Construction blues: Small business owners in downtown Oak Park are looking to get reimbursed for various disruptions to their businesses during construction of the Emerson Apartments. | TIMOTHY INKLEBARGER/Staff

It took Nicor a few hours to reverse a potentially disastrous gas leak that evacuated a section of downtown Oak Park in August, but compensation to shop owners for the lost business has taken months.

The gas leak – connected to the construction of The Emerson apartment complex near Lake and Harlem – which resulted in the evacuation of shops along Lake and Marion streets is only part of the problem, according to some business owners in the area. 

Planned power outages in the area over the last year due to the massive construction project have gone longer than expected in some instances, causing shop owners to lose business and perishable goods.

Cindy Summers, owner of Sugar Fixé Patisserie, 119 N. Marion St., said power outages last summer and in October 2016 have disrupted her business in addition the gas leak disruption.

The Oct. 4, 2016 power outage was supposed to be overnight but lasted about four hours longer than expected, causing her to open the shop late and lost some refrigerated products. 

Summers estimates the total loss during that episode was over $500 in food and lost business.

“I was beyond frustrated,” she said in a recent interview. “It was a pretty significant disruption. I literally had customers showing up [to a closed restaurant], angry.”

Summers said she’s filed two insurance claims with ComEd and was rejected both times. Now she’s turned to the village of Oak Park for compensation.

The Aug. 11 gas leak made headlines, shutting down businesses along Marion Street for several hours after a backhoe struck an underground gas line during construction near The Emerson.

Summers said the development company – a partnership between Lennar Multifamily Communities and Clark Street Real Estate – has been responsive and she expects to be reimbursed for the gas-leak closure. But other businesses might not even be aware they can file a claim, she said.

Meanwhile, Summers waits for compensation for the October 2016 power outage.

Michelle Vanderlaan, owner of Sugarcup Trading, 110 N. Marion St., and 16 Suitcases, 108 N. Marion St., said she is in the process of following up on the gas leak. 

Vanderlaan noted, however, that the time it takes to follow up on such a claim can be onerous for a small business owner.

“Small business should not have to go through hoops for that kind of stuff,” she said. 

Told about Summers’ efforts, Vanderlaan said, “Imagine the amount of time she’s spending in making that happen.”

Summers said she has advocated that the village make developers set up a fund for such disruptions to business, sending an email in support of the idea to the Oak Park Plan Commission earlier this year during its consideration of the new Albion development at Lake and Forest.

Tammie Grossman, director of Oak Park’s Development Customer Service Department, said in a telephone interview said the power outages and other disruptions to business are not uncommon during construction projects.

“That’s why [developers] have insurance,” she said.

She said the ComEd power outage falls to the village because the property – a large surface parking lot prior to the construction of the Emerson – was still owned by the village at the time of the outage.


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