I’m happy that Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest are a destination for many area residents, with each community offering a wide array of retail, commercial and dining opportunities. Residents and leaders in each community should be advocates for our region, for when one of us is a destination, all of us can be.

As a trustee for the Village of Oak Park, it is my duty (and it’s in my DNA), to place special emphasis and advocacy on Oak Park, and to counter serious attacks from misinformed people.

If you read these pages with any regularity, there has been a pattern of negativity directed toward Oak Park, and Oak Park elected officials, as it relates to our business climate, such as the case from the author of “Why not declare war on Forest Park?” [Viewpoints, May 12] The negativity presented here and in other recent letters doesn’t come close to matching the positive reality we are in. To wit:

1. In 2009, 156 new businesses opened in Oak Park, during the peak of the worst economic recession in 70 years.

2. Fifty businesses have opened through April 30 (24 general merchandise, five restaurants, four medical or dental offices, two beauty shops, an insurance agency, a service station and 13 other various businesses).

3. Sales tax revenue, one of the best indicators of our economic vitality, declined just 1.15 percent in 2009, on the heels of a 3.3 percent drop in 2008, when most communities saw double-digit decreases in both years.

4. The vacancy rate in Oak Park currently stands at 5 percent. Yes, just 5 percent.

Unlike some letter writers, I would never wish ill on any business owner or operator. Oak Park businesses provide goods and services near our homes, and so many unique items you could never find at an outlying mall. I never have to travel outside of our area to find a neat gift, from a friendly proprietor, working hard to make a shopper’s experience positive. With high-quality, unique restaurants (and more coming on line now), every resident should be proud of our progress.

Yes, times remain challenging and we have a long way to go before we experience the boom times of just a few years ago. Many of our friends and neighbors struggle with unemployment or underemployment, but our overall retail and commercial vitality has remained strong. While we continue to weather what we hope is a storm passed, we should celebrate rather than attack this achievement and continue to advocate for the Oak Park area, and the many incredible opportunities we are all so fortunate to share in.

• Ray Johnson is an Oak Park resident and village trustee since 2003.

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