Forget TIFs and all other developer incentives. The greatest economic development tool ever is a liquor license. Oak Park has proven it over the almost 40 years since it abandoned its near century of dry quaintness and pulled the cork out of the bottle.
Look around. Oak Park has succeeded because of restaurants and restaurants have succeeded because Oak Park began to allow the sale of delicious alcoholic beverages. From The Avenue to Southtown to Downtown Oak Park, the great turnarounds are pinned to good restaurants with liquor licenses. The Avenue Alehouse was critical to Southtown’s comeback. Philander’s and Poor Phil’s put South Marion Street (aka The Pleasant District) on the map. Winberie’s (previously known as the Cheese Cellar) made Oak Park and Lake a destination after a decade of vacant gloom. Before there was an Arts District on Harrison Street, there was LaMajada.
And now, perhaps, River Forest is figuring out the sustaining power of thoughtfully focused liquor licensing to fuel economic investment. Yes, this is a small deal – filling the odd hole left by the second departure of Annie’s from Lake and Lathrop. But in granting LaMajada a limited liquor license for its new Express location in River Forest, the village is acknowledging the value of this controllable asset for economic development.
Yes, River Forest has previously issued liquor licenses. An eatery in the River Forest Town Center held a license during its tenure there. There have been packaged good licenses in major grocery stores. But the possibility of strategically using the lure of liquor sales to attract a restaurant trade, to do it proactively (though selectively) feels new. How might a notable restaurant fit into redevelopment plans for the rest of the Lake and Lathrop block? We see this change reflecting the generally progressive direction of the village and we applaud it.