I am very concerned about DTOP building owners and merchants and certain local media placing all the blame on the village board and attempts at preservation of a vintage feel for Downtown Oak Park for the problems some businesses are having in being successful.

In general, businesses need three elements to be successful: sell something people want to buy, provide service that encourages people to buy those items, and provide some place for the customer to comfortably park their car.

Much of the Oak Brook Mall’s success is the result of meeting these three criteria. Let’s look at DTOP for these three criteria:

Ah, parking. It is well documented that many women are uncomfortable parking in multilevel parking structures, except on the first floor. Our response is to allow the two most convenient flat lots to be taken out of the parking market (the old First Chicago/Bank One lot, where John Schiess is building condos, and the village-owned lot which is committed to construction parking and then to Whiteco. Plus the DTOP building owners and the VMA and its cohorts want to put a parking structure on one of two remaining flat lots. I guess that will really encourage women to shop Downtown Oak Park.

And helpful, friendly stores with items the consumer wants to buy? The bookstores do a fine job here. And some restaurants do a pretty good job. But let’s talk about the latest “big” retailer to close, Spauldings for Men.

This store’s owner lamented about how the village board was just letting downtown become business averse. Yeah, and men don’t wear suits any more, so they just couldn’t move those thousand-dollar Italian suits. How about a little reality here. If I am any example, I haven’t been able to buy a suit at Spauldings For Men because they don’t carry sizes for larger men and aren’t interested in helping you find one. Believe it or not, men who don’t wear suits for work still have to go to church or temple, b’nai mitzvoth, christenings, weddings, graduations, and, sadly, funerals. In my case I was told by the salesman that they could fit me only once a year-during the “trunk show.”

I don’t know about you, but I tend to need clothing when my size changes or when an event comes up. Maybe Spauldings for Men hasn’t read all the magazines that talk about the fact that Americans are getting bigger. What this left me to do was to leave Oak Park and travel to North Riverside (the Mister Shop), Lombard (Men’s Warehouse), Chicago (the custom suit shop at Macy’s), the Northwest Side of Chicago (Napoleon’s Tailor), the northwest suburbs (Try’s for Men), downtown Chicago (custom shirt shops) and mail order to get the suits, sportcoats and slacks for all of the above-mentioned events.

By my count, Spauldings for Men opted not to sell me nine suits, five sportcoats, and I don’t know how many pairs of slacks and dress shirts (and don’t forget the inevitable tie purchases which go along with all of these items). The custom suit shop at Macy’s once even offered to rush a suit to be made to meet a deadline.

Does anyone notice that each of these stores made it their business to offer a quality product with service where they did the work, not where I had to “wait for the trunk show”? Stores succeed when they modify their routine to meet the customer, not when the customer has to modify his routine to meet theirs. And stores fail when they don’t.

The lesson here is that it’s not preservation or village boards which are stressing DTOP. It’s merchants who forget they need to offer a customer a product which meets their need, service which helps the customer get this product, and a place to park the car where the customer feels comfortable.

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