When banks look good

Opinion: Dan Haley

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:

Banking, not retail: The Journal continues its reporting on the rapid response in Oak Park village government to the harsh reality that retail stores are nearly impossible to find, that keeping the ones we have viable will be a heavy lift, that with winter ahead and outdoor dining going away, more than a handful of local independent restaurants will not survive this pandemic.

Last week the Zoning Board of Appeals said a unanimous yes to replacing a stretch of retail in Downtown Oak Park with some sort of giant co-working space. That we are betting on people emerging from their dining room offices to go share a common workspace with strangers to replace Bar Louie, Bruegger's Bagels and a mattress store tells us plenty about where this is all going.

That's why Wintrust Bank felt perfectly comfortable signing a lease for the lamented Winberie's space at Oak Park and Lake even before it garnered final sign off from the village.

Good news that Wintrust, a terrific Chicago banking success, is coming to Oak Park. Having lost Community Bank to a sell-off to Byline Bank, Oak Park and River Forest will benefit from the heavy-touch approach of Wintrust. Had always heard that Wintrust fully expected to be the winning bidder for Community Bank. It wasn't and so it is finding a new path into town.

Fifteen years ago, could be 20 years ago, the longtime owner of the Scoville Square building which will house Wintrust Bank fought and lost a bid to relocate an out-of-state bank from an upstairs office into a storefront facing Oak Park Avenue. I served then as president of the business association and had no trouble whipping up opposition to that move among both our members and the village board.

In the last big rush of bricks and mortar bank branches in Chicago 10 years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel finally put a moratorium on new banks as they were devouring prime retail space, were willing to pay high rents and yet contributed not a dollar in sales taxes, liquor taxes, nor contributed much in the way of foot traffic.

No moratoriums in Oak Park, even as we watch local sales taxes wither in COVID-19 reality.

Of course, Columbus Park is next: Our sister paper on the West Side, the Austin Weekly News, reported last week that a trio of activists there have launched a petition to rip Christopher Columbus' name from the large and lovely park at the city's western border. 

This was never a question of if, only of when the effort would launch. West Side youth activists lobbied and protested with great effect to have the name of Stephen Douglas — slave owner — removed from that park. It will be renamed for Fredrick Douglass, the great Black leader.

I love Columbus Park. The gracious, welcoming Refectory on Jackson Boulevard has hosted more of the Journal's holiday parties than any venue. The lagoon with older Black gentlemen fishing. The golf course which, through all the decades of racial fear and denial, still drew visitors from across the boulevard.

Now though, as our European-centric consciousnesses finally get challenged, it is clear that honoring Columbus for his savagery is just not proper. What will be the new name? In the right moment we will be told.

Award-winning: Speaking of the Austin Weekly, worth noting that again this year the Illinois Press Association has named the Weekly the top community paper in the state. We're proud of that. Proud of its editor, Michael Romain, who in addition to the West Side paper also covers equity and education for the Journal.

Have heard from so many readers, many of them middle-aged and older white readers, commending Michael's weekly columns in the Journal. Eyes and minds are being opened through his wise writing on race, racism and equity.

Finally, Stacey Sheridan, our village government and business reporter, won the "Rookie of the Year" award for young reporters in the state. 

We are grateful.

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

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