Pay boxes in front of Sears is short-sighted

Opinion: Columns

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By Joyce Porter

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A few days ago I stopped at Sears Pharmacy. It felt a little like a Twilight Zone episode. There wasn't a single car parked on the block nor another customer in the store. I had never seen either of those things before. 

I think it's pretty clear that it's because of the introduction of pay boxes on Madison. I would like to know how much revenue has been collected from them. Why would anyone bother to pay them in an area that isn't crowded? Anyone driving up would either take their chances if they were just running in, park around the corner, or worse, drive two more blocks to Walgreens, where they have a free lot, or even worse, decide to get their drugs the next time they go to Walmart or wherever.

The atmosphere inside Sears was one of doom and gloom. When I asked Tom if he had complained, he said something to the effect of "I'm only one person." That's a pretty sad statement in a relatively small community like ours. Did anyone from the village talk to the business owners before making this move? I am worried that we could lose this treasure. One of the things that attracted me to Oak Park was that it wasn't one of those suburbs with block after block of national chains. While my husband was alive, Sears provided the kind of personal and exceptional out-of-their-way care that no chain would ever provide.

Paid parking's main goal is to keep spaces rotating in busy business areas. Madison is not busy. Though I am writing about Sears, there are other worthy small businesses in that area that should be supported by village government, not given hardships. When I visit other suburbs, they have free 2-hour parking in front of businesses to encourage customers to stop. 

The village is being incredibly short-sighted. When I discussed this matter with a trustee, he said the garages are losing money so the parking revenue has to be made up elsewhere. No it doesn't! Someone needs to step back and look at the big picture. Just as stores will have loss leaders to bring people into a store, hoping they will then see other items they want and provide a net profit, other towns realize that free parking supports a thriving business community, which then brings in more sales tax and makes people want to live there, which brings in more property tax.

This is an especially bad and rather insane time to introduce this change, as construction has begun on Madison. Even if this construction does not disrupt the flow of traffic, people hearing there is construction on a street will tend to avoid it. I still miss the furniture store that was on Madison in Forest Park and closed when the construction on their block went on too long. And then there was the sad story of Connolly's Pub on South Boulevard.

I am hoping the new board members will be more supportive of small business and remove those pay boxes and ensure free parking all along Madison at least until the construction is completed.

Joyce Porter is a resident of Oak Park.

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