It’s not news that Marty Sorice recently bought another bar, his 11th in Forest Park, a place called Carole’s. What is news is that the one he bought is on Roosevelt Road.
Sorice acknowledged that the Roosevelt Road business strip in Forest Park leaves a lot to be desired compared to Madison Street, but he has reasons to believe that Carole’s will be part of a business resurgence similar to what happened on Madison. First, he said, the resurfacing and streetscaping scheduled to be done this summer will bring new life to that strip.
“It’s going to look a lot like Madison,” he said. “We think it’s going to make us really glad to be here.”
Tim Gillian, Forest Park’s village administrator confirmed that the approximately $4 million project will “incorporate some of the pedestrian amenities found on Madison Street where we can.”
Second, the redoing of Roosevelt Road indicates to Sorice that the village of Forest Park, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, is focusing more of their attention on what he refers to as the “stepchild” of the business community. He said that, as an individual businessman, he intends to promote that section of town by trying to hold events like a beer tasting in the parking lot at the corner of Circle and Roosevelt.
Sorice noted that Walmart and Portillo’s already do good business. Sorice’s son Matt pointed out that just a few blocks east of Harlem, there are bars doing well.
“It would really help Roosevelt Road,” Sorice noted, “if we could work with the Forest Park mall. We’ll do anything we can to work with them. I know the village has approached them too, but they seem to be quite insular.”
Video gambling and
A backer of video gambling, Sorice argues that it’s not like 50 years ago when Oak Park was a dry town and Forest Park was where you’d go to have a beer. Forest Park drinking establishments are now facing stiff competition.
“One of our problems,” he said, “is that we are having an incredibly hard time competing with other towns.”
“Even then,” he added, “gaming is not going to solve all our problems.”
To draw customers in the door of Carole’s, which he bought at the beginning of 2017, Sorice runs dart and pool leagues, with four dart teams already scheduled for Thursdays and four pool teams set for Monday leagues.
It’s largely a matter of demographics, he said.
“This town is still 30 to 40 percent working-class people. They’re not going to a classy place on Madison Street and pay $6 for a drink when they can get a whole pitcher of Hamm’s at Carole’s for $5 and a pint of Miller Lite for $2.50.”
Taxes are another drain on profits in older suburbs like Forest Park, he said. He owns a bar in Lisle where the sales tax is 7 percent while the same tax in Forest Park is 10 percent. Shortstop, one of his Forest Park bars, and the bar in Lisle both gross about $35,000 a month, but Shortstop, because of the higher tax rate here drains his bottom line $1,050 a month more than the bar in DuPage County.
“I could afford the monthly payments on two Cadillacs,” he said, “with what I lose in taxes here every month.”
This village needs the tax revenue from all of the businesses in town, he acknowledged.
“Forest Park is more than the upscale restaurants and boutiques on Madison Street,” he observed. “It’s also places like Shortstop and Blueberry Hill. The whole thing is that either we are going to get a clue and come together and really learn how to tolerate each other, or we’re going to be in trouble. The towns up north and out west are really aggressive, and it will be hard for the towns that ring Chicago to survive.”
Race and class
Regarding the racial incident which happened last summer at Doc Ryan’s, another bar he owns, he takes full responsibility for it even though it was started by a customer. Lest the businesses he owns be accused of being racist, Sorice said, “One of the things that is really unique about Forest Park bars is that they are already racially diverse, and they’ve been that way a lot longer than most businesses on Madison Street. It’s not that the other businesses are not welcoming of diversity; it’s just that we live it every day. I will bet you that Shortstop and Angelo’s and Blueberry are pretty representative of the racial composition of Forest Park.”
He added that socio-economics is another factor to consider, contending that his bars are not in competition with the more upscale establishments on Madison Street.
“There’s a whole bunch of people in Forest Park,” he explained, “who are just working people. A lot of the people who come into Blueberry or Pioneer Tap are ethnically diverse, working-class folk. Not many are MBAs. If they were, they would go to a nicer place like Exit Strategy … and pay more.”
Incidents like the one that happened at Doc Ryan’s, Sorice said, “are going to happen in places where working class people are coming in together. You won’t have an incident like what happened at Doc Ryan’s at the Brown Cow or at Yearbook. It’s just that most merchants in Forest Park are of a white [middle class] culture.”
“Ninety-five percent of my staff,” he added, “voted for Clinton.”
All of his talk about working-class people, doesn’t mean that Sorice isn’t thinking about scaling up.
“When I am done remodeling Blueberry Hill,” he declared, “it’s probably going to be the nicest commercial establishment in Forest Park. What was once a shot and a beer place is going to be a lot more. We’ll serve espresso in the front and it will be kid-friendly. It will probably take another year and a half, but it will evolve into something really nice.”