Oak Lawn, Illinois continues to grow and thrive. After profiling the Chicago suburb last year, Business in Focus again sat down with Economic Development Specialist Steve Radice and Village Manager Larry Deetjen to learn about the community’s latest developments and business opportunities.
Located along a major transportation hub in Chicago’s Southland, Oak Lawn enjoys an ideal location for business attraction. The Village sits alongside the Tri-State Tollway, which runs from Indiana, through Illinois, all the way up to Wisconsin. Oak Lawn’s METRA station—which includes parking for 868 vehicles and a mixed commercial-residential development—is the busiest station on the southwest METRA line on a daily basis. One of the world’s busiest airports, Chicago Midway International, is located just ten minutes away.
Furthermore, the main thoroughfare to the airport passes right through Oak Lawn, bringing an endless stream of potential customers past the Village’s businesses. “When you exit the 294 Tristate expressway going to Midway Airport, you have to go through Oak Lawn,” Mr. Radice shares. “That type of traffic on a daily basis is what [businesses] are looking for. That is why Oak Lawn is so popular.”
Businesses also benefit from Oak Lawn’s density—both the village and its neighboring communities are packed with people. “There are nearly 60,000 residents in Oak Lawn, and then you have the surrounding suburbs,” Mr. Radice points out. “The density of these suburbs is what businesses are looking for.” And, these residents tend to have money to spend at local shops and eateries. “Even though the average household income might not be what it is for some of the more affluent neighborhoods, people are not married to their mortgages so they do have disposable income.”
Residents shop local and Village officials continue to encourage that commitment. “Villagers have always been very supportive and loyal to our merchants,” Mr. Deetjen reports. “We have a theme that the mayor has stressed since her election: Shop Oak Lawn. And Oak Lawnians have clearly done that.” This loyalty benefits both merchants and residents. “We have a sales tax which the village uses to offset property taxes, so the more you shop locally the more revenue comes in that helps you,” Mr. Deetjen explains. “So you can directly help your tax burden by shopping locally.”
Oak Lawn is home to a wide variety of shops and restaurants, from fine dining to fast food chains. The business-friendly community enjoys a strong presence of national names, but it also encourages new, unknown enterprises. “We welcome and relish small businesses, mom and pop businesses, start up businesses of people who are opening up their first small business,” Mr. Radice remarks. “I think people flock toward those [because] it is such an intimate, family community.”
New businesses are flocking to Oak Lawn’s new Stony Creek Promenade shopping center, which has completed two major phases of development. Mariano’s Fresh Market, the shopping center’s first anchor business, opened with record sales last year and continues to enjoy strong sales at the location. “Mariano’s is a success story in the Chicago area and is a leading grocer,” Mr. Deetjen remarks. “Their store here is one of their leading stores in terms of gross retail sales.”
The shopping center’s second anchor, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, is also enjoying impressive sales. The national chain has a presence throughout the United States, with locations in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Illinois, “but their number one location in sales nationwide is right here in Oak Lawn,” Mr. Deetjen reports.
Currently under construction, the chicken finger restaurant Raising Cane’s will be Stony Creek Promenade North’s newest anchor tenant. Originally launched in Louisiana and most prominent in the South, the location will be Raising Cane’s first in Illinois. Other Stony Creek Promenade restaurants and retailers include Meatheads, Great Clips, Sleepy’s, Chipotle, Massage Envy, Firehouse Subs, Original Pancake House, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Pie-Five Pizza, and Starbucks.
Many of these businesses are enjoying record sales at their Oak Lawn location. Pie-Five Pizza’s Oak Lawn location is number one in sales in the entire Chicagoland area and far exceeds the location that ranks second in sales. Firehouse Sub’s Stony Creek Promenade location consistently ranks between 2nd and 4th in sales out of 17 Illinois and Indiana locations. Nothing Bundt Cakes ranked #56 of 170 locations nationwide the 1st week that it opened in the shopping center. Since that opening week in November of last year, the location has consistently ranked in the top 20 percent in sales.
Out of nearly 1200 Massage Envy locations nationwide, the Stony Creek Promenade location was ranked as the 2nd-fastest-growing clinic for 2015. And, the location currently boasts a membership base and a sales volume that exceeds many Massage Envy locations that have been open for a decade. After only 13 months in business, the Stony Creek Promenade location is breaking records nearly every month and is likely to continue its outstanding growth.
Oak Lawn’s healthcare sector is also going strong. Advocate Christ Medical Center, which employs over 6,000 people, continues to expand. Truven Health has named Advocate Christ Medical a Top 100 Hospital and in 2014, US News & World Report ranked the medical center as one of the top 50 hospitals in the nation for cardiology/heart surgery, gynecology, geriatric medicine and neurology/neurosurgery. US News & World Report also named Advocate Christ Medical Center one of the top three hospitals in the state.
The hospital recently completed construction on a new, seven-level bed tower as well as a multilevel parking garage with a pedestrian bridge to the main building. The next step is to revamp the hospital’s trauma center. “They are undergoing a very, very comprehensive rehab of their emergency operations,” Mr. Deetjen reports. “Their trauma 1 center is the busiest trauma 1 center in the Midwest area; they handle over 100,000 emergency victims on an annual basis.” This means that the hospital has to execute the renovation in stages so that patients continue to receive needed care. “They can’t close the doors and do the rehab; they have to do a very strategic workaround so that stretches out the construction time. But it is really coming along nicely and that will be a nice addition to their full-service, nationally recognized hospital.”
According to Advocate Christ Medical Center’s website, the comprehensive renovation will include the modernization and expansion of the hospital’s Level 1 trauma and resuscitation center from eight to 12 rooms. Adult and pediatric emergency stations will be upgraded and increased from 42 to 70. The project will also involve enhancements of clinical areas that support the emergency department, including recovery areas, triage, heart catheterization laboratories, general radiology, transesophageal echo, inpatient endoscopy, and cast room.
Oak Lawn continues to be a center for auto sales as well. “Oak Lawn is known for our auto dealers,” Mr. Radice reports. “We are the auto capital of the southwest suburbs. We have 11 new car dealers within a two mile radius. So what we were selling to the public is one-stop shopping. If they are looking for a new or used vehicle than they can come to Oak Lawn and look at [a lot of] vehicles in a very small area.”
To be sure, Oak Lawn offers more than shopping, dining, and healthcare. Residents also enjoy access to plenty of recreational activities and programs. “Our park district is second to none,” Mr. Deetjen remarks. Park properties include indoor and outdoor tennis courts, a driving range, playgrounds, picnic facilities, walking paths, multi-recreational facilities, ball fields, a natural wetland refuge, an indoor ice rink, two outdoor swimming pools, two fitness centers, a community theatre, a skate park and an 18-hole golf course with a year-round clubhouse.
The community also encourages and supports the arts. In fact, the Oak Lawn Arts Commission was recently established to foster and create an artistic environment within the community. The organization is currently bringing the community together through an art project that also serves as a fundraiser for the Commission’s projects and events. Businesses are encouraged to purchase a 3.5 ft x 3.5 ft x 4 ft white acorn to paint and display in front of their establishments for everyone to admire. The project is win-win, since large painted acorns are likely to attract patrons’ attention as well as demonstrate the business’ support for the arts.
Village officials expect the suburb’s impressive growth and development to continue for the foreseeable future. “I think that we are going to continue to attract national and local businesses,” Mr. Radice summarizes. “I think that we will continue to offer new and exciting restaurants and business options to our community.”