Sunday afternoon, a big yellow chicken stood flapping across the street from village hall, drawing honks, laughter and confused stares. Saturday morning, there were sightings in Oak Park of a dancing doughnut, who had a partner in the form of a giant walking cup of joe. And there have also been sightings of a lively Statue of Liberty, hanging out around the intersection of Austin and Madison.
These are some of the costumed personalities that come out during the day along Madison in Oak Park, with businesses jockeying for customers’ attention as they drive along the busy stretch.
Whether the costume strategy is working for local businesses is up for debate. But Ms. Lucille’s Soul Food Kitchen, 108 Madison St., swears by its two chicken costumes. The restaurant’s owners say the fluffy suits have helped grab the attention of passersby.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the chicken; he brings people in here,” said Laisha Lane, who owns Ms. Lucille’s. “He’s our wingman, literally.”
The soul food joint first opened in May, and as part of festivities in October celebrating its startup, they bought chicken suits and had the owner’s cousin, Ronald Banyard, stand outside and cluck up a storm.
The costumes went in storage after the grand opening, but business slowed down after the holidays. In January, Lane hired someone to don the chicken outfit pretty much every day from noon to 4 p.m. The person they hired, Mike Drew, seemed soft-spoken, Lane said, but came out of his shell when he put on the chicken suit.
“We put that boy in that costume, and he hasn’t stopped moving,” she said.
The idea seems to have some legs, as it has brought some curious people in to Ms. Lucille’s. Someone from another restaurant, on Madison in Austin, even stopped by to inquire where they bought the costume.
“When he’s out there, we’re busy,” Lane said. “It’s really amusing, but it draws a lot of attention.”
Mike, the regular chicken guy, didn’t show up over the weekend, but Banyard suited up in the yellow, fluffy costume, pulling the big chicken feet over his sneakers. He stood just next to traffic on the north side of Madison, flapping his wings and holding a sign reading “Ms. Lucille’s,” with an arrow pointing toward the eatery.
Reactions from motorists passing by ranged from bewildered stares, to honks, laughs or barks from a dog. One family slowed down and started flapping its arms like chickens, while another woman yelled, “Dance chicken, dance!”
Banyard – a 25-year-old art student and resident of Chicago’s West Side – says he doesn’t usually like to do the chicken gimmick. Some of Ms. Lucille’s regulars will likely give him a hard time.
“That’s a friend of ours, and I’m not gonna hear the end of it,” he said after one man drove by smiling and laughing. Later a car full of pretty girls drove by smiling, and he admitted the act wasn’t so bad sometimes.
“It’s all about your charm and charisma, no joke,” he said of the skills it takes to wear the suit, just before someone honked twice.
A few blocks over, the new Dunkin’ Donuts at 217 Madison also used people in costumes to celebrate its opening last Friday, March 12. Two employees dressed up as a coffee cup and a chocolate, sprinkled doughnut, waving signs that said “now open.”
Assistant Manager Sunny Patel says the store bought the suits from the company’s headquarters. Many other locations don’t use them, because of their hefty price.
“They’re pretty expensive, that’s why most people don’t buy them,” Patel said. “But if you’ve got to get the message out, what more can you ask for than a giant coffee and donut?”
People dressed as the Statue of Liberty have also been spotted around Austin and Madison and Roosevelt and Harlem, promoting income tax preparation services. But a Wednesday Journal reporter couldn’t find the two elusive figures over this past weekend.
Oak Park doesn’t require a permit to wear a funny suit in the street, as people wearing them aren’t considered solicitors or peddlers, said village spokesman David Powers.
“While you may personally find them annoying, they don’t need to be licensed or anything through the village,” he said.