Merchants and service providers in this town might do well to start thinking of Maywood as Forest Park West. Many Maywoodians have money to spend. The only question is, “Where will they spend it?” 

Mike Romain is a resident of our neighbor across the Des Plaines River, who has been reporting on Maywood on his blog for the last couple years as part of the process of starting up a newspaper there. He pointed out that Maywood has seven census tracts, a couple of which have a higher median income than Forest Park does. “Most Maywoodians are not poor,” said Romain. Maybe, we need to do some perception adjusting, because there is money waiting to be spent in Maywood.

Romain said residents of Maywood are underserved in terms of shopping and services. For example, there are fewer than ten sit down restaurants in his town, none of which are like the abundance of unique eateries in Forest Park. There is a dearth of boutique shops in Maywood, the kind of stores which branded Madison Street as a shopping destination.

There is no gourmet ice cream store. No gourmet coffee shop. No bakery. No flower shop. No walk-in book store. Folks in the village which claims Doc Rivers as their home boy go somewhere for their kids’ birthday parties or for a good book. How many of them are driving eastward?

Romain wondered out loud if Forest Park merchants have ever aggressively leveraged the untapped market a mile to the west. He said that his neighbors aren’t in the habit of “strolling.” 

“I don’t have a car,” he explained. “Because I walk a lot, I discovered many places along Madison Street which I now come to regularly.”

 “Many people in Maywood,” he continued, “are in the habit of driving from their home to a large shopping strip with a big parking lot like the one on North Avenue in Melrose Park, and parking a few steps from Meijer’s front door. They aren’t used to strolling.” The implication of this insight is that if merchants here could paint a new picture of shopping for our neighbors across the river, they could significantly expand their market. 

What is needed, it seems to me, is for Forest Parkers to change some of their perceptions of Maywood and for Maywoodians to change some of their perceptions of Forest Park.

And I therefore wonder if Forest Park merchants have ever aggressively leveraged the potential market in Maywood.

I don’t have much schooling in marketing, but I do have a lot of experience in the nonprofit sector. What I’ve learned from 35 years working in the church and organizing charity fund raisers is that relationships are essential, especially in the long run.

Romain agrees with me. He acknowledged that buying ads in his fledgling publication would benefit his bottom line, but added that where he will begin with Forest Park merchants is building relationships. “Initially,” he said, “my approach will be risk free. I will initiate a dialogue with business owners, gathering information and learning what they need. I picture a win/win situation.”

The young journalist seems to be opening an economic door of opportunity with his soon to be published Village Free Press Monthly. Other than direct mail advertising, his publication seems to offer the best way to do two things. First, Forest Park merchants need a way to make residents of Maywood aware of what Forest Park has to offer.

And second, we need to paint a picture of shopping which is an alternative to driving to a big parking lot and walking into a big box store with zero personality. If we can sell our neighbors on the joys of “strolling,” we can introduce them to a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon and make some money as well.

So, put on your marketing cap and think of an advertising theme to attract shoppers from Maywood to our business districts. How about The Joys of Strolling Madison Street or Boutique is Better than Big Box or Hungry? Great Food, Charming Atmosphere, Reasonable Prices.

You can see why I don’t have a future in marketing, but I hope you get my point. Reaching out to Maywood isn’t a matter of condescending charity. It’s in our own self-interest.