Too Close For Comfort

Deck: 
Is it bad for business when too many beauty retailers occupy the same area?
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istockphoto.com

In a diverse suburban community just a stone's throw west of Chicago, general manager of K-Stone Beauty Supply Joe Seok has helped run his family’s ethnic beauty supply and wig emporium in the heart of the Village of Oak Park’s bustling commercial district for more than 20 years.

Dotted with a variety of businesses—from car-repair shops to restaurants to salons—the community prides itself in its diversity of businesses along the near two-mile stretch of Madison Street where Seok runs K-Stone Beauty Supply. His store is one of two beauty supplies selling nearly identical goods along the street, but Seok maintains that the businesses have forged a competitive, yet friendly atmosphere during the past decade.

Like many small business owners, Seok recounts a familiar tale as he explains how he has seen his store through its fair share of uncertain times—especially in the face of a dismal economy during recent years. His advantage, he says, has been K-Stone Beauty Supply’s long-standing reputation for offering a friendly shopping experience and top-notch customer service. Recently though, he says he’s concerned even that may not be enough to keep his business afloat.

Last fall, Seok watched as a third beauty supply opened its doors down the street from K-Stone. Soon after, he became aware of yet another store’s intention to follow suit—this time, with plans to open less than a block away from his location.

Seok acted fast. With the knowledge that Oak Park already had a zoning ordinance in place forbidding other similar businesses—such as barbershops, hair-braiding establishments/hairdressers—from opening within 500 feet of each other to avoid oversaturation along the east-west stretch of Madison, he submitted his own request to city officials asking them to consider applying the same restrictions to beauty supplies.

“There’s no variety when there are seven retail stores [in the same area] and three within 300 feet [of each other that all] sell the same beauty supplies,” says Seok. “Everyone thinks this was just an issue of me trying to keep a fellow competitor out, but it wasn’t. I would be lying if I said I was happy about another store moving in, but really, my motivation was about keeping some variety.”

But in mid January, following several months of debate, the city’s governing board sided with the planning commission’s recommendation, denying Seok’s proposal. Their reasoning was that promoting a free market would create healthier competition in the business community, plus give a boost to the city’s sales-tax base.

[Image: iStockphoto.com ]