Shanel Romain/Staff Photographer Bonnie Doolin and Barbara Hosty, both of Forest Park, enjoy the Spring Wine Walk and shop along Madison Street in 2022.

The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, like the businesses it supports, had lots of challenges during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, but increasing income, participation and membership in 2022 revealed that the Chamber has survived the “hurricane” and is mostly back to normal.

This past year was a good one for the events the Chamber sponsored. 

The 26th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade attracted the biggest crowd since the event’s inception — estimates of attendance vary between 5,000 and 7,000 people lining Madison Street.

“The purpose of our main events,” explained Laurie Kokenes, the Chamber’s executive director, “is to keep Forest Park’s name at the forefront and drive traffic and business to town.”

“It is the best day of the year for Angelo’s and Shortstop [both located on Madison Street],” reported Marty Sorice, owner of several bars in town. “But, it’s more than the increased revenue. It’s knowing that we are an integral part of making a fun event occur. My staff always looks forward to it so much.”

“The Spring Wine Walk,” said Kokenes, “was the most well attended wine walk ever. We had to stop selling tickets at 450.”

The Chamber’s annual meeting, held this year on May 11, is a one-of-a-kind event that reveals much about Forest Park’s unpretentious character. It’s held in what amounts to a barn on the property owned by McAdam Landscaping. Restaurants bring food and drink to share, and businesses donate items for the auction.

Participants remarked how good it was to be together in person after the restrictions imposed by the state because of the pandemic. Kokenes said, “There’s just a good community feel at this event. The annual meeting is meant to highlight the Chamber to a point — but the main objective is to celebrate and thank our members, the village, park, library — all of whom work together to make this community great.”

Seventeen teams participated in the 10th Annual Casket Race, Oct. 22, held on Beloit Avenue. Trophies were awarded to the winning teams, but also to the team that came in “dead last.” The event attracted thousands to Forest Park as well as a reporting team from WGN-TV.

The Chamber rode momentum from its previous events into the Fall Wine Walk on Nov. 5. Just like its counterpart in the spring, the Fall Wine Walk also had higher-than-average attendance by Forest Park residents as well as out-of-towners.

Fred Bryant who owns Accents by Fred shared that his wife, Anne, sold close to 100 of her handmade, one-of-a-kind greeting cards and his shop was packed. Getting into the spirit of the walk, Bryant dressed up in a Grinch costume which was a hit with children.

In 2020 during the lockdown, no events were planned and last year only the Casket Races and the Holiday Walk were held, which significantly reduced the Chamber’s income, but this year revenues are up by 55% due to a full schedule of fundraising events, plus the greater-than-expected support of business owners and residents who have been renewing their memberships. Membership has increased by 26% since before the pandemic began.

Kokenes said it really does take a village to make events like those the Chamber sponsors successful. 

“I worked with The Park who allowed parking spaces for the carriages,” she explained, “the police department who escorted horses and carriages from The Park to Madison Street the night of the walk, public works providing extra help. They make our job so much easier. Everyone is so cooperative and easy to work with. 

Kokenes summed up how she felt about the year in business now coming to a close and the whole community: “On the way home from the Holiday Walk, all I could think of was how fortunate we are to be part of such a generous and supportive community. When there’s a need or problem to solve, everyone steps up to the plate without hesitation: police and fire departments, public works, mayor, commissioners, park district, business owners, residents and more.”