In this week’s segment of “small business is hard,” a local consumer tasked business owners with solving homelessness along Lake Street in Oak Park, among their other responsibilities.  In the end, a supportive Facebook group of local moms came to their aid, but it added to a heavy load after a heavy few days.

Homelessness? What?

Indeed, someone felt strongly enough about some panhandlers near Oak Park’s Lake Street and Marion Street intersection to post negative reviews of the nearby businesses on Google and Yelp.  The reviewer set up an account and anonymous profile on both sites this weekend and posted one-star ratings on four local businesses.  Each review included the same cut-and-paste description of what the reviewer called the “Panhandler Capital” in Oak Park and our “panhandler crisis.”  (Crisis? Seriously?) The reviewer seems to think that responsibility falls on the small business owners to fix it.

Note that the reviewer did not mention any interaction with any of the businesses nor any customer service or product issues.  This was simply a one-star jab to get the business owners’ attention so they themselves would deal with whatever panhandlers there happened to be.

That’s a lot. If you really want to make a positive impact, contact the Oak Park Homelessness Coalition or Housing Forward.  If you don’t feel safe, call the police.  At minimum, stop inside and talk to the owner before posting a review online.  Please.

Whether you use Yelp, Google or Open Table reviews yourself, other people do.  Tourists and newcomers especially.  A one-star rating on the internet can turn away business.  In fact, this is a call to action opportunity: if you have a terrific experience with a business, please consider posting a positive review online.  It only takes a minute and means more than you think.

By the end of the weekend, the social media crisis had passed.  After another owner posted the story on the “Oak Park Working Moms” Facebook group, enough people “flagged” the review as inappropriate and the sites themselves removed the posts. Thank you, everyone who commented and acted.

But what a way to spend an otherwise beautiful weekend.  Small business is hard.

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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...