Sugar Beet Food Co-op, 812 Madison St., will be livening up its storefront with colorful graphics mounted across eight of its windows. The colorful design, featuring a prominent red truck, won the approval of Oak Park’s Community Design Commission in a 4-2 vote July 27.
Lissa Dysart, the grocery store’s marketing manager, told the commission the main goal of putting up the signage is to bring “awareness” and “energy” to the business, adding that Sugar Beet can’t adhere or affix any signage to the exterior of the building, limiting placement options.
“For our exterior sign that sticks out on Madison [Street], that actually had to be built through the glass window into the steel structure within the store,” said Dysart, who called it a “huge undertaking.”
The grocery co-op is located in a historic building along the “Motor Row” section of Madison Street. The glass-front space the shop occupies once served as a car show room, according to Dysart. However some will remember the building in more recent decades before its restoration being clad in Dryvit and serving as a regional headquarters and studio for Comcast.
“We have a significant amount of glass facing Madison [Street] that, in our retail setting, is actually not transparent into the interior because of the way that the floor space is and how it has to be set up for retail grocery,” Dysart told the commission.
Dysart shared that Sugar Beet wants to “utilize the exterior in a way that’s interesting and engaging with the public” with the hope that the graphics will “create a vivacious connection with the community.”
As planned, the window graphics would cover between 26 percent and 94 percent of the surface areas of its multiple windows, necessitating a zoning variance. Village code stipulates that window signage affixed to or painted on the inside of a window cannot occupy more than 25 percent of the surface area of each window.
Some of the store’s original graphics, which exceeded 25 percent of window space but were granted zoning relief, have been damaged after being shot out by pellet guns, Dysart told the commission.
The commission largely liked the design, but it failed to impress village staff. Oak Park Zoning Administrator Mike Bruce told the commission the village’s project review team, consisting of staff representatives from various village departments, liked the appearance but felt it had too many images and its multiplicity of signs could pose as a distraction to motorists.
Commissioner Richard Katz, who complimented the “liveliness” of the graphics, thought cell phones provided a bigger distraction to drivers than the window displays. He also felt the images didn’t distract from the hours of operation section of the graphics.
“The information is fairly large and clear, which I think is necessary under these circumstances,” Katz said. “I have no objection to it myself.”
Sugar Beet’s use of color in the graphics garnered the appreciation of Commissioner Cynthia Ross, who thought it popped nicely against the limestone. Ross called the design “Fanciful and fun,” especially for people walking by.
Not every commissioner felt similarly to Katz and Ross, however. Commissioner Julie Kuhn, who voted against approving the Sugar Beet’s request, felt the window designs looked more like an art installation instead of a sign promoting a business.
Commissioner C. Scott Smith felt and voted similarly. He took issue with the choice of font, stating he felt it didn’t indicate a business. Looking for assurance that it was a “widely appreciated aesthetic,” Smith asked if Sugar Beet did any outreach to get feedback on the design from outside of Oak Park government.
Dysart replied the design was shared internally and with the store’s board of directors, which consists of a wide array of people in the community, and the reactions to it have been widely positive.
With the affirmative votes from Katz, Ross, Commissioner Jonathan Kirk and Chair Juan Betancur, the Community Design Commission approved the request with the condition that Sugar Beet separate part of the signage so as not to cover the metal portion of its doors, moving the hours of operation language to the window of the door.
Sugar Beet will not have to get final approval from the village board before installing the new window signage as only the concurring majority vote from members of the Community Design Commission is necessary to grant a variance under village code.