Too many restaurants?

Opinion: Editorials

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We don't want to engage in idle speculation. We don't want to extrapolate from a couple of instances. But as 2020 begins, we're wondering if Oak Park has reached a saturation point on restaurants.

The December closing of the iconic Winberie's caught everyone by surprise. Maybe we weren't watching closely enough as the customer count dropped. Maybe the end of a long lease resulted in too steep a rent hike (and rising property taxes fit in that scenario). Maybe the imminent rebuilding of Lake Street down to the dirt was too worrisome. 

In a piece today by our Melissa Elsmo, Winberie's longtime chef Ivy Grant said, "People need to support their local restaurants continuously. Restaurants can't be reserved just for special occasions. They require everyday support in order to survive."It is also likely that Obsessed Kitchen, the corner spot at Oak Park Avenue and Van Buren, is on the market. Reportedly there is another food concept ready to step into that location. But if true, it will be, by our count, the fourth bar/restaurant in that location.

Potentially more problematic is that growing the base of eateries was seen in recent years as the salvation to the continuing decline of retail stores in Oak Park, and in America.

If it is increasingly hard to attract retail, if restaurants are thinning, what are we left with to fill our sales tax-, property tax-generating commercial spaces? How many versions of personal fitness training do we need? Indoor soccer facilities for our kids? 

We have long supported local zoning ordinances that require retail or restaurant use on commercial strips, particularly adjacent to mass transit. But in the new decade ahead is that a reasonable proposition? Already we see more alternative uses being allowed. Our preference would be a more direct discussion and focused planning on what our commercial spaces can be used for rather than a soft abandonment of existing requirements.

Meanwhile, we can all be conscious of spending our not unlimited discretionary income in locally owned stores and restaurants.


Limit cellphones

Among many issues being sorted out at Oak Park and River Forest High School this year is what to do about students and their cellphones. There is a committee at work and a couple of pilot programs underway already.

What caught our eye though was a recent survey of parents that drew nearly 1,200 responses on this topic. Asked if students should be prohibited from accessing their phone in classrooms a whopping 85 percent of parents were in strong agreement. That's a common-sense consensus and a reasonable across-the-board expectation that the school and its teachers can enforce. 

Asked if OPRF should follow the lead of the District 97 elementary schools and its "Away for the Day" cellphone ban, parent support dropped to 55 percent, though 28 percent of parents were in full support of the full school-day ban.

Parents who want their kids to have full-time access to their phones cite a need for a perpetual, continuous, uninterrupted ability to be in touch with their kids. Time to ease up on the cord, folks. Even in these perilous days, we think that is an unhealthy level of connection. 

The OPRF Cell Phone Committee plans to have recommendations completed in time for a new policy to be in place for the 2020-21 school year. 

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Reader Comments

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Brian Sharpe  

Posted: January 20th, 2020 2:00 PM

Like many of us who travel, I have grown to define a first impression of a neighborhood, town or city by it's volume and variety of interesting food. Not only the restaurants, but also coffee shops, bakeries, breweries, grocers and specialty food shops. I don't think that this is an especially new phenomena, however. Perusing old magazines from 40, 50 & 60 years ago, I found mention of New York, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Fran and Chicago's vibrant food scenes. Yet most middle-class families of bye-gone eras predominantly cooked at home for economic reasons and also to promote family time, sharing stories of their day. What I believe changed in the 80's, was a new generation, (mine) who saw the convenience of eating out, (or take-out) driven by either laziness or low kitchen self-esteem, "Shop, prep, cook... me? I think the sheer number of restaurants grew exponentially during the next two decades, at least. Then came Food Network, The Cooking Channel, etc. to celebrate home cooking and explain how even timorous chefs could become kitchen heroes. Food as simply necessary, became food as a hobby, a passion, an art form. To me, this has been the biggest contributor to the demise of everyday comfort food. Most of us amateurs can make that at home. If I am to venture out with my hard-earned money, I want innovative, creative, adventurous food, served in a unique atmosphere, prepared by passionate chefs. How many of those are left in Oak Park?

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: January 10th, 2020 11:12 AM

Very good editorial based on common sense. Sure it is time for common sense to return although not likely any time soon unless the borrowing rates rise and then the money will slow down

Tom MacMillan from OAK PARK  

Posted: January 10th, 2020 10:36 AM

WJ is saying "How many versions of personal fitness training do we need?" Good question. But our Park District, without holding a Referendum vote, wants to spend millions of our tax dollars on a new REC center with personal fitness training.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: January 8th, 2020 10:05 PM

I suppose we may have too many restaurants, but what we really have is too many of the same kind of restaurants. In the OPA / Lake district alone there are FIVE Italian restaurants (Rustico, Bricks, Il Vicolo, Geppetto's, Cucina Paradiso) but with the departure of Winberie's there is nothing to take its place as a purveyor of American comfort food for everyday and a destination restaurant for special occasions. There's no Mexican restaurant, no Chinese restaurant, no Tapas, no seafood specialty, etc., and no plain American diner other than George's, which has monopolized that market for too long. But if that corner spot is filled by anything but a destination restaurant it will leave a hole at the heart of the OP / Lake district that none of the current crop of restaurants can fill. And if anyone is thinking Cooper Hawk can substitute for Winberie's, that cold, sterile place is anything but warm and welcoming. I dread what will end up in Winberie's space.

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