Let The Marketplace Work


Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) has one particular distinction not shared by any other Park Ridge alderman in at least 20 years: he was elected as a write-in candidate. 

That’s because the residents of Park Ridge’s 3rd Ward – including Smith, apparently – didn’t care enough about being represented on the City Council to actually put a candidate on the ballot by the customary process of filing petitions signed by registered voters from that ward.  So after the petition filing period closed, Smith registered as a write-in candidate within the time prescribed by Illinois election law. 

Needless to say, he won – presumably on the strength of nothing more than his own vote. 

Since then, Smith has occasionally displayed a bit of a Libertarian streak, most recently by his invocation of the 1st Amendment in defense of this blog from the City’s unconstitutional flag ordinance that former mayor/perennial opportunist Howard Frimark demanded to have enforced by the City (through the imposition of a $500,000-plus fine) back in July of this year. 

Mindful of that Libertarian streak, we were puzzled to hear about Smith’s recent discussion with a developer for the Whole Foods supermarket chain, in which it sounds like he tried to dissuade Whole Foods from opening a store here. 

According to an e-mail sent by Smith to City Council members and City officials , he admitted to speaking with the developer after the latter appeared at the December 15th Appearance Commission meeting to present a pre-application for a 30,000 square foot store at 225 W. Touhy, the site of the vacant American Farm Bureau building. 

After inquiring about whether the developer would be seeking Tax Increment Financing (“TIF”) from the City and receiving a negative response, Smith then asked the developer if he knew of plans for Mariano’s Fresh Market to open a 68,000 square foot store on Touhy at Cumberland.  When the developer answered in the affirmative, Smith “expressed skepticism that a 30,000 square foot store could successfully compete with a much larger store that close.” 

Smith also expressed his concern that if a Whole Foods came to town along with Mariano’s, it could damage the business of Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Dominick’s and several Uptown shops.

Whoa, Smitty!

We’re all for the City Council – and the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Appearance Commission – casting a suspicious eye at questionable businesses whose presence might not be in keeping with the character of the community, or might be outright undesirable.  While exactly what kinds of businesses would fit that description can be somewhat subjective, Whole Foods definitely is not one of those.

And because it’s definitely not one of those, Ald. Smith’s “skepticism” about it entering our “market” sounds to us like government meddling, if not outright anti-competitive protectionism.

If Whole Foods and/or Mariano’s believe they can succeed in a market already served by Jewel, Dominick’s and Trader Joe’s, more power to them.  That they are planning (so far, at least) to do it without hitting up the City’s taxpayers for a TIF or other type of handout is better still.  We don’t need Ald. Smith or any other public official substituting his “market judgment” for that of people who seem willing to pay their money and take their chances in our community.

Over the last decade Park Ridge has struggled mightily to attract retailers, with very limited success.  With two new attractive retailers seriously considering an investment in this community, now is not the time to take in the welcome mat.    

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