Madison Street west of Desplaines Avenue looks like a war zone because of the construction going on there this summer. Most businesses in that three-block strip say their sales have gone down some, but they are “hunkering down” and will survive until the improvements are finished.
“In the front end where we have the sit-down restaurant, we’re down in revenue 50 percent, and 5 percent overall,” said Paul McKenna, who runs Starship Subs with his business partner Henry Laskowski. “Fortunately, the majority of the work we do is wholesale or catering, so we’re OK. Starship will survive.”
McKenna added, “If I were a new restaurant, I might be done. That’s how bad it is.”
Chang Thai is not a new restaurant, but it has been hit hard by the road work. Their business has been cut in half, with customers complaining about the lack of parking and the inconvenience. Forest View dry cleaning and laundromat has also experienced a sharp decline in revenue.
Many businesses, however, are “doing OK.” Dunkin’ Donuts at the corner of Madison and Jackson and Famous Liquors, a little further west of the donut shop, both credited their regular customers, who have remained faithful, in spite of the dust and hassle, for making the business downturn less than most people expected. Ted Ordonez, one of the managers at Famous, said, “We still have a lot of loyal customers. The construction is not stopping them.”
Ordonez said, “I don’t have any statistics concerning sales, but I can tell by the traffic in the store that business is down. People get fed up waiting on Madison Street and then getting into the lot, but things could be worse. We have a lot of loyal customers who have not been stopped by the construction.” Famous and Dunkin’ both have parking lots, which helps.
Two pet care businesses, My Best Friend and Pet Emporium, say they have experienced no decline in cash flow. In fact an employee at Pet Emporium said they have actually acquired some new customers during the road work.
Trade Recorders Bookkeeping, an accounting firm, said the construction hasn’t affected them at all, since they don’t depend on walk-ins as do restaurants and retail. What they are worried about is when the project reaches the phase where the sidewalks will be torn up, a concern shared by the owners of Pet Emporium and Famous Liquors.
Creativity and cooperation is part of the reason most businesses are doing either well or “not as bad as we feared” in the midst of adversity. Gaetano is offering a valet parking service, for example. McKenna said it’s a little incongruous to see the often well-dressed people who come to the gourmet eatery waiting in the alley for their car.
Many shops and restaurants have gotten permission to have customers park in the alley. Brian Boru Irish Pub is allowing Pet Emporium clients use their parking lot during the construction. Starship, meanwhile, has created a kind of pick-up window. Customers can order a sandwich, call on their cellphone from the alley when they arrive and one of McKenna’s employees will run their lunch out to them.
Business owners had nothing but praise for the way the village of Forest Park is managing the situation.
Ordonez said, “The village has been very cooperative. They’re always sending someone in here to give us updates.”
McKenna admitted that it’s a challenge to remain positive, especially after hearing that Gov. Rauner froze funding for the project, so instead of the redo ending in September, the street will be torn up until the spring. On the one hand, he tries to be patient with the process.
“I don’t do construction for a living,” he said, “so I don’t know if they are hurrying or not. I understand that it’s a big job.”
On the other hand, he acknowledges that sometimes impatience carries the day. “I go out every day and take a picture of the street from the same angle. They tell me they are ahead of schedule, but there are so many times when I don’t see anybody working on my part of the street. That’s frustrating because I’d like to see a crew of 50 out there every day getting the work done. Overall we just have this grin-and-bear-it mentality.”
While he looks forward to when the work is done, McKenna does see the street being better for his business.
“My understanding is that the improvements will not include more parking,” he said, “and I don’t know if the traffic flow will be any better, but it’s going to make for a better street, so I’m assuming my property will be worth more. Also, it’s my understanding that if you have to park a short distance away from your destination, you’ll walk past other businesses and that’s good for everyone on the block.”
“Overall,” he concluded, “we’ll muddle through.”