We've got this, Forest Park

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

I was scheduled to retire on Aug. 15, but due to the current crisis, I shut down my detective agency last week. I'm proud that our Forest Park business survived for 56 years! Only a small percentage of businesses have this kind of longevity. Several are here in Forest Park: Ferrara Pan, Mohr Oil and our timeless cemeteries come to mind.

Retiring was a priority for me because the men in my family have a poor track record. My dad was still working full-time, when he passed away at 74. My brother Dan never got a chance to retire and my brother Edward only enjoyed one year. 

The first step to closing down my company was to cancel my private detective insurance. It was a million-dollar policy that I was required to have but never used. Next, I notified some of my clients. One lawyer was shocked. We had worked together since she graduated law school. Now she is head of a major firm.

The next step was my exit interview with Human Resources (aka my wife). We went over my retirement package. It included no bonus, pension, or future earnings. It's called the "Not Another Dime" plan. HR, though, did sign me up for Social Security. The promise of monthly checks is prompting many business owners in my age range to make the same decision.

Then I thought about how hard it is for younger entrepreneurs to survive this crisis. As I've said, my heart breaks for our local business owners. We've done what we can to support our restaurants, but curbside is a poor substitute for dine-in customers.

Then I thought back to an earlier time when the Great Recession caused our local businesses so much financial pain. My company was among them. I lost 75 percent of my income in 2008. The financial hardship wasn't the worst part. It was the endless empty days without work. Kind of like the days we currently endure.

Forest Park businesses remained open, but many of us could no longer afford to patronize them. My company was struggling but it managed to stay afloat. Finally, after a long ordeal, my volume of business returned to pre-recession levels. In fact, 2019 was my best year in over a decade.

Maybe my little company is a microcosm of the resilience our town has always shown. Forest Park survived the Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed 50 million worldwide. We endured the Great Depression, during which unemployment peaked at 25 percent. We even made it through Prohibition, which crippled the village's finances. Many of our businesses also survived the recent recession. I credit this to Forest Park's ideal location, business-friendly environment and indomitable spirit.

That spirit shows in our response to the current crisis. Most are respecting social distancing and other safety measures. Villagers are helping in any way they can, making masks, donating plasma and writing letters to isolated seniors. Our dedicated teachers continue to stay in contact with their students through remote learning.

This could be the worst crisis we've ever faced, a combination of deadly disease and economic disaster. I'm confident, though, we will overcome it and that our businesses will again prosper. Recovery may be slow but it will be steady. Meanwhile, we can use this current "time-out" to re-evaluate our priorities and find what is truly important.

I believe in the future of Forest Park. The landscape may look different after the virus passes but the soul of our village will remain intact. "We've got this, Forest Park!" isn't just a slogan. It's how we've always responded to tough times.

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