By Tom Holmes
Local businesses are excited to cash in on the increased foot traffic Forest Park's annual Holiday Walk reliably brings. Organized by the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, the Holiday Walk is scheduled to run from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 1 along Madison Street.
Janet Todd, co-owner of Todd and Holland Tea Merchants, said last year the shop was so crowded during the Holiday Walk that revelers had trouble walking from the front of the store to the back. Tea Merchants served 400 cups of tea and 1,000 butter cookies, Todd said. Even if people don't buy in the moment, Todd said the Holiday Walk offers patrons a fun opportunity to browse, and that walkers often return to 7311 Madison St. for serious shopping. She keeps Tea Merchants open late every year so Holiday Walk attendees can stroll in.
"Even if we didn't get more business from the event it's fun to be a part of it," she said. "Everybody is out with their families and having a good time. It makes me feel like we are part of the community."
Art Sundry, owner of caffe De Luca, said the restaurant also benefits from the increased foot traffic.
"Of all the events throughout the year on Madison St., this is our favorite," Sundry said.
Like previous years, he said 7427 Madison St. will put up festive decorations in time for the annual walk. Most businesses feature a live-window display, where employees dress up and act out holiday scenes in their storefront.
Every year, Rich Schauer, owner of Schauer Hardware at 7449 Madison St., said he scrambles to prepare for the live-window display, often coming up with ideas just two days before. He said this year he's thinking of dressing as the Grinch again, same as last year.
"Even though you may not make money during the walk, it does give your business exposure," he said. "Out of all the events that happen each year, this is the one that draws people."
Live-window performances actually inspired the first Holiday Walk about 10 years ago, said Laurie Kokenes, director of the Chamber of Commerce. She said she saw a keyboardist performing in the window of Ouitsch Florist and felt inspired. Kokenes started the Holiday Walk.
"Merchants have [since] had funny, sweet and 'hands-on' windows where folks participate in some way," she said.
This year, The Forest Park Arts Alliance will provide free costumes to Holiday Walk patrons who want to be part of their live-window display at the corner of Beloit Avenue and Madison Street.
Mayor Anthony Calderone will start the Walk by lighting the tree at Constitution Court. Calderone will be escorted by a fire engine and police. From there, Santa will arrive for photo ops at Forest Park National Bank at 7348 Madison St, and stay until 8 p.m. The Montessori Language Academy, along with Todd and Holland Tea Merchants, will bring live reindeer to 7311 Madison St.
Kids can get their face painted at Paulson's Paint at 7400 Madison St. Families will also be able to enjoy a ride in a real sleigh.
The Village and the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce pay for the decorations along Madison Street. Kokenes named other sponsors as Forest Agency Insurance; Dorothy Gillian; April Baker; Everett Wealth Solutions; Woodlawn Funeral Home and Memorial Park; Christopher B. Burke Engineering; Currie Motors; and caffe De Luca.