Augie Aleksy isn’t about to join the one percent richest people in America from the revenue he takes in at Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 S. Madison St.
He’s doing OK at his Madison Street business, but he’s up against very stiff competition. There are the big chains like Barnes and Noble, but the biggest competitor is online. Digital Book World reports that 44 percent of all books sold last year were purchased online.
Augie’s not alone. None of the locally owned businesses in Forest Park have big advertising budgets like retail chains do. Many are one-of-a-kind shops which don’t fit neatly into a recognizable category like a pizza parlor or a jewelry store, so on top of not being able to buy a lot of ad space, it’s difficult to communicate the store’s character unless a shopper actually visits your store.
“Promoting our businesses is an important thing,” said Laurie Kokenes, the Executive Director of Forest Park’s Chamber of Commerce since 1992, “that we all must do together to keep business district vibrant.”
Understanding what they are up against helps you understand why Chamber of Commerce members were thrilled with the turnout of 300 people for the Wine Walk on Nov. 8 which they sponsored.
Chamber board member Dorothy Gillian, who helped coordinate the event, said, “The Wine Walk is an awesome way to bring new people to the street and to showcase our retail stores and restaurants. Even if participants did not buy anything that day—although many did—I bet that many will come back to town another day to spend money.”
Aleksy said, “The Wine Walk brought people through the store from all over who until the Wine Walk had never heard of Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore. We developed new customer relationships and made more ‘outsiders’ know what a great shopping area Forest Park provides.”
“It’s all about partnership,” Kokenes declared. She gave as an example Jeff Sukowski at Famous Liquors, who recruits wine vendors and wine masters who pour the donated wine, and in return gets well-deserved recognition and exposure for his business.
“Every organization in Forest Park,” explained Kokenes, “needs to be partners together in keeping this a thriving business community, because the health of the business community affects the whole village. I think the current and past village officials have that vision, and that’s why they are on board in supporting our efforts.”
Kokenes said partnership happens on several layers. One layer includes the merchants themselves. Aleksy, for example, has taken advantage of the Wine Walk by having authors signing their books.
A second layer involves merchants cooperating with other merchants. Along with the wine provided by Famous Liquors, Shanahan’s, a neighbor of the book store, provided jambalaya.
The Chamber of Commerce contributes another layer by organizing events like the Wine Walk, the Holiday Walk coming up Friday, Dec. 5, the casket races and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade—all of which are events which no individual business could pull off.
“The Chamber raises money from the Wine Walk and the Holiday Walk and uses that revenue to fund events which benefit the merchants and the village. We are organizing those events and counting on each merchant to do their part, so that the greater good will be the result for everybody.”
The Holiday Walk Dec. 5 brings families to Madison Street between 6 -9 p.m. to gaze at the live-display windows, drink hot chocolate, see Santa Claus, pet a reindeer and maybe ride on a horse-drawn sleigh up and down the street.
“The shop is always packed during the walk, and with many people who have never been in before,” said Noel Eberline of Yearbook. “Even if people don’t buy that night, many come back later and say ‘I was here for the holiday walk.'”
Deb Dworman of deedee and edie says she’s not so focused on sales during the holiday walk. She’s more interested in showing off her extended family of pugs, usually dressed in costumed finery.
“[The Holliday walk] is really about families and kids,” she said.
The owner of the history and mystery book store is enthusiastic about Forest Park’s chamber of commerce. “It’s a Chamber that is willing to take a chance on a new idea,” he said, “but at the same time is willing to discontinue a program that doesn’t work. It’s constantly making a tradition and not just ‘keeping a tradition.'”