A local bank is looking to give a shot in the arm to businesses in the Oak Park area, and it’s using an unusual solution to get the job done.

Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest is giving 32 of its employees gift cards to 32 different businesses in Oak Park and River Forest tomorrow, Aug. 12. Bank officials hope the experiment will give a boost to shop owners while also encouraging employees to spend locally.

“Everybody is suffering in this economy,” said Ruth McLaren, senior vice president of Community Bank. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we did something for our retail customers, as well as our employees? It benefits both of them.”

The 32 gift cards are each for $25 and are from a gamut of different business types — restaurants to clothiers, salons and theaters. Most of them are in downtown Oak Park, where Community Bank’s headquartered, and most are customers of the institution. They include The Book Table, Bruegger’s, Lake Theatre, Carriage Flowers and Prairie Bread Kitchen.

This is the first time the bank has undertaken such a promotion, though McLaren says they’ve used other unusual initiatives to buoy businesses such as buying ads in local newspapers for new businesses.

“We really do try to do things to support those folks that bank with us,” she said. “We’ve always got them in mind.”

Community Bank has been in business since 1996, with two locations on Lake Street in Oak Park and in River Forest. It has assets of $345 million.

-Marty Stempniak

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