Our working name for this section was Actual Shopping and Actual Dining in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park. It’s our first special section on these topics for Wednesday Journal and Forest Park Review with reporting and feature writing instead of advertorials. And just as we’re now e-blasting every Thursday with Actual Fun-our custom list of weekend events and activities right around the corner-we’re starting this occasional section with the same idea:

There are neighborhood places-run by our neighbors-in these three Near West suburbs that are worth checking out before you mechanically head into the city, other ‘burbs or online. For the Actual adjective, you can credit Dan Haley. For the Fun and Shop Local, Dine Local coverage, you can fuss at-or not-the fresh set of eyes he brought in a few months ago from a thousand miles away.

When I landed in Oak Park this winter from Dallas-specifically, the shop-and-eat-o-plex that’s Plano, Texas-well-meaning locals kept nudging me toward restaurants and boutiques in the lakefront ‘hoods that our chain of weekly papers also covers. There, I was told, I’d find spots that served and stocked according to standards I knew.

And, sure enough, in Chicago I did find comfort in branches of familiar chains and awe in the number, and novelty, of indie retailers and restaurateurs. And back in these villages, in my old suede boots from Neiman’s and prized patent pumps from Marshall’s, I did the same shoe-leather reporting. Just as cool and often cooler mom-n-pops caught my eye, as did some fine outposts of chains.

My frustration on both the shopping and dining fronts-that there’s too much good stuff to show and tell in a section or two-became all the clearer last month when one of my best friends from Dallas, Connie Dufner, visited. The former house and garden editor for The Dallas Morning News, Connie’s now an editor for Modern Luxury. We almost missed the last Wright tour of the day because I couldn’t tear Connie away from Harrison Street. “I’ve gotta come back,” she said. “We never even made it to Marion Street.” Alas, we were just as ashamed that Madison Street in Forest Park-by night and day-was only a quickie for us.

So count on more of these sections. In this one, we give you two overviews of local dining: a guide to spots that serve up live acts with many of their meals (“If music be the love of food, play on”) and a listen-up list about menu items, restaurateurs and restaurant fixtures (“Where to find …”). We also give you a local foodie one-of-a kind: a Harrison Street business with daily, fresh-cooked specials for dogs and cats.

Look for more local dining features next month, in our holiday food guide.

For local shopping, we take you from three- and four-digit price tags at specialty clothiers to cents deals at resale stores and, at prices in between, we add a few suggestions for gifts. In December, look for a holiday shopping guide, where we’ll give you more in-between options.

At the high end locally, we found at 106 N. Marion St. in Oak Park a rarity-street cred to back up prices. The owners of Bottega M for Her, a specialty shop for women’s apparel and accessories, and Vestio, a specialty shop for men’s apparel and accessories, all hail from decades at Spauldings, where brothers Don and Rich Micheli of Bottega M were the owners and Vestio’s Dan DeMarte was a buyer. To folks who know stock, service and styling, we sent for dress-up two of our weary workers. A fully accessorized Ken Trainor came away beaming.

At the other end of the local shopping story, we’ve got both a column by thrill-of-the-hunt diva Judy Baar Topinka (“Bonbons and Parky’s keep this thrift veteran coming back”) and a detailed story on Judy’s haunts as well as other local second-hand stores (“Bargains, bargains”) by Bob Skolnik, a reporter who usually files government stories for us. Not initially keen on an assignment about shopping, Bob quickly connected with the real-world angles of charity and consignment shops and even found two new consignment specialty shops to tell us about in South Oak Park.

And though our shopping correspondent, Kate Pancero, and I did find a near-scandalous item in River Forest that Bill Dwyer didn’t pick up on (“Glamour, underneath”), the fun of this whole section is our centerspread, “Decisions, decisions.” Yes, there are Obama and McCain paper dolls-Michelle and Cindy, too-and we play-tested them all for you.

Show us your local finds

If I’m preaching to the choir, then tell us about-and show us-your faves. Got an all-local outfit? Send us a picture with notes about what you got where. Always gather the gang at a local restaurant or bar? Send us a shot of your smiling faces there. E-mail helenk@wjinc.com or write me at 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302.

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