In 2014, during coverage of the Bali murder case, national media referred to “the affluent suburb of Oak Park.” As I heard that adjective — affluent — I raised an eyebrow of mild surprise and skepticism. Later, I considered that it might be a fair socioeconomic demographic descriptor of our village.
But I don’t believe we Oak Parkers are comfortable with being called “affluent.”
There are people, including in certain places in Chicago and in Lake or DuPage counties, who actually want to be perceived as affluent. There one may find folks sporting $10,000 Rolex watches, or wearing expensive fur coats, or driving $95,000 sports cars, or discussing the relative merits of the Caribbean Island each went to last winter.
That’s not Oak Park’s style.
Now, enter on the scene some interesting businesses in Oak Park. Particularly in what the OPRF Chamber of Commerce refers to as “The Pleasant Business District.”
As I write these words, I am savoring a bottle of Italian red wine that I bought at Anfora Wine Merchants. It’s from Sicily, a fine Gulfi Cerasoulo di Vittoria from 2017. It set me back somewhere between $25 and $30. Other wines in that Italian/Sicilian Red section of the store cost around the same or more. I have to say, it’s a really excellent wine.
The vast majority of the wines for sale at Anfora are Italian. It appears to be positioning itself as a wine store that specializes in wine from one part of the world: Italy.
Just a few steps to the north of Anfora one finds the Italian restaurant Victory. The restaurant’s menu features a private wine collection, which includes wines costing as much as $495 per bottle — unusual for an Oak Park restaurant.
Of course, for a few years now we’ve had the delightful Carnivore, a small butcher and fishmonger shop selling top-quality fresh meat and seafood. I go there mostly for fish, but I have also had their delicious steaks. It can be a bit on the expensive side: one of those big juicy steaks might price out at $56.
Question: will people of Oak Park feel uncomfortable patronizing the kinds of shops and restaurants whose prices are out of reach of those who are not affluent? Will Oak Parkers who actually are affluent and could easily afford $300 bottles of wine, and $80 apiece steaks feel improperly ostentatious flaunting their class privilege in such a manner?
My answer? We will tell ourselves that discernment of, and investment in, a high-quality food and wine experience is an indicator of our worldly sophistication; it’s not a crass display like furs or jewelry. I think these high-end wine and food emporia and restaurants will do just fine in Oak Park. And oddly enough they will comfortably co-exist with continued handwringing that we need to be a more economically diverse community of households and not an “affluent” community.
Christopher Damon, a 34-year Oak Park resident, was a member of Oak Park Public Library Board from 1993 to 1997.