Business is soft on Madison Street. Everyone, including Mayor Anthony Calderone, agrees with that statement. The question is what to do about it.
A year after voters took their lead from village government officials and squashed the notion of video gambling in local bars and restaurants, a solid core of those bar owners is still lobbying for the village to reconsider and overturn those non-binding referendum results.
Calderone and others resist saying it is the overall poor economy that explains the business downturn more than a lack of video gaming terminals.
We agree with that. But in turn it raises another question. Yes, the economy is still soft. But not everywhere. So what is Forest Park actively doing to boost its own economic fortunes?
Our town has had a fabulous run over the past 15 years in establishing its downtown as a destination to shop, eat and drink, and simply gather. There were a lot of good reasons for that stretch including how desperately low things had sunk in an era of tacky antique stores, doctors’ offices and tired saloons. Up was easy to reach.
Plus, the economy was gangbusters. The new streetscape was inviting. The mayor was a good ambassador. Key private investors were patient. Neighboring Oak Park was either asleep or bickering endlessly. And there were astounding merchant leaders with an enthused vision of what could happen and how strong marketing and events could put a small town on the map.
Now? Not so much. Several of those fun-meets-hard-work merchants have closed or burned out. Outbound marketing is kaput. Oak Park has roused itself. The key investors have moved on. And while the mayor is still a good ambassador, putting out the welcome mat is not the same thing as having a strategy for growth, funding it, staffing it and working it.
Video gambling is not the answer. Becoming Brookfield is not the goal.
It is time for new energy and ideas. There is strength still to build from but the moment is here to get after it.