This Saturday, Forest Park will lose its small-town charm for a few hours and become a happening location for the entire Chicago Metro Area. It’s time for the 20th annual St. Patrick’s Parade, which the website calls “one of the largest in the western suburbs” and notes that it is “growing in popularity each year.”

The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce website proclaims, “Thousands of people line Madison Street each year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 5. This family-friendly parade features the Proviso East Marching Band, bagpipers, Medinah Shriner units, area police and fire vehicles, Irish dancers and much more.”

Laurie Kokenes, the Chamber’s executive director, said there will be 60-75 units in the parade which kicks off at Van Buren and Madison at 1 p.m., then proceeds east on Madison, ending at Elgin. 

“Thanks to the Forest Park police and fire departments,” Kokenes said, “we always have quite a number of squads and engines from surrounding towns. The Medinah Shriner Parade units are always a big hit. They request an honorarium for each unit to help their mission, which is to bring visibility to and promote the Medinah Shriners and its children’s hospital in Chicago to the general public.”

One reason the Chamber sponsors the event is that the thousands of parade watchers, many of whom are from out of town, are exposed to Madison Street’s unique blend of restaurants, merchants, service providers and drinking establishments.

“A number of Chamber events are geared toward retail,” Kokenes explained. “The parade drives traffic to Madison Street, and Forest Park, and into the bars and restaurants. Even though folks are coming to see the parade, it’s a chance for them to see our downtown and perhaps see a shop or restaurant that catches their eye.”

Local sponsorship allows the Chamber to hire the entries needed to create an “exciting and entertaining” parade. The parade’s title sponsors this year are McDonald’s Forest Park and Currie Motors. Advertising sponsors include Madison Street bars and restaurants, along with several local businesses. She added that some businesses double their exposure by entering floats in the parade.

The day’s festivities don’t end when the parade is over. All the tavern owners interviewed reported that parade day is their best day of the year in terms of revenue. Many parade watchers stay on the street to have dinner at a restaurant or a snack at Brown Cow or Jimmie’s Gourmet Popcorn.

Catherine S. posted the following words of wisdom: “Very hard to find parking on side streets. It’s better to take the CTA Green Line to its end at Harlem and walk a few blocks south and west or take the CTA Blue Line to its end and walk a few blocks north on Desplaines to get to Madison. If you have kids, bring bags for candy as this is one parade that is very generous!”

Police Chief Tom Aftanas added, “Remind attendees to keep an eye on their children at all times. Adults and children should stay on the sidewalk once the parade begins. Do not enter the street or attempt to cross the street once the parade begins, even if there is a gap between floats/vehicles. 

“Dress for the weather. Even if it is sunny, it is usually cold. Please drink in moderation. Remember, this is a family event. Children, as well as adults, should not have to hear foul language or see anyone use an alley or side of a building as a restroom. Side streets and parking lots closer to Madison Street will be heavily congested and parking will be extremely limited. If possible, please walk to Madison. 

“As in years past, there will be a heavy police presence. We want everyone to have a good time and enjoy themselves but remember that unruly behavior will not be tolerated. 

“Please be safe and considerate to others. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.”