“A lot of the strategy in retail is putting like-businesses together,” said Ray Johnson, a board trustee, during the decisive Jan. 18 meeting. “Why we would want to restrict that, I don’t know.”
Seok acknowledged that the approach may ring true for many businesses, but for a niche beauty supply such as K-Stone—which specializes in the African-American hair market—differentiating a shop from its competitors can prove nearly impossible.
“From the city’s perspective, this is a McDonald’s to Taco Bell argument, where customers can frequent businesses that may be similar but still walk away with something different,” says Seok. “But in reality, this is a McDonald’s-to-McDonald’s type argument because about 99% of ethnic beauty stores, like mine, all sell the same exact stuff. Like any industry, there are only so many of the same businesses you can cram into an area before the boom goes bust.”
Neighboring business owners along Madison Street, however, came down on both sides of the argument.
“I can really understand where Joe is coming from, but at the same time, the city was right to say you can’t sit and corner the market,” says Frank Cox, who has owned and operated Frank’s Barbershop on the street for 11 years. “Personally, even if the zoning restriction [weren’t] in place, I wouldn’t be worried if another barbershop opened up next to me because the service we offer is at another level, so we can stay competitive. For any kind of business to survive, you’ve got to figure out a way to keep your customers choosing you.”
A couple of stores away from K-Stone, the owner of another longtime Madison establishment, Laury’s Bakery & Cake, empathized with Seok’s predicament.
“There are only so many businesses of one type a street like this can sustain,” says Jerome Ketzback, who has run his business from the commercial district for more than 28 years. “Yes, there are a lot of different restaurants along Madison, but that’s completely different. “A beauty supply is a beauty supply, and realistically, if they put another one in, someone’s going to lose somewhere down the line.”
Other beauty supplies in and around the commercial district refused to offer an opinion or could not be reached for comment.
In hindsight, Seok and Ketzback said they weren’t shocked that the zoning request was turned down; instead, attributing Seok’s case to be just the latest example of a string of bad business decisions Oak Park governing boards have made concerning the Madison Street district.