Not all that many years ago the most consistent comment about Park Ridge, especially its Uptown business district, was criticism of the lack of commercial and retail tenants to occupy the vacant storefronts.
Not anymore. Today’s laments now run toward the kinds of businessses: too many salons, sushi restaurants and banks. And those laments are not totally unjustified.
According to an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“New hair salon proposed for Uptown Park Ridge,” Nov. 25), 16 addresses in the Uptown area are listed as the sites of hair salons or barber shops. We don’t know if that includes the ubiquitous nail salons, but you get the picture.
We also count 4 sushi restaurants in Uptown, not including the grab-and-go sushi available at Whole Foods and Jewel on Uptown’s periphery.
And by our count Park Ridge is home to 13 banks, with the prospect of yet another one going in next to the new Walgreen’s at South Park’s Talcott Terrace shopping center – a prospect that has already met with criticism by residents who have a variety of preferential businesses but no interest in putting their own money where their mouths are.
Then there also are some business owners who don’t like the idea of competition. Or at least not when that competition moves in next door, or even down the block. Those businesses would like our City government to step in and protect them from competition by every way imaginable, including by denying the new competitors business licenses.
But as the interim director of community preservation and development noted: “Competition should not be a consideration” in business licensing decisions.
One of the tenets of capitalism, credited to Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, is “creative destruction” – where new ideas, products and services are constantly rising from the ashes of the old. A classic example is the buggy whip, the manufacturers of which went out of business as horse-and-buggy transportation was replaced by automobiles. More recently, we have seen video stores – which employed approximately 175,000 people a decade ago – extinguished by Redbox, Netflix and streaming video.
The folks who don’t want another bank in South Park, or another salon in the 100 block of Vine Avenue, or another sushi restaurant in Uptown, have every right to object. But those objections should not trump the initiative of entrepreneurs willing to risk their time, money and effort in a new business – whether it be a bank, salon or sushi parlor; and whether it be next door or down the street from a competitor.
From the sound of their comments, some Park Ridge residents (and non-resident Park Ridge business owners?) would prefer that the City engage in a little Soviet-style central planning. You know, the kind where the government puts its public thumb on the scale either by refusing to license competitors or by giving economic “incentives” (i.e., bribes) to certain preferred businesses.
A decade or so ago, a clown-car city council with an uber-clown mayor at the wheel did just that: It wasted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars giving a few preferred Uptown building owners money for “façade improvements” that produced no measurable ROI (Return On Investment) for the City. And then those same alderdopes fattened the wallets of the Uptown redeveloper by irresponsibly borrowing (i.e., issuing non-referendum General Obligation bonds) tens of millions of dollars which they then irresponsibly “invested” in the Uptown project (also without a referendum) that guaranteed them no additional control of the project and no ROI.
The debt from that non-performing “investment” crushed the City’s finances from 2008 through 2014, and remains a multi-million dollar drain on the revenues the City collects from its taxpayers.
Fortunately, the clowns were swept out of office by Mayor Schmidt and his supporters who believed in letting the free market do its thing. So when the developer working with Whole Foods (Lance Chody, also owner of Garrett’s Popcorn) demanded that the City provide almost $3 million of sales tax revenue-sharing as an “incentive” (a/k/a, a bribe) to do the deal, Mayor Dave and that council wisely called his bluff with spot-on reasoning: If WF needs a multi-million dollar bribe to locate in Park Ridge, they should look elsewhere.
Two weeks later the developer and/or WF folded, leaving Park Ridge and its taxpayers $3 million richer. And since then, WF has been joined by Mariano’s, FFC Fitness, Holt’s, Harp & Fiddle, Shakou and other small businesses willing to take the risk of marketplace competition.
It should come as no surprise that the entrepreneur looking to open the hair salon on Vine is Frank Ernesto, who currently has two businesses on Main Street – Gumba Joe’s and F. J. Ernesto’s – and was a long-time fixture in South Park as the proprietor of Sonny’s restaurant. Here’s a guy who, having made a long term commitment to our business community, suddenly is being vilified for taking the risk of starting yet another business…in an area where his competition is already established.
We need more of that spirit, not less.
As for those who still keep drinking that “Why can’t we get national retailers?” Kool-Aid, a little history lesson is in order.
When that clown-car council was in hot pursuit of Uptown Redevelopment we were told that, if we built that new retail space, the likes of upscale Crate & Barrel, Ann Taylor, The Gap and Barnes & Noble would come. But even before that space was finished, all we had were down-sized Chico’s, Joseph A. Banks and Trader Joe’s. And big-time retailer interest was so low that 15,000 square feet of planned retail space was redesigned into more condos.
Four years ago a mayoral candidate talked about attracting the likes of Urban Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Forever 21 and GameStop. None of them came knocking, either.
Now a reported potential mayoral candidate, apparently slugging down the same Kool-Aid, is talking about Pottery Barn.
The bottom line is that these “national retailers” know what markets they want, where they want to be, and why. They decide on Park Ridge, not the other way around. And until they decide they want to be here because here’s where they can make good money, there’s virtually nothing the City can do about it.
Unless you consider offering multi-million dollar bribes a “marketing strategy.”
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