Communities change in all sorts of ways over time.  My sporadic trips home over the years have given me a glimpse into the long term impact on a community when population decreases even while affluence increases.  In our case, the rising value of my parents’ home is due to the same economic forces that are negatively impacting the value of my parents’ business.

I hail from one of the beautiful seaside towns that dot the Jersey Shore just seventy-five miles south of New York City.  When I was growing up thirty five year ago, these were vibrant, bustling communities filled year-round with residents and bursting all summer with tourists.

Today, I notice one major change since my childhood:  no people.  No children playing on lawns, no traffic in the streets and no customers browsing the storefronts.  The big beautiful Victorian homes that housed families with five or more children and grandparents now sit quiet.  The pile of beat-up bicycles in the drive has been replaced by a single luxury car with out of state plates.

Few who grew up here can afford to live in their parents’ homes today.  Overtime, the beauty of the place along with its enviable location turned a middle-class, family-oriented neighborhood into collection of vacation homes for the well-heeled. The town is too expensive for the “locals” but too far from the City for commuters.  Statuesque homes stand empty, awaiting Memorial Day.

It is not bad – just different.

Unless of course you own a small business that was built to serve a larger year-round population.  Small hardware stores, boutiques, gift shops and independent cafes have been replaced by realtors and law offices.  The hospitality industry, which includes my parents’ business, is experiencing a slow, painful consolidation as there just aren’t enough customers between September and June.  The land is worth more than the business itself, waiting for condo developers.

Rising real estate values, rent and taxes in Oak Park remind me of my family’s experience on the Jersey Shore.  A community is more than place – it is the people who live there.  Who will live in Oak Park in thirty years?  Just wondering.

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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...