Bar Louie joins string of closures downtown

Restaurant at prominent Lake Street location closes

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

It's been on the rental market since at least February, so it was no surprise when Bar Louie restaurant shut its doors for good on March 31.

The conspicuous Bar Louie sign at 1122 Lake St. is already removed from the storefront and the restaurant management left a note on the door saying, "Thanks for the memories!"

Bar Louie representatives did not return phone calls requesting an interview.

The closing follows a number of restaurant closures in the area over the last several months. Five Guys hamburger restaurant, right across the street at 1115 Lake St., closed in November, and Mancini's Italian Bistro restaurant, 1111 Lake St., has been closed since around the beginning of the year.

Prairie Bread Kitchen, located nearby at 103 N. Marion St., announced in March that it's closing up shop right after Easter of this year.

Viktor Schrader, economic development director of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, said that the reality is that "it's a competitive marketplace, and turnover is natural."

"Things change within people's lives and within corporations that causes them to close," Schrader said. "There's still a lot of excitement in downtown Oak Park and there are a lot of opportunities there."

He said there has been a lot of interest from up-and-coming restaurateurs for "second-generation restaurant space" – that is space that is already built out as a restaurant for a previous tenant.

"We recognize there are going to be times when there are a couple of closures in the same area, and that may give people concern, but that's kind of the nature of downtowns," he said.

Schrader added that new construction of luxury high-rise apartment buildings downtown has brought with it "a lot of interest from retailers and restaurateurs."

Shanon Williams, executive director of Downtown Oak Park, said she expects Mancini's to reopen shortly under original owner Al Mancini.

She added that Bar Louie and Five Guys had both been then there for a while and she wasn't surprised to see them close. "I wasn't disappointed that they left," she said, adding that she doesn't want to see businesses close in downtown.

Prairie Bread Kitchen is a different story, she said.

"They were near and dear," she said. "There are a lot of reasons they decided to walk away."

Owner Doran Payne told Wednesday Journal in late March that it was a personal decision for him to close Prairie Breach Kitchen, but he noted that rapidly rising taxes was a big driver in his decision.

Williams said she worries about a streetscape project on Lake Street that is expected to begin in the spring. That project will take months to complete and disrupt business activity in the area.

"If anybody is in bad shape right now, that's definitely going to push them over the edge," she said.

tim@oakpark.com

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Jim Frenkel  

Posted: April 19th, 2019 1:55 PM

Interestingly, if you do read that older WJ article I posted below, it mentions that OP was among the top 4, with Harvey, Chicago Heights, and Elgin being higher. I have a good friend who is on the Elgin planning council and they seem to be doing well overall, with a vibrant commercial base. My next question is, then, what is the difference?

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: April 19th, 2019 1:48 PM

Thanks, @ Wes and @Brian. Although I'm not from MO, I am naturally someone who asks to see the data ("show me"), even the sometimes obvious stuff that people chalk up as conventional wisdom. Again, I didn't doubt it to be true, but as someone who is teaching my own kids to think logically and argue persuasively by knowing their sources, I tend to want to do the same. Fwiw, a quick Google search brought me back to the WJ and this article. Would love to get my hands on the Civic Federation's report. https://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/1-16-2018/Report:-Oak-Park-among-highest-tax-rates-in-2015/

Wes Gathings  

Posted: April 19th, 2019 3:28 AM

Jim, I have to agree with Brian. While I don't know of any study I also wouldn't expect to find one easily as it would be researching the obvious. Part of what makes a place like Forest Park sweet is it's close enough to Oak Park to get most of the benefits but far enough away to avoid the costs and horrible parking. It's kind of like how OP looks at its proximity to Chicago.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 18th, 2019 10:55 PM

2 Jim Frenkel: I have no study, but I ask if you own property in Oak Park and have a Cook County tax bill? Compare your tax bill in Oak Park to just about anywhere else. Oak Parks bill would/will be higher. Same goes for commercial property tax bill.

John Michelotti from Oak Park  

Posted: April 18th, 2019 8:40 PM

What I find stunning is it almost always seems to be a surprise. It appears that businesses just vanish. Seems like the DTOP folks should be talking to the businesses and property owners on a regular basis. It's no excuse if Five Guys or Bar Louis are chains and the decision makers are someplace else . They exist in other ring suburbs and don't seem to have the turnover we have here. Certainly the property owner knows way before the store closes, and if the junior manager doesn't know, there are always reg mgrs and sales guys that have the final say whether to keep a store open. It's the job of busdev to know that I understand that businesses close I dont understand why anyone is ever surprised. I know one thing it seems to take forever to complete a build out here. That coffee shop near where Q is now was under construction for around a year or so. While it isn't a tax, the store owner is paying rent and getting zero revenue while spending time trying to keep all the subcontractors around. I talked to an Oak Parker who opened a cooking school in a nearby suburb. I asked why not Oak Park, and she said after she pitched her concept to the DTOP equivalent she was open.in 3-4 months. She didn't even bother to try OP you might wait four months in those days to get a return call. Why does it take a year to open a coffee shop? That cooking school lasted about 12 years and when she closed it was no surprise to anyone and the vacancy was filled almost immediately. It must be bad if people are so unhappy they don't even try to stay. There is a back story on the closure of the Visitor center, in fairness to the trustees according To the VC folks I spoke to before they closed forever, the trustees tried hard to convince the vis. assoc to keep it open. Hey I have an idea why don't we use TIF money to reopen Kate's Country Candy, Kettlestrings, and Happiness Is ice cream parlor? Of course we had the Stankus hole in those days, I guess some th

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: April 18th, 2019 5:49 PM

There is an oft repeated but rarely substantiated claim in these comment boards that OP is so much more expensive in which to do business. Not that I'm doubting it's true, but where is the data to back this up? Can someone point me to a study that definitively shows how much taxes, for example, and other fees are for a typical business in OP vs FP or someplace comparable?

Mike Hanline  

Posted: April 18th, 2019 3:31 PM

I won't miss Bar Louie (sucked), rarely went to Prairie Bread Kitchen (though they did bake good bread), stopped going to Five Guys (which I liked) once Hamburger Mary's and Carnivore opened their doors (if you haven't tried Carnivore's bacon burger yet, you must). Happy to hear that Mancini's is re-opening, always wonder how Geppetto's Pizza manages to keep their doors open, and would be disappointed if it's true that Q is on the brink. It's a troubling trend to be sure, and one that I think is largely due to the insanely high property taxes in OP, but perhaps it also signals that palates in Oak Park are shifting to slightly more upscale fare? Lou Malnati's, Cooper's Hawk, La Notte, Citrine Cafe, Maya Del Sol, Lake Street Kitchen & Bar, etc. all appear to be doing at least reasonably well.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 4:38 PM

@ Alex - another major issue which you did not mention, but which contributes greatly to the congestion in downtown Oak Park is the goofy traffic flow with two off-set intersections at Marion and Forest/Home Avenues. And then another one at Kenilworth by the Post Office. Not sure there's a remedy for any of that! Then add pedestrians, and cars trying to make turns that can't because of the pedestrians, and then throw in the Albion construction and you have a situation where many people just avoid the area entirely. And there aren't enough employees in the DTOP offices to provide much business either.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 4:23 PM

@ Jeanne... I disagree. Density in downtown Oak Park - and in most commercial districts for that matter- is generally a good thing. The problems with downtown Oak Park right now are primarily: 1) cost of doing business there, 2) lack of promotion of downtown Oak Park as a destination and 3) general ambivalence of Oak Park's leadership; among certain other factors. As important properties (e.g. former Field's/Borders and other storefronts between Harlem and Marion) have sat vacant for several years, foot traffic has fallen and I think a general malaise has set in in the area. The challenge now is that more closures along Lake, Marion and OP Avenue may simply reinforce this trend. To break that cycle, village political and business leadership need to find ways to: 1) lower costs, including taxes, fees and in some cases rents; 2) streamline regulation and speed up approvals, licensing etc.; 3) reduce impact of street projects that can choke off businesses from their customers; 4) better promote the village locally and regionally; and 5) host more events to draw people to Oak Park. Lastly, consider reopening a village welcome center for sale of merchandise, tickets and so on. I think that many people shrugged when the visitor's center on Lake closed last year, but I think that left yet another void in downtown OP. On a more positive note, it's been great to see the improvements, infill and new business openings in the Harrison Street corridor. Can any of what spurred that be applied to Lake, OP Ave. and Marion?

Jeanne Steman Findlay  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 3:50 PM

Lake Street is overdeveloped = too crowded and very limited parking. Meanwhile other potential shopping and dining areas in the Village that are available for development are put on the back burner.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 11:34 AM

Going forward on Lake Street improvements the VOP needs to do some serious planning on how to minimize disruption. Common sense: Eating at a restaurant is NOT a deferred purchase, expenses, however, continue whether or not anyone walks in the door.

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 11:24 AM

I agree that when we look at this as a whole, instead of separate cases, it's a troubling sight-- particularly since many of these businesses sit right on our village's main street. What are our new Trustees saying about this? Is this something the intrepid reporters at the WJ can pursue?

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 9:21 AM

Bar Louie was the perfect place to go after the Matchbox Twenty concert. Unfortunately for Bar Louie and Matchbox Twenty, it is no longer 2001.

Leslie Sutphen  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 9:12 AM

Wait! Mancini's is reopening under the original owner??? Now that is newsworthy!

Christopher Bell  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 7:14 AM

Question - How do you turn $500,000 into $100,000? Open a restaurant (or sports facility as I did). Two Thirds close within 5 years - Mancini and Bar likely suffered from quick service trend - get in and out in 30 minutes or less. That said, increased taxes and wages can push any business into losses. Oak Park is at critical point in policy infrstructure and strategy. Serious rsiks of decline due to poor economic policy. and I am glad wont be here ... son is going Ivy League in fall, house on market and already moving stuff into Lake Shore drive home. Grew up here but realized must stop trying to shrink myself into a place I outgrew long ago.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 11:55 PM

You see a string of closers is not bad or not to get worried about. However, a rope of closures is without a doubt something to worry about.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 7:08 PM

It is almost as if the Trustees thought they could involve themselves in all these businesses without destroying them. https://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/6-30-2017/Oak-Park-allows-minimum-wage-hike/

Alex Garcia  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 6:27 PM

Mr. Schrader and Ms. Williams sound like they are in considerable denial here. Sadly, more closures are to come and Oak Park leaders will start running out of those "It was their fault" type excuses.

Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 4:19 PM

"If anybody is in bad shape right now, that's definitely going to push them over the edge," she said. = "If you think things are bad now, just wait." And I've heard that Q BBQ is on the brink of extinction. Too many destinations and not enough patrons.

Aaron Smith from Oak park  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 3:23 PM

It's sad to see the closures and the taxes are too high, but the reality is that several of these places weren't good. The product at Prairie is average at best, Bar Louie had bad food and even worse service, and Mancini's suffers from a bad layout and ambiance that never felt comfortable when dining there. Hopefully the new establishments will be higher quality.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 3:11 PM

Typical nonsensical feel good bureaucratic - speak from Ms. Williams. Truly ludicrous and inane. Sure turnover is natural if in fact you got turnover. But if all you got is closures, well that ain't turnover. That's abandonment. And yes, the corner of Harlem and Lake has been conspicuously empty for well over five years ... a sign of things to come?

Mark Czupryna  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 2:44 PM

This article is filled with literally the most asinine quotes from the Director of OP Downton? Shanon, please explain how 2 business closing isn't a disappoint? And please address how the rising business taxes that are affecting closures being addressed?

Deborah Kadin  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 2:01 PM

The most conspicuous one is the corner of Harlem and Lake, which has been closed since Border's left many years ago.

Tom Leeds  

Posted: April 16th, 2019 1:53 PM

Is this a typo or misquote? She added that Bar Louie and Five Guys had both been then there for a while and she wasn't surprised to see them close. "I wasn't disappointed that they left," Really, a business advocate for Downtown Oak Park is not disappointed that 2 popular businesses closed? she said, adding that she doesn't want to see businesses close in downtown. Prairie Bread Kitchen is a different story, she said. "They were near and dear," she said. Meh, I didn't like them so who cares but I like the warm whole wheat bread. mmm. What an advocate. The article should have probed deeper on the Prairie Bread Kitchen comment about taxes to determine the true impact.

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