Bridget Lane

“Madison Street remains a revelation in waiting for many customers,” declared Bridget Lane at both the morning and afternoon sessions of a workshop called Fifty Ways to Increase Your Profits, sponsored by the Village of Forest Park. “We want customers to think of Madison Street in the same breath as Andersonville’s Clark Street.”

Lane is a resident of Forest Park and a consultant from Business Districts Inc., which the village hired to assist what, up until now, has been a loosely organized committee convened last year by Mayor Calderone to work on economic development for the community.

Before presenting her 50 tips to a total of 48 business and professional attendees at the two sessions, Lane praised Madison Street’s excellent position in terms of its regional market. The data she presented revealed that 43,938 potential customers live within a five minute drive of Madison and Circle, and 1,574,740 people live within a 20-minute radius. Total spending last year within a five-minute radius was $433 million and within a 20-minute drive people spent $14 billion (not all in Forest Park, of course).

There is consensus among researchers, she said, that when a household exceeds an annual income of $75,000, they have enough money to frequently eat out and spend significant dollars on entertainment. To the surprise of many of those in attendance, she said data reveals that the concentration of families making over $75,000 is greater in a 20-minute drive radius with Madison and Circle at the center than comparable circles around Elmhurst and Hinsdale.

What gives Madison Street an edge over even the Lake and Marion district in our neighboring village is

1) a very strong entertainment history,

2) unrivaled concentration of independent businesses,

3) signature events like the Street  Patrick’s Day Parade and the Holiday Walk,

4) multi-modal access, and

5) affordable starter homes for Millenials, and townhouses and condos for downsizing Baby Boomers.

Her Power Point presentation, which gave statistic after statistic showing how Madison Street is an ideal location for a business, had three conclusions. First, she said, “If your business is struggling, it’s not because of market location.” Second, she concluded that the data provides the village and Chamber of Commerce with a resource for attracting quality businesses to the “handful” of open storefronts on Madison Street. Third, compared to Wicker Park and Andersonville, or even Hinsdale and Elmhurst, Forest Park remains a relatively unknown treasure.

 “When I tell people I moved to Forest Park,” she joked, “they respond by asking why I moved so far south, and I reply that Forest Park is not Park Forest.”

Marketing, not just in the print media, she concluded, but digitally and on a regional scale is what is needed to take Madison Street to the next level, to make it just as much a destination as Wicker Park and Andersonville.

Included in the 50 tips (54 to be exact) were:

Adopt a cause [e.g. PADS or the Crop Walk] that becomes linked with your business;

When hiring, approach your best customers, your best customers’ kids, and people who are “mature,” aka older folks; 

“Tour” your business as if you were a customer;

Creatively occupy customers’ children with craft projects instead of toys.

Lane acknowledged that the emphasis will be on Madison Street at first, but when brand recognition is established for that area on a regional basis, attention can be focused on Roosevelt Road.

Mayor Calderone told the group that the economic development committee at first focused on how to recruit good independent businesses to locate in the few vacant stores, but Lane convinced them helping existing businesses to maximize their potential would improve the business climate of the street and thereby attract quality businesses. The workshop last Wednesday grew out of that approach.

He added that village government will do its share to promote business development in Forest Park, but that government’s role is limited. The Chamber of Commerce is the important vehicle for promoting the business district, he added, and since Laurie Kokenes is the Chamber’s only paid staff person, every business owner has to get on board, join the Chamber and volunteer at events.

Gina Robbins, marketing director at Forest Agency Insurance, said after the meeting, “The Madison Street district is well-positioned to be an even bigger hub of independent, small business. We have a diverse base of businesses and almost no large chain or franchise businesses. This is an asset on which we should be capitalizing. The comments that came during the final question period, calling for more cross-marketing among businesses and capitalization on the collegial atmosphere among area businesses was encouraging.”