The Village of Oak Park, top to bottom, swears it is pro-business. The trustees say it. The staff says it. And, you know what, I believe they believe it. I believe they want it to be so. Wishing and wanting, though, just don’t make it so. That’s why there are endless horror stories about the difficulties of getting commercial building permits in a timely way. And why some developers have sworn off the town and turned their attention elsewhere.

But here’s a hometown story that has an actual face to it, and the lovely scent of fresh baked bread, too. A few weeks back at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market a new vendor appeared. Red Hen Bread. Delicious, everyone agrees. Adding bread to the market is a good idea, everyone agrees. The problem? Red Hen Bread is based in Wicker Park, a trendy Chicago neighborhood. And why is that a problem? Because at least one Oak Park bakery has long wanted to sell its wares at the Farmers’ Market but hasn’t been allowed in.

Turns out an Oak Park cheese retailer is in the same position.

So you have two Oak Park retailers-Great Harvest Bread Co. at Oak Park and Lake and the Marion Street Cheese Market at Marion and North Boulevard-which have made long-term investments in our town, which pay the dizzyingly high property taxes, which have fine products and which get dissed by the Farmers’ Market Commission.

This just isn’t right. And it ought to get rectified promptly.

The village’s business service manager understands that. At least one village trustee, Ray Johnson, understands it. Both appeared last week at a meeting of the Farmers’ Market Commission and its staff looking for an understanding of how this happened. (See story on page 1.)

I would say it happened because of total tone deafness by that commission toward the challenge of running a business successfully in Oak Park. I don’t think there was any sort of malice. Simply it didn’t occur to these volunteers that if they were going to stretch out the traditional rules of the Farmers’ Market and allow complementary vendors-rather than growers-into the market, they needed to start by listening to local businesses. Instead they overlooked the long expressed interest of these local businesses and invited competitors from outside Oak Park into the market.

That goes back to my opening point. The village president can say he is pro-business, and I know that he is. But until that message permeates the whole of village staff-and each commission-we’re going to have ham-handed decisions like this.

How does this hurt a local business like Great Harvest? (And here is the disclaimer: Owner Cathy Yen is on the board of The Avenue Business Association of which I am currently president. And for the past month or so, my son has been a baker at Great Harvest.) Red Hen’s appearance at the market not only keeps Great Harvest from gaining the exposure and the sales it would garner on Saturday mornings, it is also dropping Great Harvest’s existing Saturday sales by about one-third. Those sales, says Yen, were from Farmers’ Market shoppers who stopped in her shop on the way home from the market to buy fresh bread for the weekend.

These are tough times for local, independent businesses. We all profess our admiration and loyalty to our neighbors who open these stores. We don’t hesitate to ask them for donations to every charity group we belong to. We’re impressed when Great Harvest offers free “Husky Rolls” to hordes of our OPRF students each afternoon and bakes hundreds of loaves of bread for the annual township “Adopt-A-Family” program.

These are the sorts of things a good local business does in its community. And this is how we pay them back?

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...