Danger Opportunity

Music Fest is less than two months away (July 15). Some folks look forward to the event as a blessing. Others see it as a curse. The redo of Madison Street, which is ongoing is, perhaps, a prelude for that big event.

Some residents who live near Madison Street complain about the noise, the litter and visitors using all the parking spaces in front of their homes. The same goes for the construction — noise, dust, driving a slalom course in second gear between Harlem and Desplaines, businesses losing money and parking becoming a “Where’s Waldo?” challenge.

Other folks revel in the energy Music Fest brings, the feeling that something big is happening in the village with small-town charm. Some residents — like kids who don’t depend on the street for making a living, for example — enjoy the commotion, watching the big machinery working and the noise of construction.

Many merchants are right now feeling the pain of lost business because of the makeover and anticipate more of the same during Music Fest. A server at a local eatery told me one day last week that she didn’t get a customer for half an hour after her place opened. 

“I might as well close the store and go on vacation for those three days during Music Fest,” one business owner told me. “With the street blocked off and a fee charged at the entrance, no one comes into my store. I don’t make a dime.”

Others say they look forward to Music Fest. Not only do they make money, they tell me, but lots of people from out of town, check their store out and say, “I never knew such cool shops were here. I’m coming back with friends.” Likewise, some merchants focus on the end result of the construction, believing that the redo will ultimately make the street more attractive, which will bring in more business and, in the end, will more than pay for the temporary losses.

So which is it? Is Music Fest a blessing or a curse? And of course, the short answer is that it’s both.

You’ve probably heard your imam or rabbi or pastor use the illustration in a sermon that the Chinese write our word “crisis” with two characters — one meaning danger and the other opportunity. Business owners in our downtown area have a responsibility to somehow view the dangers to their bottom lines as also opportunities to increase it.

I’m at the age where I get a colonoscopy every five years. When I’m prepping the day before I get one, I feel like the whole ordeal is a curse, until I remember that one time the doctors found a pre-cancerous polyp and nipped it in the bud, as they say.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Similarly, an ounce of losing business for three days, or a month, can be worth a pound of increased traffic on the street for the whole next year.

What if, for example, businesses that have back doors onto parking lots use the situation as an opportunity to promote their easy access entrances which aren’t affected by what’s going on outside the front door? Or what if businesses send out emails to their patrons saying, “We’ll reimburse your entry fee to Music Fest if you purchase $20 or more.” Clearly I’m no marketing genius, but don’t let my bad examples get in the way of the point.

When I let my imagination go, I see the following: While I’m sleeping, some malcontent — probably a Donald Trump supporter — dumps a truckload of cow manure on my front lawn because I voted for John Kasich. I wake up in the morning to see and smell a bad situation, but I have choices. One, I can sit there, do nothing and call everyone I know to tell them that life isn’t fair. Two, I can call the police and get revenge on the jerk who did this to me. Three, I can get out my wheelbarrow, haul the manure back to the garden, dig it in the earth and grow the juiciest tomatoes in town.

The trick with manure, the Madison Street makeover, Music Fest and life, for that matter, is to acknowledge the danger and at the same time look for the opportunity.

In 1886, David H. McConnell, the founder of Avon Corp., turned a frustrating situation into an opportunity. He was a book salesman who gave out free fragrances to women customers. The women were drawn, like a bee to a flower, to the free perfume. The problem was they didn’t buy any books. But when he looked at the situation as an opportunity, he stopped selling books and started a business in which he hired women to sell cosmetics, which made him rich and empowered women 34 years before they received the right to vote.

The tradeoff is that sometimes the surgery intended to renew the bodies of patients ends up killing them because their bodies don’t have enough resources to get them through the trauma of an operation. That’s why the construction going on now and the hassles caused by Music Fest in July can be a kind of Darwinian test of who is fit enough to survive.

As a person with a disability, I’d be homeless eventually if I had to compete for a living with those whom our society refers to as able bodied. I not only survive these days, I am also able to contribute to the community I love because people make compensations for what I can’t do. That’s why I’m going to make an extra effort to patronize businesses on Madison Street during the construction and while Music Fest is going on. 

Part of the glue that holds communities together is loyalty of customers. Friends in need — not fair-weather friends — are friends in deed. 

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