Editorial: Successful suburban downtowns vital for economy

  • Fine dining outdoors is among the attractions in downtown Arlington Heights  - and many other suburbs.

      Fine dining outdoors is among the attractions in downtown Arlington Heights - and many other suburbs. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 9/12/2017 6:34 PM

At one point, the malls and shopping plazas were the big draw in the suburbs, pulling shoppers out of the quaint downtowns that featured ma and pa shops.

But that has changed quite a bit in the last decade, as suburban officials recognize that by making their downtowns a bit more urban, they can capture new residents and customers who want a citylike experience in their hometown.


And with the advent of online shopping, making those downtowns entertainment and food centers has seen success from Libertyville to Arlington Heights to St. Charles to Naperville.

"Dining out," said Lindsay Bailey, a senior planner with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, "is an experience you can't have online."

But how to nab those restaurants and their patrons has suburban planners tweaking their strategies and changing up some of the rules. We think that's a good use of their time and smart planning for the future.

In many suburbs, allowing more table space outside on public sidewalks has been a good tool for these communities. Serving alcohol outside has come with some debate as Naperville found out when it agreed to a test allowing alcohol to be served on blocked off areas of downtown sidewalks. Meanwhile, in Arlington Heights, officials did quite a bit of research to determine whether they should allow open air dining, by removing a restriction that had required screens.

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"We looked at about 30 surrounding (suburban) communities and even Chicago for that and then met with our health department," said Charles Perkins, director of planning and community development for the village. it was a simple, yet smart move.

"What we've tried to do is make sure all of the developments have good and active street presences and the residential units above are beautiful high-quality units," Perkins said.

And getting those residents down stairs and spending time and money in town is the key. Experts, as Daily Herald staff writer Kerry Lester wrote this week, say that restaurants and events -- from farmers markets to outdoor musical entertainment -- advance that goal.

In Naperville, for example, Anderson's Bookshop had a Harry Potter event that restaurants capitalized on. "The nearby restaurants were serving Harry Potter style food and butter beer," said Anderson's spokeswoman Candy Purdom.

"What the village does is really intelligent," said Max Huber, manager of Mexican restaurant Salsa 17 in Arlington Heights. "They've created food festivals, art festivals, things that have made it a destination for the area."

It's beneficial for all residents and their communities' economy wjem suburban downtowns are successful. We urge everyone to take advantage of these increasing hometown opportunities for dining, shopping amd entertainment and to explore what's happening in the towns nearby.

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