An open letter to the Oak Park Village Board

Opinion: Columns

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Chamber Of Commerce

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Dear Mayor Abu-Taleb, Village Trustees and Staff,

The COVID-19 pandemic is negatively impacting not only our lives, but our local businesses; in some instances devastatingly so. On behalf of the OP-RF Chamber of Commerce and its members, we want to express our extreme disappointment in the village of Oak Park and our elected officials. They should have, and could have, done more to help our businesses, not only early in the pandemic, but also in the summer months, and now as the weather changes.   

The OP-RF Chamber of Commerce's advocacy for our local businesses began immediately in mid-March, and has continued ever since, asking the village of Oak Park to work collaboratively with other agencies and groups in the community. Specifically we requested the following:  

1.  Immediate assistance with procuring the needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our businesses;

2.  Education regarding grants or loans, available to local businesses, and the Payroll Protection Plan and best practices guidance;

3.  Guidance on modifications needed to remain open or reopen businesses safely; and

4.  Immediate marketing assistance to promote "staying, dining, shopping local."  

Specific to Oak Park, we requested the creation of a Small Business Task Force, to comprise Chamber representatives and a mix of current Oak Park trustees and village staff, the OPEDC, and current, local business leaders, who would work, collaboratively to identify realistic solutions to the challenges this pandemic has created. 

The task force last met in the middle of July, despite continued requests to reconvene the group. Even though there have predictably been increased challenges that have arisen, such as the resumption of restrictions on indoor dining and the disruptive construction taking place on Lake Street, the task force has continued to remain defunct. We have not heard of any further initiatives from the village or their partner agencies around support of the business community. 

Business owners and leaders were very clear four months ago regarding their needs by completing detailed questionnaires, the results of which were submitted to the task force.  Besides obvious financial support, their needs included coordinated and consistent marketing efforts to encourage the community to stay local and support local businesses. Inexplicably this has not happened. 

The pandemic was unforeseen, and we all found ourselves in a reactive mode initially; but by now our village should have pivoted from reactive to a proactive posture to assist our local businesses. Why has this not happened yet? 

Why hasn't the village implemented a plan to sustain our restaurants during what is projected to be a peak in fall and winter COVID cases? 

Why hasn't the village increased their efforts during the pandemic to encourage local shopping on Lake Street during the disruptive construction? At minimum, why is the village of Oak Park not promoting Staying/Shopping/Dining Local through a targeted marketing campaign similar to what some of our surrounding municipalities have implemented? Oak Park should not be behind all the surrounding municipalities in supporting our local businesses. 

We are calling on the Oak Park village trustees, Mayor, and village staff now to help market our entire business community, share information more openly, and start forecasting different recovery and setback scenarios for all the business sectors. We implore you to start looking after our businesses like you have looked after our citizens during this pandemic, and generally, stop making it so hard to operate a business in Oak Park. 

Thank you.

 

OP-RF Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Staff

Dr. Mary Ann Bender, board president (Weil Foot & Ankle) 

Lynn Palmgren, vice president (Palmgren Acupuncture)

Sam Yousif, secretary (Fuller Health Group)

Pamela Dass, treasurer (Forest Park Bank)

Mike Lavery, past president (Excel Window Tinting)

Bob Stelletello, past president and member at large
(Right At Home Senior Care)

Marc Stopeck, director (Growing Community Media)

Christian Harris, director (MaidPro Oak Park)

Kimberly Augustin, director (Kale Realty)

Vicki Scaman, director (Oak Park Village Clerk)

Heidi Ruehle, director (Unity Temple Restoration Foundation)

Todd Bannor, director (Bannor & Bannor)

Carla Taylor, director (Baird & Warner)

Michael Glab, director (Nutriquity LLC)

Liz Holt, executive director (OP-RF Chamber of Commerce)

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David Yamashita from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2020 12:12 PM

It is so sad that the vibrant, diverse and enjoyable businesses, part of the fabric of our community, have been forced to publicly beg for help from our Village. In May, I saw the Public Comment by the Chamber of Commerce and realized that this public plea was an act of desperation, by a group that had worked tirelessly trying to get some genuine caring and assistance from our Village. I corresponded with some of C of C leadership, who confirmed my understanding. This is last thing you do when you want help from anyone, is publicly shame them into action. Unfortunately it didn't yield anything of substance. I shared some of the efforts of the City of Evanston to assist their whole community, through their website and community blast emails, with Village Trustees. (you can review all of their communication on the Village of Evanston website). Crickets! So here we are again, a desperate business community asking for assistance, not a handout, (although that wouldn't hurt) even some organized deliberate communication to rally the community, anything that would help. What did they get? A Village Board meeting that devolved into conflict, backbiting, accusations, "let's do some surveys" and a Village Manager who stated "we didn't know that the Pandemic would last this long!" WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS! say it with me: "WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS!" Village Board - Quit arguing, attacking each other. TALK to each other, TALK AND LISTEN to the businesses. Get creative. Rally the community. God knows we need something else to focus on besides the sad disruption to our lives. For the community: GET INVOLVED! (not just complain, even though you may be right) Getting involved is therapeutic. Business are not elites, they are part of the fabric of our great community. Please Count your blessings, care about each other and Happy Thanksgiving.

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