David King is excited about the economic future of Forest Park. As both a commercial real estate broker and an over 30-year resident of Forest Park, he is seeing signs that the business sector in town is heating up as the weather warms.
The closing of the Chipotle deal and the signing of the Play it Again Sports lease were, of course, two huge economic coups, but King insists it’s more than that.
“Our activity level since the first of the year,” he said, “has dramatically increased, whether it’s phone calls or internet referrals. The whole world has been on hold for the past year, and now we are clearly back in business.”
King said his enthusiasm comes partly from the fact that activity in his field is often a harbinger of things to come.
“My industry,” he said, “tends to be 4-6 months ahead of the real economy. We are a leading economic indicator.”
April Baker, a residential realtor with the Gillian-Baker Team, sees the same signs in the housing market, which has become a seller’s market.
“Last year at this time, we had 29 detached single-family homes on the market, and 27 attached (condo/townhomes),” said Baker. “This year, we are suffering from a lack of inventory. We only have a quarter of the number of single-family detached homes and half the number of attached homes for sale as we did at this time last year. Meanwhile, we have buyers actively searching for homes in our neighborhood.”
Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, added, “People are beginning to feel comfortable venturing out again, and that has to be good for business.”
“What excites me most,” she said, “is the renewed desire to support local businesses. Consumers are shifting dollars from big-box stores to local small businesses, and more shoppers are going out of their way to do so.”
Likewise, Steve Glinke, director of Building Planning & Zoning, said, “Recent developments are encouraging, and the village development group is pleased that these and other projects are getting done despite current conditions.”
King added that Chipotle and Play it Again are more important than they might seem at first glance.
“When I’m trying to recruit new businesses to Forest Park,” he said, “I need to be able to drop some names people recognize like Starbucks and Chipotle, which make people who don’t personally know Forest Park think, ‘If businesses like those are committed to locating in the town, it must be a good town to do business in.’”
That is what initially attracts them to check the village out, he said, and once they get here, they see the diversity of independently-owned restaurants and shops that give the town its character.
What King is observing in the business community is that belief in the future is growing. It’s obviously been an extremely challenging year. Madison Street lost businesses like Healy’s, Francesca’s and Bertuca Salon, but now business owners are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
“In order for a business, whether it be big or small, to invest time and money in a location,” King said, “they have to believe in the future. In the last 90 days, I’ve seen an increasing belief that we’re going to get out of this downturn. Fear is gone from their voices. Now the question is the right location at the right price.”
The reason people say there is light at the end of the tunnel but not quite here yet is that there seems to be a kind of domino effect that follows from a business like Play it Again locating on Madison Street. Erich Krumrei signed on March 5. Then a lender and architect will need to be found. Then a contractor to do the remodel and after that he has to acquire inventory.
It might be June before Krumrei has hired a staff. The net effect, King noted, is a process in which one step leads to another and jobs are created.
“Forest Park is well positioned as a community to take advantage of the increased activity of businesses looking to open up,” he said.