Recent articles talking about the closings of downtown Oak Park businesses have been spewing demands and hurling invectives towards everyone except those who are really responsible for the problem: previous village boards.

As a person with many years of retail experience, I have a few thoughts that we may want to consider as we try to solve this problem:

  • You can’t have a vibrant downtown retail district with only 19 parking spaces on Lake Street between Forest and Harlem.
  • There was more on-street parking in our downtown in the 1950s.
  • When you close surface parking lots so developers can make money, the customers go elsewhere.
  • You’ll never find out about stores you can’t drive by.
  • Driving down Lake Street is, at many times of the day, already a daunting task. Someone had the bright idea of adding 260 more families to the west end of Lake Street that haven’t even moved in yet. You won’t shop where you can’t easily drive to.
  • People demand convenience and selection. They want to park in front of the stores they visit. No matter how many parking garages you build, if you do not add substantial on-street parking, the shops of River Forest Town Center will always be more convenient.
  • Let’s ask the merchants on “The Avenue” how much their business is up since the new parking garage opened in their district.
  • If condos on top of retail were the right thing for retail, there would be condos on top of all the stores in the Oak Brook Mall.
  • Streetscaping is the most worthless investment for creating retail sales that a community can make.
  • Our town is the birthplace of modern architecture. More ugly buildings, with huge public subsidies like Whiteco, the RSC building and The Shops of Oak Park, will doom us developmentally while ruining us financially.

Downtown Oak Park will be successful again when we stop listening to developers and their paid retail consultants. Then, with new zoning laws and building guidelines in place, we will create a retail and office space business environment that draws on all the goodwill that our community has created during the past 150 years as a world renowned architectural, cultural and historic center. It is possible to do this without any subsidies.

One more thing: has anybody checked the TIF cookie jar recently? Are those crumbs at the bottom?

Paul Hamer
Oak Park

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