If Wishes Were Restaurants, All Beggars Would Dine (Updated)


Tomorrow night (02.27.18) the City of Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) will hold a public hearing, beginning at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, on whether the owner of the Pickwick Theater Building – Pickwick Enterprises, LLC, reportedly owned by the Vlahakis Family – will be given a “special use” allowing a lease of the former Pickwick Restaurant (also f/k/a “The Pick”) for a Pearle Vision franchise.

We think an eye-care center would be a serious misuse of that space. But that’s beside the point.

What’s most important is whether enough evidence – not mere opinion but actual facts – will be presented at Tuesday night’s hearing to convince a majority of the P&Z commissioners that:

1. The establishment, maintenance and operation of the special use in the specific location proposed will not endanger the public health, safety or general welfare of any portion of the community;

2. The proposed special use is compatible with adjacent properties and other property within the immediate vicinity of the special use; and

3. The special use in the specific location proposed is consistent with the spirit and intent of the Zoning Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan.

Those are the points Pearle Vision and/or the landlord need to prove in order for P&Z to approve the special use.

Point 1 is a virtual given, and a finding on Point 2 also seems likely.

Where a Pearle Vision franchise is most vulnerable, however, appears to be on Point 3, given that the “spirit and intent” of the 1996 Comprehensive Plan is to support uses that will strengthen retail, restaurant and entertainment activities in that area.

FYI: A Pearle Vision franchise reportedly is considered a “service” business rather than a “retail” one. And we don’t see how a Pearle Vision franchise, or any eye care facility, will strengthen the area’s retail, restaurant or entertainment features.

But we also can’t ignore the fact that the last two restaurants in that space have failed; and the space has been vacant since July 2017, after the latest restaurant failed in less than a year.

Does that mean that a restaurant can’t succeed there? We can’t say.

The apparent lack of restaurateurs lining up to lease the space, however, suggests that maybe such a space poses more challenges than the folks carping from the cheap seats think when they question why it can’t house a Gibson’s, a Hackney’s, a Bobby’s Deerfield, a Rick Bayless or Lettuce restaurant, some un-named chain restaurant, an ice cream shop, a bar, a coffee co-op, a bakery, a brewery, an art school, some unidentified “small” or “mom and pop” businesses, or some unidentified “destination.”

Not surprisingly, the folks with all those swell ideas don’t seem to have two nickels to rub together. Or maybe they just don’t want to risk those nickels to turn those ideas into reality.

As the old saying might go in this situation: “If wishes were restaurants, all beggars would dine.”

We suspect that if any of the folks running their mouths had been willing to sign the same kind of lease as the Pearle Vision franchisee, the Vlahakis Family would have accepted it.

But like so many folks who prefer to watch the spending of Other People’s Money (“OPM”) rather than spend their own, the idea folks didn’t. And so the Vlahakis Family had to choose between a Pearle Vision and a whole lot of empty in the most prominent storefront in town.

And how did the all-talk-no-cash folks respond? Some of them chose to rip the Vlahakis Family for being…wait for it…“greedy” because they chose a real live tenant over leaving the space empty in the hope that a dream tenant might materialize.

Worse yet, one of the loudest carpers, Dena Lucy, went so far as to suggest (over this past weekend, as a comment to Terry Flynn’s 02.11.2018 post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page) that a decision by P&Z in favor of Pearle would be the product of some unspecified “corruption.”

Over the years we have disagreed with some P&Z decisions, occasionally with vigor. But we have never seen any evidence of what could reasonably be viewed as “corruption” – just different viewpoints and philosophies of government.

So we hope Ms. Lucy will show up tomorrow night and provide exquisite details of her “corruption” charge at the beginning of the hearing, so that everyone watching those proceedings can be on the lookout for the “fix” and who’s involved in it

But don’t bet on her doing so. Even in a political cesspool like Illinois, it’s a lot easier to claim “corruption” than to prove it.

Updated 02.28.2017. Last night the P&Z denied a somewhat half-hearted effort by the Pickwick’s landlord and a Pearle Vision franchisee to get a special use permit to run an optical service business out of a space intended for restaurant/retail/entertainment. Apparently the “corruption” that was supposed to swing this deal for the Pearle franchisee and the “greedy” Vlahakis family never materialized.


Should the permit-seekers wish to pursue the matter, their next stop would be an appeal of the P&Z decision to the City Council. From the look and sound of things, however, that doesn’t seem all that likely.

So now we look forward to those unidentified restaurateurs – who allegedly want the space but were beaten to the punch by the Pearle Vision franchisee – coming forward with whatever grand plan(s) they have for that restaurant space.

To read or post comments, click on title.

11 comments so far

Chalk up my vote to not wanting an eye care shop in the Pickwick restaurant space, but only because I do not believe it qualifies as a special use under Point 3 of the test. If it did, I would support the owner’s right to a special use permit, so long as there can legally be such a thing as a “right” to a special use.

An empty storefront there looks horrible.

Dena Lucy is unhinged, rivaling KPM.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Unhinged” sounds a bit hyperbolic and not really understandable without the context of specific examples.

As for how she compares with Kathy (f/k/a “Panattoni”) Meade, they both seem to have the same sense of entitlement because they “pay taxes” – apparently unlike the rest of us.

Like you I have disagreed with some P&Z decisions but never saw a hint of “corruption.” Just because Dena Lucy doesn’t like what might go into the Pickwick space doesn’t mean its a crooked deal.

You should be greatful. If you use that blog as an informal poll (number of posts) it would appear PR is a great deal more concerned about the pickwick space than school security.

As an aside, I am amazed that people seem to find the old pw restaurant almost iconic. It was not good enough to get me as a regular let alone pining for it’s return.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Numerous posts from the same dozen people doesn’t really show much.

I am probably incorrect, but I don’t see a Pearle Vision store succeeding in that space either. They have over 100 stores plus they franchise their name to over 400 stores. That being said, if they are not profitable, they will not hesitate to close. There is a Pearle Vision less than 5 miles away in Skokie. I don’t think that they would have same customers. However, LensCrafters may loss some business in PR. Competition is a good thing, but if the town can only support one it just means another empty storefront down the road.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The folks willing to pay their money get to take their chances.

A few hours ago Mary Wynn Ryan provided the following insight on the Concerned Homeowners’ FB page re the City of Park Ridge incentivizing businesses to come to Park Ridge (like to the Pickwick):

“Many cities do help in this way but you will bring the wrath of Sauron down if you try to push that here. That’s been the case since 2008. “We got Whole Foods without a taxpayer-funded incentive” will be the retort. I think we should refuse the special use, let a restaurant in and let the magic of the market work. Some restaurant will get the formula right, and if we really want it, we’ll keep it in biz. But I’d rather see revolving door of restaurants than let in a special use. Ginger is right.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: MWR talking about “the magic of the market” is like Karl Marx talking about the wonders of capitalism.

As both an alderman (2005-2007) and as a member of Mayor Schmidt’s Economic Development Advisory Task Force (2011-13) she was a consistent advocate for government influence over “the market” by irresponsibly throwing taxpayer dollars at whatever businesses struck her fancy. She criticized the City Council for not giving $2 million of tax revenue sharing to Whole Foods and developer Lance Chody, who folded in the face to the Council’s intransigence and went ahead with the deal without the $2 million concession.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Mr. Watchdog, Dena Lucy is married to Seth Biederman and they live on Garden in a place that rivals Kathy Pannattoni Meade’s low-tax dwelling. Blockshopper puts their 2016 real estate taxes at $8,094, the lowest they’ve been since 2012.

As you love to point out, that means they pay $3,240/year (40%) to D64 for a $16,000/year per kid D64 tuition. So Seth and Dena are getting almost double their whole real estate tax bill (and almost five times their D64 taxes) in free D64 education if they have only one kid in D64 schools.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We had not “figured it out,” but your math appears sound.

I believe the Pick Restaurant has been labeled as a “Historical Landmark.” This has left previous restaurateurs unable to have the open area concept that Holts is enjoying and prospering with. Next time the city finds some willing owner that’s looking for a variance to compete, they should seriously consider it. Looks like we got what we asked for.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our understanding is that the “Historical Landmark” status applies to the whole building, not just the restaurant; and that nothing in that status would prevent a total gutting and reconfiguration of the restaurant space (which we recall The Pick pretty much doing).

I just read the Herald Advocate article about last night’s P&Z meeting. Definitely the right result. What bothers me is a quote from P&Z Board member Rebecca Mills: “We should be able to find a way to go out and attract businesses to come there instead of waiting for them to come find us.” As if we need another grand proclamation with no details.

But unless you have been in a coma since 1995 you know that the public/private Economic Development Corporation that shut down around 2004, and City economic development director Kim Uhlig (2005-2010), presided over more business closures than openings. While they were supposed to be marketing Park Ridge we lost Thompson’s Finer Foods, Tom Noe Mitsubishi, Napleton Cadillac, Burke’s Books, Dominic’s Kitchen Supply, Walter E. Smithe, Pines Men’s Shop, Wehde’s Shoes, Walter’s Restaurant, D’Bob’s Restaurant, Terzo restaurant, and many more that I cannot even remember anymore.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly. As Mayor Dave used to say: If somebody wants to be here – because they think they can make a profit here – they will come here. If you have to bribe them to come here, however, you’re either getting weak businesses or you’re giving away good money to strong businesses who would come here anyway, like Whole Foods, Mariano’s, and FFC.

I can’t understand for the life of me after all these years The Pickwick Restaurant existed why the Pick couldn’t let alone why the Pickwick went under.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For all those years the Pickwick Restaurant existed it didn’t have competition from the likes of Holt’s, Shakou and Harp & Fiddle – which The Pick and its successor had.

Even though the Pearle Vision special use has been rejected by P and Z, a number of commentators on Concerned Homeowners are still complaining that the rent being asked by the Pickwick owner is too high.

Isn’t gov’t control of rents what Dem governor candidates JB Pritzker and Dan Biss want?


According to the owner of Edie Boutique halfway down Prospect from the Pickwick, she pays $10,300 a month rent for a space that’s smaller than the Pickwick restaurant space.

Ironically, even a socialist economist like Paul Krugman has been critical of rent controls, primarily residential controls but rent controls nonetheless.

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