While the city of Highland Park is making a strong effort to stimulate the City’s economic growth, five downtown Highland Park retail businesses closed in October while one opened adding to the already vacant storefronts.
Early last month, Highland Park held its first business summit bringing local and regional business leaders, property owners, real estate professionals and others together to talk about ways to promote economic excellence in town.
“The summit was a unique opportunity to bring the public and private sectors, residents and stakeholders together to have an open dialogue about business,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said. “What we learned from each other and our speakers was tremendous. The summit will serve as a catalyst for ongoing conversation and initiatives.”
But after the summit, Blue Cat Café, Benjamin Tapas, In the Raw, Blue Rose and Teacher Peach closed their doors.
“We are always sad to see any business close its doors but we are thankful we welcomed 17 new businesses this month,” Rotering said. “We’re (always) looking for sales tax revenue to ease the burden on the taxpayers.”
New Businesses Are Opening
Of those 17 new businesses, five were retail establishments and two are located in the central business district, according to Economic Development director Carolyn Hersch.
One of those stores, For the Love of Spice, opened Oct. 14, and the other Defining Moments, was issued its occupancy permit in October, according to Hersch, but will not be serving customers until the middle of November, according owner Angelo Turcanu.
Highland Park does seem to have a harder time keeping its storefronts filled than its neighbors. The City has a 10.8 percent vacancy rate citywide while downtown Lake Forest is at 3.5 percent, according to Lake Forest Community Development Director Susan Kelsey. Downtown Deerfield checks in at 4 percent, according to Andrew Lichterman, the assistant to the Village Manager. Highland Park does not have the statistic for downtown alone.
Deputy Highland Park City Manager Ghida Neukirch does not feel a comparison between Highland Park, Deerfield and Lake Forest is appropriate. “Highland Park’s Central Business District consists of more than 500 businesses,” she said. Of those, 150 are retail.
Is Renaissance the Problem?
Part of the situation in Highland Park may be due to Renaissance Place, which is 36 percent, vacant down from 40 percent when Stark Warehouse signed a lease to move into the former Saks Fifth Avenue space, according to Neukirch.
Ownership of that shopping center avoided further complications when it recently renewed the leases for Pottery Barn, William Sonoma and Chipolte, according Highland Park City Councilwoman Alyssa Knobel.
Richard Wolk, a senior executive with Coldwell Banker Commercial who has long been active in commercial leasing in Highland Park, thinks a 10.8 vacancy rate is high but attributes that to Renaissance.
“Ten percent is a pretty high number when you look at Sunset, Jewel, Target and Toys R Us all being full,” Wolk said. “A lot of that has to be Renaissance with Saks and Restoration Hardware empty.”
Though Wolk considers the vacancy rate high, Al Clairmont, the owner of a number of downtown Highland Park properties, is less concerned. “You can’t take statistics at face value,” Clairmont said. “If (downtown) is 89 percent occupied, that’s pretty good.”
Wolk sees a larger problem not just for downtown Highland Park but other communities as well. He thinks people’s shopping habits have changed since the Great Recession began seven years ago. He believes people are following bargains at big box stores.
“The rents were going up, up, up,” Wolk said. “They’ve come down some but the local (merchants) can’t compete with Wal-Mart Costco and Target. It’s hard for the locals to compete.”