An Oak Park insurance agency that spent half a century east of Harlem Avenue is moving into a Madison Street store its owner purchased last year and is currently renovating.
Dan Browne, the sole owner and president of Forest Agency Insurance, is remodeling the 7310 Madison St. shop and hopes to open its doors by the end of September. Browne, who has spent nearly his entire career, and his life, in Oak Park, purchased the building for $342,500 from Chicago Title and Land Trust, a private family trust that was previously renting space to Living Word Christian Center, in June 2010.
Browne wanted to keep the family business in Oak Park, where it spent nearly 50 years, but, reopening on, say, Lake Street – an area he said he was interested in moving his 1111 Chicago Ave. shop to – is too pricy.
“I was presented a competitively priced building,” said Browne, of the Madison Street shop. He added that the parking in the rear of the building was an added incentive in his move.
Dave King, the owner and chief realtor of the Oak Park commercial real estate firm David King & Associates, brokered the sale of the building and said that Browne had looked at a number of locations to headquarter his business; but once 7310 Madison St. became available, King knew it would be a “great” fit for Forest Agency.
“I knew right away,” King said.
When all is said and done, the 5,400-square-foot space will have large glass windows in the front, and an open atmosphere that will feel like a loft, Browne said. Overall, he said he’d probably invested “well over half of a million dollars” in the purchase and renovation of the building.
“Overall, it’s a significant positive impact,” King said.
“They’re [Forest Agency employees] already eating on Madison Street,” he added. The implication being: not only is a new business coming to town, but its employees are further fueling the local economy by patronizing other Forest Park shops.
Although Browne lamented his departure from Oak Park, where his father started the business in the 1960s, he mentioned that the business community and village hall have been very welcoming.
“Forest Park has been very nice to work with. Everyone from the mayor [Anthony Calderone], the fire chief [Steve Glinke] … they’ve all been very accommodating,” Browne said. “I feel like I’m part of a family over there.”
The Mayor’s Press Office did not return a call for comment, though.
Browne also recently joined the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, furthering his involvement in the local economy.
“As Dave [King] always does, he encouraged Dan Browne to join the chamber,” said Laurie Kokenes, chamber director, in an email. “The Chamber’s excited to welcome an already active member to Madison Street. The renovated space is going to look terrific and will open the doors (and windows!) to some new faces who will be involved in and committed to the community.”
The building Forest Agency is moving into was previously rented by Pastor Bill Winston’s Living Word ministries beginning in the 1990s. Living Word used the building for the administrative offices of its marketing team, but opted not to continue renting the space when its lease expired last year.
Kim Clay, Living Word spokeswoman, said the staff that was at 7310 Madison St. is now at the company’s headquarters, located in the Forest Park Plaza. The move is part of a consolidation effort Living Word has been strategizing for a while, she said.
“We have always been talking about trying to put the staff together, and it was just time to do it,” Clay said.
Over the years, the building has also housed a woman’s clothing store, a home-service shop and a hardware business. Browne also mentioned that, nearly 100 years ago, there was even a church there that had a stable for horses.
Its newest occupants have a long history in the insurance business that dates back some 50 years. The Forest Agency license dates back to 1957, but Browne’s father, Bill Browne, purchased the company in the early 1960s. Shortly thereafter, he merged it with a real estate company, and operated the two for several years, before ultimately deciding to solely concentrate on insurance.
The company is small and tight-knit, and plenty of its employees and customers have been part of the overall dynamic for many years, Browne said.
Forest Agency offers a variety of insurance options, among them: personal, home, auto life, business, commercial, and aviation, to name a few.
Browne said the company serves “upper middle class” clientele, and he likened his insurance business to a cross “between a Toyota and a Mercedes.”
“All rolled into one,” he said.