Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Everyone out to help themselves in Orland Plaza controversy

The one place I really enjoy eating is at the Plaza Cafe at 143rd and LaGrange Road. I went there this morning and had the Steak Skillet -- eggs sunnyside up and cheddar cheese on the hash brown, chopped steak and mixed vegetables underneath.

Man was that great!

Across the street from the Orland Park Shopping Mall and in the shadow of all the big-time developments in our town, it may seem like an outmoded commercial strip from the past. But in a way for this corner business strip, it's the "past" that makes it so great!

The owners are some big, tough land developers George Gee and his partner, Ron Johnson. Gee is a name I am familiar with. I had an insurance broker at the Gee-Schussler agency once or maybe still located in the mall. They handled my personal insurance for a number of years. I remember them telling me the "Schussler" name was the same family name as Village Trustee Ed Schussler, a former interim village president who is now a member of the village board.

The village has been negotiating forever trying to buy the property from Gee and Johnson, but apparently it never went anywhere. How much time and money was wasted on that effort? And what was the real obstacle? Developer's greed? Village greed? Who knows, although having dealt with commercial property managers for years, I've never liked any of them. Who really cares "about the public."

For many, it's all about the money. Think it's cheap holding a lease in that or any mall along LaGrange Road? Are you kidding me?

The property has to have some real value and for sure, there must be a gap between what the village wanted to pay and what the owners are willing to accept. You didn't think this was really about the store owners, did you? They pay a lease. They won't get the money. Maybe they'll get some help relocating. Maybe some will close. The bulk of the money goes to the property owners, and some, I am sure, must go to the strip mall owners. Maybe there is a buyout fo the leases, and maybe some cash for the small store owners.

But the real gap is that no one really cares about the public or the small store owners, some of whom have spent years building up a client base. I'll give Mayor Dan Laughlin some credit, having spoken to some of the store owners there. He's tried to help them, they say. He's tried his best to make sure that everyone walks away with a fair deal. But he's under a lot of pressure. Maybe this is the best answer to an uncertain future.

I just wish someone would spill the beans on the real story about this mall. What is it really about? Everyone has an angle, a spin, a self-serving story. How about telling the story from the standpoint of the store owners?

But when the strip mall does close, there will be several stores there I will miss -- Orland Video, owned by a great guy who was long ago a former partner of mine when I was at the Chicago Sun-Times, Miroballi Shoes (they owned another location where I once published The Villager Newspapers), and, of course, the Plaza Cafe.

When you read the stories, and the spin, and the PR and the moaning from the village and the strip mall owners, take a moment to think about the little store owners, who are the once who will really take a bath in this, and the customers who for years have seen Orland Plaza as a homey little place that was fun and relaxing to enjoy.

When the time does come, we'll miss them.

Ray Hanania

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