In the center of Highland Park, Illinois, is Port Clinton Square. Designed in the 1980s to bolster the local economy of downtown Highland Park, the plaza serves as a community meeting and business district, featuring a prominent full-scale map of the city. It is a common sight to see children running their fingers down the narrowed streets until they find their home.
Today, the map is covered in dozens of flower bouquets, placed in honor of the seven people who lost their lives and more than 30 people who were injured after a mass shooter opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd of those attending the Fourth of July parade. Over the following week, the neighborhood, which is mostly made up of small businesses and restaurants, banded together to lean on each other and navigate how to proceed.
“I walked over to see if any of my employees were watching the parade. We were supposed to open about 15 minutes later, and then it happened,” said Ryan Gamperl, co-owner of Michael’s restaurant, which has been a Highland Park restaurant for years. staple since opening as a small hot dog stand in 1977. For nearly 50 years, the restaurant has served as a friendly place for families, hosted numerous bar and bat mitzvahs, and hosted hundreds of backyard events.
Michael’s, along with much of the businesses that make up downtown Highland Park, were closed from July 4 to July 12 as the FBI conducted its investigation of the area. In that week, Gamperl says he was forced to throw away $12,000 worth of food that was spoiled.
Aside from the financial loss, Gamperl says he was more frustrated that he couldn’t provide his community with the comfort foods they love in their time of grief.
Kira Kessler, founder of indie fashion boutique Rock N Rags, says she wasn’t sure if people would return once stores reopened, but her fears were quickly swept away when she saw the crowds flooding the street again.
“Everyone was out shopping, walking their dogs and getting a bite to eat. It was the way the community said, ‘We’re taking our streets back, we won’t live in fear,'” said Kessler, who has long-lasting links. has with local businesses in the municipality. Her father ran the local music store CD City for decades, and after gaining experience in the New York fashion industry, she returned to her hometown just before the pandemic to grow the business.
Like Gamperl, Kessler says the tragedy has only brought the business world in Highland Park closer together. Instead of picking up supplies at the local Walgreens, Kessler now visits the nearby store Ross’s and takes her team on lunch breaks at Michael’s.
For its part, Gamperl has also been through a wave of business since it reopened, saying he’s “making up for all the meals we couldn’t serve last week”.
Efforts are already underway to ensure that this new sense of community among the local businesses continues into the future. Kessler says she’s working with her neighbors to host a community event and is discussing other ways to collaborate on projects together.
“Just in the past few weeks,” Kessler says, “I’ve grown so much closer with our neighboring entrepreneurs, people I didn’t even know a month ago. Now we have this unbreakable bond. Any sense of competition between businesses has just evaporated.” All we want to do is support each other and bring this city back together.”
This post How Highland Park small business owners find strength in the wake of tragedy
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