The annual meeting of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, held on May 9 in McAdam Landscaping’s big garage/warehouse, felt more like a celebration than a meeting.

Indeed, the Chamber had much to celebrate. The 150 people attending the event were treated to a virtual Taste of Forest Park with a 100-foot-long buffet table loaded with food and drinks, donated by Starship, Fat Duck, Doc Ryan’s, Healy’s Francesca’s, Molly Malone’s, Jimmy’s Place, Zambonie’s, Brown Cow, O’Sullivan’s, Shanahan’s, Ultra Foods, Fiorenza, Famous Liquors and Burke Beverage.

Mark and Jenny Hosty were recognized with the Residential PRIDE Award for the work they did on their home on the north side of town. Fiorenza Ristorante, Forest Agency Insurance, Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures, St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church and The Convenient Store received Commercial PRIDE Awards for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of work they collectively invested in improving their buildings.

The Chamber celebrated three successful events already held this year: the Indoor Sidewalk Sale in January, the record breaking St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March and a new event, the Progressive Wine Walk in April, which 150 people and 13 local businesses participated in.

Laurie Kokenes, the Chamber’s director, enthusiastically promoted a full calendar of upcoming Chamber-sponsored or co-sponsored events, including the All School Picnic on May 24, Summerfest on June 8 and 9, a sidewalk sale July 27-29, and an encore of the Progressive Wine Walk on Sept. 15.

The marquee event for the Chamber this year will be the celebration of the organization’s 100th birthday in the fall with a black-tie-optional Masquerade Ball on Oct. 26 at the Park District Building and Casket Races, Trick or Treat on Madison St. and Ghoulin’ in the Grove on Oct. 27.

Those present were excited not only about the events the Chamber has planned but also that the local economy seems to have turned a corner. David King – a commercial realtor, resident of Forest Park and chair of the Chamber’s Economic Development Committee – gave some concrete evidence that the light at the end of the economic tunnel is not a train.

King cited Forest Agency’s relocation to 7310 Madison St., the opening of Fiorenza at 7404 Madison, the purchase of the old Shuckin’ Grill by Rachel Dennis who plans to open an American eclectic restaurant featuring barbecue, the purchase of the old Trage building by Grand Appliance and the collective investment by those four businesses of over $2 million as evidence that businesses view Forest Park’s downtown as a viable area to commit to. He added that the location of the Junction Restaurant where food will be delivered to patrons by a model electric train will create a synergy with Brown Cow a few doors away.

King underscored the vibrancy of Forest Park’s downtown business district by noting, “We have several businesses interested in locating on Madison Street, and we don’t have space for them.”

Joe Locke, a registered investment advisor in town, helped spark the revitalization of Madison Street several years ago and has watched the “downtown” business district evolve.

“The main business district appears to have weathered the poor economy better than most,” he said. “Those who have been able to hang on are now poised to benefit from the recent influx of new businesses and restaurants that are coming to Madison Street. The Chamber’s dedication to the plans put in place years ago are now giving new momentum to the business climate in Forest Park.”

Adding to the excitement was a silent auction, featuring donated items like a tour of the Ferrara Pan Company for 25 people, a liquor gift basket from Duffy’s, a $200 package from Paulson’s Paint and a Beatles tote bag, mug and Motown T-shirt from Old School Records.

A 4-foot-high Happy Mother’s Day ice sculpture from Nadeau’s and a prototype casket for the Oct. 27 casket race greeted attendees as they entered the venue at McAdam’s.

2012 Forest Park PRIDE Award winners

Residential PRIDE Award

When Mark and Jenny Hosty purchased the property at 135 Elgin the building was in major disrepair. Windows were missing and there were no kitchens. The Hostys replaced 50 windows, re-sided the house, restored the wood floors, replaced two porches, installed brand new kitchens and completely landscaped the property. Neighbors still stop them on the street and thank them for improving the neighborhood.

Commercial PRIDE Awards

Bill Pierson completely renovated the building at 7404 Madison, which he purchased last year. After demolition of the former Saver Grocery building there was nothing left but four walls and a ceiling. The highlight of the property is the hand-crafted wood and millwork. The bar was made by hand from scratch. The restaurant seats about 136 people, including indoor and outdoor seating, and entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays.

Forest Agency

Dan Browne moved his insurance business to 7310 Madison last year. He had the entire structure gutted and remodeled with 10 skylights and marble entry floors and countertops. The space now has a loft feel with an exposed ceiling and interior brick walls. Everything is new, from the electrical to the water piping and furniture.

Browne praised the staff at village hall for being great to work with.

Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures

The Nadeaus have had their ice sculpture business on Roosevelt Road in Forest Park since 1989. They upgraded the interior of their building and spent $26,000 on the exterior. They now have new facia, windows and overhang. The new landscaping includes a fountain and flower planters.

St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church

The Thai congregation inherited the church building, vintage 1899 at the corner of Brown and Dixon, and proceeded to sink over $120,000 into the historical site with new carpeting, roofs, tiling as well as additional lighting and electrical and new windows in the social hall. The parsonage has a new roof, refinished hardwood floors and a remodeled basement.

The Convenient Store

The new quick grocery is a gut-rehab of the storefront with new drywall, ceilings, new electrical and front faade facelift. The owners also rehabbed the upstairs apartment.

-Tom Holmes