A positive trend in this tough economy is people giving personal, rather than pricey gifts. As for myself, I’d rather receive a calendar of family photos, than another cappuccino maker. A shop in Forest Park is cashing in on this movement by offering a trove of personalized products. Tracy Chambers operates Ooh La Labels at 806 Beloit, just south of the park.

Tracy’s shop offers an array of homemade items, including “wedding cakes” filled with bridal shower favors and three-tier “diaper cakes” for a baby shower. Personally, I’ve never been invited to a shower, so I’m a little unfamiliar with this part of Tracy’s product line. But anyone can relate to chocolate bars wrapped with sentimental messages like, “Our Princess is Off to College” or “Because You’re Special.”

Tina Speaker, Tracy’s mom, bought candy bars with the latter message as birthday treats for three of her young diners at Louie’s Grill. Tina and Tracy both developed a feel for Forest Park by waitressing in the family atmosphere of Louie’s.

Tina recalled her daughter getting her professional start in the boutique business when she was 11. A woman named Linda ran a gift shop in Chicago and hired Tracy as her underage assistant. Tracy has wanted to be Linda ever since.

Tracy and her family moved to Forest Park in 2008. She and husband, Levi, have three daughters; the two oldest attend Field-Stevenson. When they aren’t in school, Essence and Destiny are at The Park or the pool. Tracy wanted her business where she could keep an eye on the girls. The shop is in close proximity to both of their centers of activity.

“I’m the mom of the neighborhood,” Tracy said. She monitors middle-school kids and demands a level of respect if they want to remain customers. She wishes she could help the less fortunate ones, whose families can’t afford candy, pool passes and school supplies.

Before she opened on July 6, 2010, Tracy spent a year crafting gifts and printing labels. She decorated paint cans and fashioned homemade items for slumber parties. She worked on pirate themes, Strawberry Shortcake ideas and gifts for Valentine’s Day. Tracy gets many of her concepts from an on-line community of crafty people she belongs to.

In addition to her handmade items, she also stocks the store with sweets. There was a crying need in the neighborhood for a candy store, with the school so close by. Now kid customers are bringing their parents in to take a look at the shop.

Tracy is expanding her business beyond the store by offering candy buffets for weddings, showers and birthday parties. She’s hoping to purchase candy wholesale from Ferrara Pan and cupcakes from another Forest Park business.

I’m not much for sweets but, if I ever do get my shower invitation, I’ll know exactly where to shop.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.