It has been two years since RoseMary Gange closed her popular clothing and accessories boutique, Camille et Famille, in Oak Park, and though she didn’t initially intend to take a 24-month hiatus, Gange said it may have been a blessing.
The recession has been strangling small business owners since Gange closed in August 2007. She took a part-time job and spent time with family, all the while recharging her batteries, she said. Increasingly, her thoughts wandered back to business. She used this year’s summer festival in Forest Park as one of her final tests before deciding to reopen.
“I’m hoping I can catch lightning in a bottle twice,” Gange said.
With a lease for a storefront at 7418 Madison in Forest Park, Gange said she’s ready to bring back the clothing, jewelry and other wares that earned her a large following between 1990 and 2007. She expects to open sometime in September next door to Boulevard Fine Art, and across the street from Deedee & Edee, which also sells women’s clothing.
Gange is not the only one rolling the dice on a new business in Forest Park. A sushi restaurant just opened at 7600 Madison, a Thai eatery is expected to debut this winter at 7330 Madison and the zoning board is set to hear an application for another Asian restaurant next month.
“In the last three months, activity has absolutely picked up,” commercial real estate broker David King said. “It’s not earth shattering, but it has picked up.”
Recent rumblings nationally that the recession may be easing aren’t likely to foreshadow a swift turnaround. However, King, who delivers monthly economic updates to the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development, said this community is well positioned to rebound. Rural, western suburbs that benefited from a housing explosion in the last decade should be among the last areas to see new business, said King. Because Forest Park has the population and the public transportation, the seeds of economic recovery will be planted here.
“There’s no more retail in cornfields,” King said.
Art Sundry, a Madison Street restaurateur who also owns several commercial storefronts, recently saw an upscale home-office design store move into one of his properties. Sundry, too, still has several vacancies and a recently acquired tenant is behind on their rent. At his restaurant, Caffe DeLuca, hours have been scaled back.
This mixed bag of results, he said, is indicative of an economy that’s still hurting.
“I believe it will come back again and flourish, but I can’t tell you if that will be in six months or 18 months,” Sundry said.
Vivian Colette is the proprietor of Sew Particular, which opened in late May in one of Sundry’s properties at 7302 Madison. She moved there after falling behind on her rent in Oak Park, and acknowledged that she’s in a similar plight again. Resale clothes and alterations – her niche – hasn’t been enough to pay the rent. Colette said recently she’s debating whether to pack it in.
“Right now, I’m at a fork in the road,” she said.
For five years, Jeanine Guncheon’s Gallery Etc., 7349 Madison, has done well offering colorful sculptures, furniture and hand-painted items. The last year has been a struggle, she said, but the last month has been an improvement.
“I’m not really making a lot of money for myself,” Guncheon said. “That’s been about a year-and-a-half now.”
Her optimism is brightening, however, and Guncheon is in the early stages of completely reinventing her store. By switching to a more industrial look with subdued colors, metals and woods, Guncheon said she hopes to create a buzz that translates to her bottom line.
Of the local economy, Guncheon said her commitment to Madison Street is not shaken, hence the decision to invest further. Plugging on the same path, though, will not do.
“It’s not a game or ploy,” she said of the change in tack. “I’ve been here for five years.”