Most merchants and restaurant owners up and down Madison Street don’t think there’s anything wrong with Forest Park’s main business area. Their concern is that the competition is getting better, and that means the Chamber of Commerce which represents them must up its game.

The Oct. 12 issue of the Review quoted owners of restaurants opening up in Oak Park as saying that starting a business in that village is much easier than it used to be. This, plus the knowledge that the village government of our neighbors to the east is now giving its Chamber of Commerce $100,000 a year to promote economic development there, motivated Forest Park’s Chamber to send a letter to Mayor Calderone and the village commissioners in May requesting that village hall “re-establish annual funding support for the FPCC in the amount of $25,000 for a comprehensive marketing campaign.”

Erik Fjelstand, senior vice president at Forest Park National Bank, who has attended several meetings between the chamber’s Economic Development Committee and Mayor Calderone, noted that the village did pass an ordinance giving the local chamber $25,000 each year in addition to giving them a one-time grant of $20,000 “for the branding and promoting of Madison Street on the heels of the resurfacing project.”

Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce (FPCC), said that close to $10,000 has already been spent to install the branded banners that have appeared on lamp posts along Madison Street. Soon to be published will be a shopping/dining/services directory which will use up another $4,400 of the grant money.

Part of the letter to the mayor was a reference to the business development analysis completed last year. The letter recalled, “The primary weakness identified in the report is lacking regional image, and one of the main objectives of the action plan is to manage market image.”

To gain more visibility beyond Forest Park, River Forest and Oak Park, the chamber plans to utilize FPCC event cards, large-format banners, storefront window decals, and “See Forest Park” posters, in addition to the already installed street banners and the aforementioned shopping and dining guide. The anticipated cost of all of this will be $19,800, right on budget.

Jack Vainisi, executive vice president at Forest Park National and a member of the chamber’s Economic Development Committee, spoke for many chamber members in saying he thought the article in the Oct. 12 issue of the Review — with the headline “Streamlined process draws restaurants to Oak Park” — was misleading in that the piece made it sound like Forest Park wasn’t on top of its game.

He wished the article had noted it was Saigon Pho’s success in Forest Park that provided the springboard for it to jump to a larger location. He acknowledged that House Red did move from Madison Street to Oak Park but that in its place at 7403 Madison St. will be Heritage, “a seasonal American restaurant featuring a broad range of cuisines and styles.” 

“Heritage,” he said, “put a lot of money into the space once occupied by House Red, and they are very excited to be on the street.”

Vainisi added, “Scratch Kitchen is not leaving town. That they added a deli across the street from their restaurant and will open another space in Oak Park speaks well of Forest Park.”

He also gave credit to Mayor Calderone for spearheading economic development in the village.

Fjelstad agreed with his co-worker. 

“We have a lot of positive things going for us,” he said. “We just need to increase awareness and the Forest Park brand and identity in order to drive more businesses to Forest Park.”

As evidence that momentum exists on Madison Street he noted the new businesses which have recently opened:

Fantastic Sam’s just relocated to a larger and newly constructed space at 7226 Madison St.

Danche Guitar relocated from Oak Park to 7232 Madison St.

Connect Hearing just opened at 7249 Madison St.

Heritage restaurant just opened at 7403 Madison St. in the former House Red location. They purchased the building and did not release it to House Red because they wanted to open their own restaurant in the space.

Jimmie’s Gourmet Popcorn opened at 7415A Madison St.

Bliss Fashion opened at 7439A Madison St.

A new survival gear retailer is going into 7441 Madison St. (former Compucare Store). The owner bought the building and is doing a complete gut rehab of the space.

Scratch Deli opened at 7444 Madison St. (Second location for owner of Scratch Kitchen).

La Casa de Frida opened at 7451 Madison St., selling some retail arts and crafts from Mexico, plus Spanish lessons for adults.

A new coffee shop is opening in the former gelato store at 7510 Madison St.

Creativita opened a second location at 7512 Madison St.

Big Boss took over the sushi restaurant at 7600 Madison St. (formerly Shogun & Bistro Sake) 

 Referring to the fact that Roosevelt Road is scheduled to be resurfaced next year like Madison Street was this year, the letter the Economic Development Committee sent to the mayor said, “Once Madison Street acquires additional brand equity, the goodwill associated with that equity can be leveraged in expanded marketing efforts to promote Roosevelt Road as another highly desirable investment opportunity within the community.

“These marketing efforts will, over time, burnish Forest Park’s collective image as a go-to place for entrepreneurs. In addition, clearly differentiating the village from peer communities will support efforts to attract new residents and families who prefer living within walking distance of high quality shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations.”

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