First posted 6/13/2011 12:26 p.m.

Two Fish Art Glass has announced on the front page of its website and in its Madison Street storefront window that it will close its doors in mid July, the result of lagging sales.

The store, at 7401 Madison St., sold hand-crafted glass items and a range of home accessories, and conducted classes for several years. It has been a fixture in town since its arrival from Oak Park in 2003, and its owners Tonya Hart and Cece Hardacker were instrumental in the entrepreneurial renaissance that the commercial strip experienced in the last 15 years.

The post on their website reflects their dismay at the store’s closing: “This is a letter we never thought we would have to write, but here we are. First let us say you are the best customers EVER and we have loved serving you the last 12 years. If we were not able to contact you personally before this, we are sorry, it has been a bit hectic.”

The Forest Park Review stopped by Two Fish June 10 to speak with the owners, but Hart was busily tending to customers expressing a combined dismay at the store’s closing and an interest in the remaining merchandise, the cost of which has been slashed by 50 percent.

In a brief phone conversation just before press time, Hart, who said she was just as busy with customers, noted that the decision to close the shop was just recently made. She commended the “band of merchants” on Madison Street, which, she claimed, works together “to create business and to understand what we [collectively] are going through.”

Art Jones, a former Forest Parker, played a key role in bringing Two Fish to Forest Park. In the early 1990s with Madison Street at low ebb, Jones, along with several other Forest Park business leaders, co-founded Windmills, LLC, which owns the building Two Fish currently occupies. He said he is saddened to learn the shop will be closing, and noted that both Hart and Hardacker were important players in revitalizing Madison Street.

“They immediately made an impact, because they became very involved [in Forest Park],” Jones said. “They started a marketing cooperative, became involved in other businesses on the street. They brought a product that was first class… and helped other businesses come.”

Don Offermann, a Windmills co-founder, the manager of the building that Two Fish occupies and a vice-president at Forest Park National Bank, expressed similar support.

He called Hart and Hardacker’s impact on Madison Street a “tremendous contribution” to Forest Park.

“They were not only active in marketing their own enterprise, but also in marketing others,” said Offermann, noting that the co-owners formed marketing groups and advertising cooperatives to combine resources for the overall promotion of businesses throughout the village.

“It’s discouraging… we’re sad to hear that news; both Cece and Tanya have been good business people and very helpful with the Main Street organization and the chamber,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone, who has been credited with playing a big role in backing efforts that reshaped Madison Street at the beginning of his first term as mayor in 1999. Around that time, local nonprofit Main Street Redevelopment Corporation (which Calderone referenced) tasked itself with bringing new businesses to the village’s main commercial drag, and subsequently, formed what is now a much different street than it was in the mid to late 1990s.

Two Fish first opened in Oak Park in 1999, before being courted to Forest Park.

Windmills was founded by several Forest Park business players in the mid 1990s with the goal of controlling key but underused properties on Madison Street. The corporation purchased a number of buildings, recruited merchants, offered borrowing options, and, oftentimes, custom-tailored the buildings to suit the needs of that business.

Two Fish inhabits half of a building that was a local bank until the Great Depression claimed it. Before Two Fish moved in and the store was revamped, the space was occupied by Crest Uniform, a supply store specializing in police and fire uniforms, among other types.

Jones said Windmills held the space open for several years, until it found a merchant that was a “good fit” for Madison Street and Forest Park, as a whole. Two Fish, he said, was well-suited.

Offermann said a search has begun for new tenants.

“We’ve begun looking and working very hard and we will bring a very worthy tenant that is consistent with the development of Madison Street and Forest Park, so we’re not going to depart from the process,” he said.

Two Fish’s 50-percent-off liquidation sale will continue until the store closes in July, according to its website.

It goes on to say: “Help us leave with dignity and shop like you mean it, for the last time. We thank you with all our hearts and we will miss you.”