether Lane Bryant, the national retailer selling stylish clothes to larger women, can open its doors on Lake Street in Downtown Oak Park?
We are creating another in a series of “crazy-goofy” Oak Park stories that make our village look ridiculous. In the daily newspapers. On the freaking Today Show last week. This one is right up there with the dismal debate over whether you can have two dogs or three in Oak Park before the dog police rapped on your door in the night.
Had someone on the Journal staff ask if she could quote me on “crazy-goofy” stories, a term I coined last week in response to an emailer baffled by this wave of bad press. I think it is a pretty apt term to describe Our Town’s propensity to insert itself into perfectly hopeless debates.
So what does a village government do when you have driven a third developer who you proudly proclaimed as a “partner” off their rockers? We’ve driven Taxman out of town. We’ve tormented Whiteco for five years. And now RSC, building a retail and condo building on Lake, has filed a $2.4 million suit against the village for blocking a lease agreement with Lane Bryant for one of the five storefronts in the development.
I’m willing to further stipulate that the developer, Richard Curto of RSC & Assoc., has played the media perfectly via this lawsuit, and that getting the public excised is the sole purpose of this lawsuit, that there are any number of irrelevant insider debates over which side met which deadline, etc.
It comes down to this: In the eight days since the Sun-Times broke this story, I have yet to talk to an Oak Parker who doesn’t raise this story with me and who doesn’t think the village board’s position is nuts.
“So Lane Bryant isn’t high class enough?” said a woman on Saturday. “That would be compared to the nail shop, the wig shop and the UPS Store currently across the street!”
Plainly this decision has to be overturned. Promptly. The village board is on the wrong side of reality on this issue. Lane Bryant should be embraced, and at the location of its choosing.
This current tempest raises, again, many questions. What is this Butcher, Baker and Candlestick maker of a village board doing making up lists of acceptable retailers for Downtown? What makes them qualified to do that? Either the village hires qualified advisors to craft such a list, or it simply prohibits obviously unacceptable uses such as pawn shops and currency exchanges and then lets the free market do its work. The suggestion by the well-intentioned Village President David Pope that he doesn’t want a women’s clothing shop to compete with the truly substandard Dress Barn down the street shows how little he understands about retailing. More clothing stores means more choice and more customers.
The fastest and least costly about-face on this subject is required. To be followed by the same advice for this board on Downtown redevelopment overall. You don’t know what you are doing. Do the least damage and exit the stage.