A new coffee house just opened.  Alive with energy, enthusiasm, new fixtures and terrific product.

Social media lit up with excitement.  Pictures were posted.  Meet-ups were scheduled.  Work-from-home entrepreneurs are happy about the wi-fi, java, and a chance to get out of the house.  L!VE Café opened to immediate positive reviews, reflecting their hard work but also suggesting an unmet niche in the market.

There is a great vibe inside.  Excellent coffee.  I wish them well and expect to be in there very often.

Meanwhile, about a block and a half north on the very same street, another coffee shop is closing.  After seven years on one of the most visible corners in Oak Park, Red Hen is moving on.  Reading between the lines, we can guess that the retail store was not sufficiently profitable to keep open any longer.  The owners will focus on their large wholesale operations in Chicago.

There are a million different reasons why a small business closes.  Only family truly knows the whole backstory.  But, insufficient revenue to pay expenses is usually part of that story – especially when the owners decide to close instead of sell.  Small business is hard.

I used to frequent Red Hen pretty regularly.  Liked their vibe as well.  Used their wi-fi and held dozens of meetings there.  I enjoyed the coffee and the bread.  Sorry to see it go.

I am excited for L!VE Café and I am sad for Red Hen.  Their stories are unrelated.  One beginning the same time another ends is coincidence.

Still, I am struck by timing.  I wonder about the online comments suggesting that the new place provides the market with something different, something lacking.  Is it really new, or does it just have a new feel?  Did the older business not keep up? Did its vibe no longer resonate?  Are there lessons for the next coffee shop that wants to open in this neighborhood? 

Hard to say sometimes what the market wants or needs.  Best we can do is wish Rose and Bob well and thank them for their investment while supporting Darrell and Reesheda as they L!VE their new dream.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...