Pushback works. Oak Park has proved it with the new Walgreens coming to the corner of Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue. Certainly, in closing its signature box at Madison and Kenilworth, the preference of the Deerfield-based drugstore behemoth would have been to bulldoze the southwest corner of this bigger intersection and install another of its ubiquitous boxes there. You know: the big red neon W on the faux-second floor, the strip mall-like parking out front, and flashing sign on the corner announcing specials on toilet paper.
Instead, in a small indicator of the village’s progress in staring down developers, Walgreens hired an architect, is saving the façade of the two-story retail and office building, and will put parking away from this important intersection.
It’s something. And the village deserves something since this move by Walgreens is really just a lateral pass down Madison in its master plan to plant a store at every major intersection in America.
Hard to get excited about Walgreens moving down the street. Same as it was hard earlier this year to be thrilled by a Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins winning the OK to replace a vacant dry cleaners building farther east on Madison. Thankfully, neighbors didn’t insist that the doughnut conglomerate recycle the Oak Tree Cleaners façade. Took a bulldozer about a day to wipe that little speck of architecture off the face of the earth.
Uninspiring redevelopments are the new successes stories in economic circles these days. When Oak Park helped smooth the assemblage of a parcel stretching from Oak Park Avenue and past Grove in recent years, it certainly had higher hopes than a Walgreens. As time and talent were spent on a master plan for Madison from Austin to Harlem, no one was dropping Dunkin’ Donuts logos onto the map.
Over on Forest Park’s much-envied Madison Street, there had been giddy optimism over the near simultaneous availability of former gas station sites at Harlem and at DesPlaines. Who needed Shell and Mobil when development was popping and mixed-use projects bloomed like bluebells in the spring? But now is now. Reality bites and Forest Park is putting a good face on plans by McDonald’s, another company with cash, to demolish a smallish McD’s facing DesPlaines and replace it with a McCafe model.
Oak Park can even smile a bit with its classy Walgreens deal because the fallback for the drugstore was to build at Harlem and Madison if a deal couldn’t be made in Oak Park.
The economy will improve someday, though the glory days of the 1990s and the early years of this stunted century seem quite unattainable at this juncture.
The biggest loss in all this? Got to be the witty, self-deprecating, actually quite dark signs that have filled the windows at Sear’s Pharmacy for the past decade. If I spotted a new sign, I prayed for a red light – or actually went around the block – so I could read the druggist’s latest take on life in Oak Park. The newest sign offers a smart take on the “Spectacular” new development coming to the site along with the good news that Sear’s is moving west on Madison (toward Walgreens’ current spot) and that it will still offer signs mocking the new tenant.
We may be getting overrun by expanding franchises, but we’ll be OK if the things that really make Oak Park special, like the Sear’s signs, continue uninterrupted.