Holiday Decor.  It has been one of our most straightforward yet challenging projects this year.  You’ll know in a month if we succeeded.

Most retailers count on the holiday season for up to 30% of their annual sales.  The number is higher for small boutiques.  To attract customers, shop owners rely on their own marketing, local holiday events, and a festive atmosphere in their commercial districts.  Twinkling lights, holiday signage, decorations – these all create a sense of excitement that draw customers.

But who puts up the decorations?  Who pays for them? Ever wonder why some districts have decorations and some don’t?  As always, it is a question of resources: money and time.  Most communities look to the businesses to fund the decor.  Oak Park is no different.

When you think about a mall or even a strip mall, the property manager typically takes care of the decorations.  The cost is reflected in the rent – but it is not something a shop owner needs to consider.  On a typical Main Street USA, sometimes (rarely) the local government pays for them but more often the merchant association pays using contributions or dues from the merchants.  For example, Downtown Oak Park, the merchant association / SSA funded by a property tax assessment manages the gorgeous decorations in the Lake – Harlem – Marion district.

The smaller Oak Park districts, however, struggle.  The “process” of collecting money, purchasing displays and hanging decorations is often left to three or four dedicated volunteer business owners passing the hat among neighboring businesses.  Hemingway and Pleasant districts have managed this yeoman’s effort in years past.  The manpower and funding has alluded most other commercial neighborhoods.

This year, we are trying something new.  The Chamber, with a generous grant from the Village of Oak Park, will facilitate a single-sourced holiday decor program for seven of the small, pedestrian friendly districts, concentrating on the ornamental lamp posts.  To make it work, we’ll be looking for businesses throughout town to sponsor individual lamp posts, each adorned with garland, lights, ribbon and decorative signage recognizing the sponsor.

For more information, or to sponsor a holiday lamp post, visit

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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...