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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published May 6, 2010                                                        

Preserving downtown's charm will take local dollars and sense

The support for downtown Hinsdale’s business district at the April 20 Hinsdale Village Board meeting was inspiring.
   Just read through some of these comments.
   Karl Weber: “It is that historic downtown and our good school system that makes Hinsdale one of the priciest suburbs in the Chicagoland area, and if we lose that (National Register Historic District) designation, I think we’ll all pay in reduction of property values.”

   John Bohnen: “As Karl said, this really is our heritage, it is our brand, it is our way of life. It absolutely supports our property values. It’s something that, once it erodes, it’s gone forever.”

   Molly Hughes: “We all long for a vibrant commercial district in the center of town.”

   Sam Eddins: “I feel strongly that the downtown is a wonderful place.”

   Frank Gonzalez: “Please preserve Hinsdale.”

   These folks all left village hall, we imagine, confident that the board’s decision to lower the maximum allowed building height will in fact preserve the downtown.
   We are not so certain.
   We agree the downtown has a beautiful, historic feel that should be maintained. We love working here. But we also know this is not a movie set or a stretch of Main Street in Disney World. It has do to more than look pretty. It has to function commercially, and in order to thrive, it needs residents’ support.
   Ask any store owner in town and they’ll tell you a significant percentage of their business comes from people who live someplace else. And while we don’t expect any shop to survive on Hinsdale customers alone, we do believe merchants deserve more support from residents.
   Years ago when residents were working to save the Hinsdale Theatre, one said she liked the idea of a theater in town but didn’t want to have to go it. That comment still leaves us puzzled.
   We’ve written before and will continue to write about all the good reasons to support Hinsdale businesses. But this week we also offer a challenge to all those who lobbied the village board to change the zoning code last month: drum up the same support for shopping in town that you did for the text amendment.
   On the night of April 20 alone organizers submitted 100 e-mails in support of the cause. Could they encourage 100 people who don’t shop downtown to do so?
   We appreciate Bohnen’s willingness to serve on the historic preservation commission and that group’s efforts to help downtown building owners learn more about the tools available (grants, tax breaks) for sprucing up their buildings. An attractive downtown by definition is more likely to attract new stores and restaurants.
   But what really gets potential tenants interested is traffic — people walking up and down the streets carrying shopping bags, restaurant tables filled at lunch and drivers circling the block looking for a place to park.
   If the downtown is to be preserved, more people need to get down here and patronize its merchants and encourage their friends and neighbors to do the same. Talk is cheap. And it doesn’t pay the rent in that charming, historic building.




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