Hopefully you are enjoying the garland, lights and “season’s greetings” tags that are popping up throughout Oak Park.  For a project that seems simple enough, it has taken months for us to get to this point.  

Here’s what we learned along the way:

Most importantly, businesses pay for the decorations in their respective business districts. The Village has no budget for seasonal decor (although the Village generously provided a grant from a 2017 marketing fund to offset a portion of the costs.)  The decorations are expensive – and we have hundreds of poles.

Downtown Oak Park funds its beautiful streetscape decor through the SSA tax collected from property owners, and, by extension, rents to merchant businesses.  All other business districts must “pass the hat” and arrange for installation.  

This year, the Chamber offered to coordinate the project and we asked local businesses to sponsor poles.  Over one hundred generous local businesses have stepped up.  Look for their names on the gift tag signs.

Even after raising funds, not all lamp posts are created equally.  Some districts (Madison, Garfield, Lake-Austin and North) only have the large gooseneck street lights.  It is cost prohibitive to try and decorate these poles, forcing us to concentrate on areas with pedestrian-style lantern poles. Others (Southtown) have pedestrian poles but lack outlets to accommodate light strings.  Roosevelt has newer, attractive lamp posts. However, these posts also lack electricity for light strings.

In the end, we hung garland and lights on roughly 180 poles throughout Oak Park.  Now that they are up, we realize that the electricity running through the poles can vary.  Some are on timers, some run round the clock.  Some need to be replaced – but we don’t know for sure which ones until evening.  Sometimes it isn’t the electricity but the GFI breaker, tripped by moisture.  We will be relying on Public Works to help us sort this out over the coming weeks.

It is exciting to see the decorations up, even though we still have work to do.  Much thanks to the Village, McAdam Landscaping, the sponsoring businesses, the business district leadership and Sign Express for partnering with the Chamber on this festive project.

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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...