In an article that ran in the Review on July 13, Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, said the purpose of Music Fest is “to keep Forest Park’s name out there, showcase our village and local businesses, and create an opportunity for Madison Street exposure.”
The responses of business owners along the main commercial street in Forest Park varied widely regarding whether those goals were reached.
When asked how business was during Music Fest, a big smile spread across the owner of Louie’s Grill. “Great,” he exclaimed.
Patrick O’Brien, the owner of Scratch Deli and Cafe and Scratch Kitchen and Lounge, took a big risk by investing a total of $1,400 in renting two spaces on the street with tents from Star Events, the Music Fest organizers. Did he make money after spending that much money up front? “We had a great experience at Music Fest for both locations,” he said. “We made great money, got great exposure for the deli and saw many new faces as a result.”
Augie Aleksy, the owner of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore, paid Star Events $200 for a space in front of his shop, bought his own tent for $100 instead of renting one from Star, and he still made money. In fact, he was able to sell 31 copies of a $39 book titled, Hidden Hemingway.
The line to get ice cream at the Brown Cow on the Sunday evening of Music Fest extended all the way out to the sidewalk.
Accents by Fred is owned by Fred Bryant. He rented a space in front of his store and also did well.
Ivy from Girlicious said sales that day didn’t really pay for the space she rented from Star Events, but many people were introduced to her store by having a space on the street where her clothing was visible to fest-goers. The exposure, she said, was worth the investment.
Having done poorly during last year’s Music Fest, several merchants felt good about their businesses having normal days during this year’s event. The staff at Military and Police Supply, for example, said they did better this year than last, that they got business from festival-goers walking in to check them out, and they even recognized familiar faces of people who stopped in last year and came back.
Bill Kroeplin from Forest Park National Bank and Trust was pleased the bank did not seem to lose business even though Madison Street was blocked off. He said the drive-up window, which can be accessed from Hannah Avenue and was not blocked off, may have helped.
Paulson Paint, right across the street from the bank, told the same story. Customers could get to the store via Hannah, so business for them was about normal.
Peter Gianakopoulos reported that fewer of his regular customers came into Old School Records during the Music Fest weekend but many Star Event staff members and festival-goers did check him out, so the bottom line for the weekend was about the same as usual.
Other business owners, however, felt the event hurt them more than it helped. Radana Kujova, for example, said her business was down by 80 percent. Part of it, she explained, is that her gourmet chocolate candies are not the kind of product you can display out on the street in hot summer weather, so her little shop was kind of invisible. The same was true for Jimmie’s Gourmet Popcorn shop.
Madison Street Shoes, Team Blonde, Counter Coffee, and the Axcan Grill all reported that revenue during the weekend was way down. In all cases, they explained that blocking off the street really limited access. In one case, a party of six who wanted to dine at the Axcan Grill had to pay what was in effect a $30 surcharge just to get through the entrance to the street.
Many business owners said the event hurt them a lot because it doesn’t attract the kind of customer they serve. Rich Schauer, for example, closed Schauer’s Hardware and the Hallmark Store next door two hours early on both Friday and Saturday that weekend, so that he didn’t lose even more money. He explained that the exposure Music Fest brings to Madison Street does him no good because there is a hardware store in almost every town around here, so someone from Oak Park is not going to drive here to buy a hammer when they can get the same item closer to home.
Jeanine Guncheon, who owns Gallery Etcetera, said business was so bad she is thinking about closing her store down completely for the weekend next year if Music Fest is held again.
“It killed our business,” she said. “The people who come to Music Fest are not our type of customer. If they do come in, they say everything is too expensive.”
Gallery Etcetera is, in fact, a high-end, one-of-a-kind shop, which attracts customers from the North Side of Chicago, as well as Hinsdale, River Forest, Oak Park and Riverside. They can afford the home décor items and unique merchandise in the store. People who come to Guncheon’s are not looking for sidewalk sale bargains. Music Fest, she said, does not attract that kind of clientele and causes those who would drive out to stay home.
The staff at Knit Nirvana and Grant Appliance echoed Guncheon’s assessment. The fest did not attract people interested in knitting or in buying an air conditioner, so business that weekend went in the tank and new customers were not drawn to their stores.
Art Sundry, owner of Caffe de Luca, said business was “down substantially” because the parking lot was closed in Constitution Court beginning on Thursday and the street was blocked off Friday through Sunday, so, as was the case with the Axcan Grill, access to his restaurant was greatly reduced. He suggested that the Chamber of Commerce should talk to the village consultant, Bridget Lane, to determine if this is the kind of event that builds the “brand awareness” that she envisions.
Aleksy, currently president of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, contends that Music Fest is more an opportunity to be taken advantage of rather than a problem to be rid of. “We made it part of our program,” he said. “I rented a space from Star Events for $200, partly so I wouldn’t have another vendor blocking the view of my store.
“I had musicians playing out front, had the Hidden Hemingway book signing, had the Historical Society bake sale going on inside and had Historical Society members giving out samples on the street.
“It went well even with the access problems,” he said. “I let my regular customers know what was happening in advance and reminded people they could go out to eat at our fine restaurants after they had come to my bookstore.”
Aleksy even coined a new term for his approach. “I was positiving it,” he explained. “My store was packed and, yes, I made money.”