Is it possible to have too much ice cream?
Madison Street merchants and shoppers could face that reality this summer with two new businesses scheduled to open that will give some competition to the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor. Baskin Robbins is opening a combined store with Dunkin Donuts at the corner of Jackson and Madison streets, and a new gelato store is expected to debut just steps from the Brown Cow.
The gelato shop, to be run by William Devoney Jr. and Kimberly Bulana, won unanimous approval from the zoning board this month to open a franchise, Paciugo Gelateria, at 7510 Madison St.
“It is what it is,” Matt Brown, co-owner of the Brown Cow, said. “It’s a free country.”
The concentration of similar stores in close proximity raises the question of whether Forest Park is running the risk of having too much of a good thing. New restaurants and retail outlets have been striking similar chords as the local economy experiences a rebirth. Market saturation can serve as a draw to pull customers in, but business owners have to be careful that there’s enough money to go around.
Art Sundry, the owner of caffé De Luca and a committee member for the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development, said Forest Park doesn’t have too many restaurants now, but that it could become a problem in the future.
“People like choices,” Sundry said. “Could we have too many in the future, sure, it’s possible. In any category too many is a bad thing.”
Forest Park has, in recent years, become something of a dining Mecca known for its restaurants and lively bar scene. There are 54 establishments in the village that hold liquor licenses. Thirty-three of those are Class A licenses that allow full bars.
Sundry holds one of those liquor licenses and his eatery is one of four Italian restaurants in town. But each dining spot is a little different and caters to a slightly varied customer base, according to Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laurie Kokenes.
Eleven years ago in 1997, Forest Park issued 52 liquor licenses.
One theory, which recently served as the basis of a successful cross-marketing campaign among entrepreneurs, says the concentration of restaurants and bars makes Madison Street a destination and helps all businesses by bringing out customers.
“It is not competition as much as synergy,” Village Administrator Mike Sturino said. “Forest Park is becoming known as the place to go for a good meal, a warm atmosphere, a drink and a good time.”
Sturino said he doesn’t believe that Forest Park has too many restaurants or bars, and in any case, the village can’t be concerned with protecting local businesses from competition.
“We operate in a capitalist society where we believe competition is a good thing,” Sturino said.
Madison Street is also developing a reputation as a place to go for funky women’s fashion and accessories. There are three women’s clothing boutiques and two women’s shoe boutiques, all of which opened in recent years. Mary Scatena, the manager of Heels, said it’s good for her business that there’s another shoe boutique, Afkara Shoes, less than two blocks down the street.
Shoppers are drawn to a place with more than just one store, she says.
“Someone like myself, I would like to go to a place with more than just one store,” said Scatena. “If I can’t find what I want in one place I might find it in another. I see it as a pro, not a con.”
Heidi Vance agrees. The co-owner of Team Blonde Jewelry is the president of the Chamber of Commerce this year. Team Blonde is right next to Briolette Beads & More, and Accents by Fred is a couple blocks away. Vance said the businesses are mostly complimentary and she benefits from the emphasis on women’s fashion along the street.
“We definitely get spill-over from the boutiques,” Vance said. “I like that Madison Street is going heavily retail. I like that so much retail is coming to town and making it a destination. We conscientiously try not to carry things that other people carry. It keeps us all unique. It keeps us out of competition.”
At the ice cream shop, Brown said he’s not overly excited about the new competition, but he isn’t troubled by it either. His wife and business partner, Connie Brown, emphasized the differences between their product and that of the coming competitors as being enough to help customers draw distinctions.
Bulana and her partner plan to cash in on a varied menu that will feature more than just gelato and could draw customers away from area competitors.
“The Italian gelato is a very unique, different type of dessert,” Bulana said. “It’s a healthier choice. We’re going to have some coffee products and some pastries as well, which makes it a little bit different.”