A number of local merchants have formed the to have a greater say in decisions surrounding the development of downtown Highland Park.
The merchants hope for a larger seat at the table of the . Known as the Alliance, that group is a partnership between the city, the and the . In the past, merchants have participated through the chamber.
A driving force behind the new effort is property owner , a longtime advocate for greater merchant participation. He hopes to see that become a reality at the Alliance’s regularly scheduled meeting at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
“We want seats on the restructured Alliance board,” Hillman said. “We expect to see the board restructured at the next meeting."
is not sure a change will happen so fast. The board currently has five members appointed by the property owners, three by the Chamber of Commerce and three by the city.
“I don’t expect to see a change at the next meeting,” Klairmont said. “The Alliance board is reviewing its bylaws. I foresee a change in the makeup of the Alliance board to include members of the merchants association.”
A more activist role
The merchants group officially formed July 25, stemming in part from the results of an Alliance meeting June 29. The gathering sought input from all stakeholders as the Alliance moves forward from its original structural role into a more activist one.
“We got 20 RSVP’s and more than 40 people were there,” Klairmont said. “We have such wonderful merchants in Highland Park working long hours. The voice of the merchants has been heard.”
Hillman was equally thrilled with the outcome of the meeting. He has been pushing for more merchant involvement.
“It was probably the largest gathering of local retailers I’ve ever experienced in Highland Park,” Hillman said. “It was great seeing so many retailers show interest, share ideas and want to become involved.”
One idea receiving serious consideration is block captains to help organize merchants for events and help assure their voices will be heard. In addition to voicing their ideas, merchants were given a progress report on downtown Highland Park.
“It will help people work together and plan events together,” Klairmont said of the block captains. “We talked about changes going on in our downtown.”
Grabbing the reins
One merchant who was less enthusiastic was Jerry Geffen of . Geffen has operated his restaurant in Highland Park for 35 years. He has opened additional enterprises as well.
“The merchants who want to see things done have to grab the reins and do all the stuff that needs to be done,” Geffen said.
Hillman hopes to see the group of retailers and restaurateurs become a force in shaping downtown Highland Park as the property owners have been.
Those involved are eager to see the city’s empty storefronts filled. The Alliance’s retail recruiter, Angela Shaffer, has been working hard to do exactly that. With a number of new leases signed, downtown occupancy is pushing 90 percent according to Shafer.
Three new tenants—, and a gelato shop—are getting ready to move into the former Fell Company space on the north side Central Avenue between First and Second Streets.
“It’s a game changer for Highland Park,” Shafer said of the Central Avenue activity. “It helps other tenants who want to move to Highland Park. I’m (also) looking for a full service restaurant to energize the community and create a buzz."