Oak Park needs to show it isn't biased against fat people

Opinion

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I run the site Big Fat Blog (www.bigfatblog.com). We're focused on advancing equality for fat people, with a community of over 1,800 members and 90,000 visitors each month.

I love Oak Park. I really do. My wife and I are looking to eventually move and settle there. It's a great village with wonderful architecture, superb culture, easy access to public transit and downtown Chicago, and delightful shops.

Oak Park has undergone a small construction boom lately and has been working on revitalizing its downtown district. Therefore, when a developer announced it had plans to open a Lane Bryant, I thought it would be welcomed. Like any chain store, it has its pros and cons: it brings in money, but it also isn't locally owned. It was a surprise to me, then, when the village said no to Lane Bryant. Village President David Pope claimed Lane is a "niche" retailer, and it didn't fit the "kind and quality" of shops desired for the building.

The building's in a unique spot, as the village has the final say in what retailers can fill the space?#34;a right it gave itself when it sold the building off to a developer.

As one can expect, there's now a lawsuit on the table. The developer has been given no official word on why Lane Bryant can't open there, and Village Trustee Martha Brock?#34;a Lane Bryant shopper?#34;claims the village needs to "have a broader perspective" on the clientele in Oak Park and be less concerned about "image."

So what's the real issue here? If the argument is against a big chain coming in, it's a wash: there is a Gap across the street, a Talbot's up the street in River Forest. Thus there's a precedent showing that Oak Park is open to chains. In fact a large new condo building just north of the proposed Lane location will house a Trader Joe's. And that's just north of the Borders, too.

What makes Lane Bryant not part of Oak Park's ideal clientele? It's a store where women shop and spend money on clothes that aren't exactly cheap. How is that any different than the Gap? How is that any different from the Dress Barn, also just up the street? Or Spaulding's, a locally-owned clothing store also nearby? Or Benetton?

When it comes down to it, it becomes clearer that it's an issue of size. As my wife put it, "Oak Park doesn't want a bunch of fat women shopping in its downtown." Village President Pope claims it's "ridiculous" to claim the issue is about size.

I challenge Mr. Pope to prove it. Oak Park is a great, great place and has been widely respected for its welcoming, diverse nature. Not allowing the Lane Bryant to open sends a very strong message: Even if it isn't about fat, as you claim, it says that you don't want fat people patronizing your village. Or, at least, not downtown. This is a time when Oak Park can put out a positive message; don't squander this opportunity.

Paul McAleer

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