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The Madison Street Merchants (M2) came up with a new brand logo for Forest Park in March. The merchants were nearly unanimous in their enthusiasm for the new FP logo, which Jay Boeldt from Plan B Gallery said had a “techno-organic edginess” to it.

However, the business school students from Northern Illinois University, who helped facilitate the development of the new logo, warned the merchants that a logo is only as good as what you do with it.

M2 members heard that message loud and clear and took the bold step of committing themselves to spending $50,000 on marketing during the next 12 months. Spending was as follows:

  • Local Newspaper Advertising $14,400

  • Metro Chicago Print Media $15,000

  • Radio $12,000

  • T-shirts, bumper stickers, etc. $2,500

  • Other $6,100

To date, Matt Brown, M2’s treasurer, has spent about $25,000 on print advertising and $4,000 on radio ads. But are dividends starting to be realized from the investment? Is the new brand together with the intensive advertising campaign affecting the bottom line?

The evidence so far is anecdotal, but it seems to be positive.

Connie Brown from Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlour, 7314 Madison St., said, “People come into my store holding the ad they’ve clipped from Chicago Shops in their hand. Customers have told me that they have our ads clipped to their refrigerator doors.”

Heidi Vance said two women drove all the way from a northern suburb to shop at Team Blonde because they saw an ad in Chicago Collections. She added that she has booked several parties because of ads that appeared in Chicago Parent.

“I definitely had people tell me about the article they saw in the Tribune!” said Tom Krenek, owner of Forest Park Emporium and Krenek Antiques. “It did make a difference that Sunday and the following week. Foot traffic on the street was good evidence. I can’t say it translated into greater sales, but you need the people on the street to create sales and the article did bring them out.”

He said when he asked one customer what town she came from, she answered Oklahoma. When he asked how she found out about his store, she said that the concierge at her hotel had directed her to Forest Park’s Madison Street. Several months ago some M2 members had set up a display at an event that hotel concierges had attended.

Often merchants report that customers talk about an increased awareness of Madison Street, but they can’t pinpoint a specific ad to explain it. Cec Hardacker from Two Fish Art Glass said, “I get a ton of calls that go, ‘I think I saw your ad in the Trib or heard something on the radio.'”

The merchants’ experiences show that while it’s difficult to pinpoint which ads bring people in, shoppers seem to be coming.

Hardacker and Tonya Hart believe the marketing campaign has had a ripple-like effect, raising awareness in the whole metro Chicago area. For example, in the July 23 Home and Garden section of the Sunday Tribune, there was a half-page spread on Madison Street, complete with photos that featured Gallery Etcetera, Two Fish Art Glass, Todd and Holland Tea Merchants, and Moss Modern Flowers. Tran Ha’s accompanying article was titled, “Mad about Madison Street.”

“Just west of Oak Park, about 15 minutes from the Loop, is my new favorite destination for home-and-garden shopping: Forest Park’s Madison Street,” Ha gushed. She wrote enthusiastically about “funky boutiques,” a “bevy of antique shops,” and “emporiums of craft and artistry.” Ha finished the paragraph with the line, “and don’t get me started on places to eat.”

What is significant about the article is that it was free. The editors of the Tribune had to become aware of Forest Park’s resurgent business district before Ha could write about it. It’s what Hardacker refers to as “getting on their radar screen.”

“You hear it and you hear it, and your level of recognition goes up. Customers say they see us everywhere,” she said.

Tracy Cammack reported that people from Art Chicago are regulars at La Piazza. They told her they heard ads on WXRT, saw the kind of classy advertising being done in regional print media and think M2 is doing a really good job of marketing Forest Park.

There are many factors that influence the health of a town’s business district-location in a metropolitan area, demographic shifts, transportation, the national economy, crime-so it is difficult to prove that M2’s marketing campaign is the cause of continued growth in sales for many Forest Park businesses.

But Tonya Hart seemed to speak for the 30 business folks assembled in Chris Guillen’s new photography gallery for the M2 meeting on Aug. 9 when she said, “I think it’s working.”