“Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Mr. Rogers used to sing as he introduced children to firemen, business people, mail carriers and other fixtures of the community. 

We don’t always know the people in our neighborhood like we used to.  Times have changed, families are forever on the go and our commercial districts reflect a different pattern of living and shopping. Names get lost.

At the same time, we have not completely moved away from Mr. Rogers’ world.  We may frequent more and more large national brands stores with always-changing employee rosters.  But we also have lots of small businesses here in our community with owners on-site and long-term employees on staff.  Have you met them?

Recent events underscored the need to reintroduce residents to our small business people.  The local business community – which comprises hundreds of really small, independently-owned enterprises here in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park – got lumped in with the big guys in ways that caught us off-guard.  Sure, there are some similarities, including basic business concepts, legal structure and accounting rules.  But a small independent entrepreneur has very little in common with a large corporate CEO running a big company.

Somewhere along the line, we lost a little bit of the human side.  Maybe we don’t really know who our small business owners are anymore.

Turns out, they are our neighbors.  Their kids might be on your kid’s soccer team.  Or maybe the owner is on a charitable board with you or marching next to you for an important cause.  Maybe they don’t live here, but they drive here every day, park and employ people you recognize.  Most of them donate to something you care about.  They try to get involved in local government but get caught in that same work-life balance we all battle.

The Chamber is excited to help you get to know small business people better.  Through our “Small Business Superheroes” partnership with the Wednesday Journal’s oakpark.com, you will get to meet some of them.  Please, read the features, but most importantly, stop by and say hi!  (Read about our first Small Business Superhero: Anne Pezalla of Lively Athletics!)

Join the discussion on social media!

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...