In development since early 2015, the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce’s new website now displays brightly colored sections, including a business guide, events calendar and contact information. The homepage is framed by rotating background images of Forest Park storefronts, street scenes and business interiors.

Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Chamber, specifically highlighted the online member directory, which divides businesses into three categories: dining, services and shopping. The directory is accessible on nearly every page of the new site, which will help connect business with customers, she said.

Although all Forest Park business are cataloged on the website, according to Kokenes, certain Chamber members receive “special treatment,” which can include photos, business bios, networking luncheons and additional coverage on the Chamber’s Facebook page. There are seven different membership levels, ranging from “Basic” ($200/year) to “Platinum” ($5,000/year).

Kokenes said the new website offers members “quite a bit different treatment [and] really promotes them and tells about their business.”

Apart from the member directory, there are also links to information on points of interest, lodging accommodations and CTA transportation.

In October 2014, Forest Park hired Bridget Lane, a consultant with Business Districts Inc. (BDI), to develop a report aimed at improving the village’s business climate. As reported by the Review at the time, Lane presented her findings in March 2015. Her recommendations included improving fundraising, using open spaces, like parking lots, for events and refining the relationship between village government and the business community.

Lane also advised the Chamber of Commerce to revamp its website, calling for better “search optimization” and to offer online advertising.

Even before Lane’s report, Kokenes said, a new website was already in development. The Chamber’s old website had been hacked by unidentified individuals in April of 2014.

“[The hack] got us to a point where we decided to do a brand new dynamic website that would really promote our members in the best way possible and also promote the chamber, Madison Street and Forest Park. We wanted it to do all of those things.” she explained, noting that the new website is more secure than the Chamber’s previous iteration.

Jef Anderson, creative director at Yearbook Studios, 7316 Madison St., and a member of the Chamber, designed the website’s interface. Aside from selling a variety of home furnishings, Yearbook Studios also offers design consulting, including websites.

Kokenes declined to discuss the budget for the website’s creation, citing Anderson’s involvement with building other websites. However, she did mention she felt the return on investment was worthwhile, and specifically recalled Anderson’s “attention to detail” and passion for the project. Anderson told the Review in an email that he designed the site to include “a sense of warmth and clear communication.” He also described the “timeless feel” created by utilizing both vintage and modern photography.

“We need a strong website to promote the community. No matter how business is going, it is always great to have our name out there and enticing people to visit the town, [to] visit Madison Street … [and] to live here.” Kokenes said.

Asked about the business community’s reaction to the new website, Kokenes said, “Everything we have gotten back is positive.”

Accolades aside, the Chamber is now working on the first round of online edits to ensure that all the available information is updated and correct.

“We haven’t heard one negative comment,” Kokenes concluded. 

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