The Conrady Junior High School seventh-grade choir sings holiday songs before the beginning of the Hills Chamber's Christmas Party and "State of the Cities" addresses Tuesday night at the Hickory Hills Community Center. (Photos by Joe Boyle)

The Conrady Junior High School seventh-grade choir sings holiday songs before the beginning of the Hills Chamber's Christmas Party and "State of the Cities" addresses Tuesday night at the Hickory Hills Community Center. (Photos by Joe Boyle)

Palos Hills, Hickory Hills mayors optimistic about business growth

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Phyllis Majka, president of the Hills Chamber of Commerce, joins (from left) Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett and Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley at the conclusion of the “State of the Cities” addresses Tuesday night at the Hickory Hills Community Center.

By Joe Boyle

The mayors of Palos Hills and Hickory Hills said the emergence of new businesses and programs are an indication that both communities are looking forward to better days.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett and Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley both presented their “State of the Cities” addresses Tuesday night at the Hickory Hills Community Center.

The mayors spoke with a renewed confidence that their cities have weathered the worst of the pandemic during the annual Hills Chamber of Commerce event that coincided with the organization’s annual Christmas Party.

“If you have been down Harlem Avenue from 103rd Street to Stony Creek lately, you know that there are lot more businesses there,” Bennett said. “We have six new developments with the help of a couple of owners who have come in here. This helps with our sales tax. This used to be a desolate area. The development has been phenomenal.”

The mayor said that many staff members can take credit but he did single out Ald. Donna O’Connell (5th), who is the head of business development committee.

“She has worked tirelessly with the new businesses,” Bennett said.

Bennett was also referring in part to the opening last month of Bella Salon Suites, 10544 S. Harlem Ave., that features 41 specialized suites for professionals who provide a wide range of services for women, including facials and massage therapy.

The same owners of the salon also own the state-of-the-art Wet Spot Car Wash located next door.

Other new businesses include Dana’s Gold & Jewelry, 10344 S. Harlem Ave., and Lori & Co. Jewelers, 11228 Southwest Highway, and several more along Roberts Road.

Bennett praised Nick Oeffling, commissioner of the public works department, and the employees for their hard work and efficiency.

“Our public works department has been phenomenal,” Bennett said. “What the staff and the employees have done in-house has saved us thousands of dollars.”

Bennett also said the city is working with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to relieve the stress of flooding that has been an issue along Roberts Road.

“By working with the MWRD, we can take 750 homes off the flood plains,” Bennett said.

Renovations will be taking place at Indian Woods Park, 9951 S. 82nd Court, and a $625,000 grant will provide a walking and biking path along 76th Avenue that will connect with Worth.

Bennett also mentioned that Palos Hills has one of the lowest crime rates in the state. While crime rates have been low for years, the mayor said that Jeffrey Cucio, the police chief, has been doing a stellar job.

“Our crime rate has been low but you still have to solve the crimes,” Bennett said. “Our new police chief has been doing a great job and we appreciate the detectives we have to keep us safe.”

The mayor also said that ironically when the pandemic was at its height, more people began playing golf at the Palos Hills Municipal Golf Course. Bennett said that trend has continued and the course is in great shape.

Bennett also said he is pleased with the presence of the local school districts. Moraine Valley Community College provides educational opportunities for students and also employment, Bennett said.

“We have the second highest employment growth in the region,” Bennett said. “The reason a lot of younger families are moving here is because of education. I’m excited about our future. We continue to make improvements.”

Howley said he is encouraged on what he is seeing in Hickory Hills the past year. He is pleased that the city offers numerous programs for youths ranging from the scarecrow contest, sponsored by the Hills Chamber, to the Howling in the Woods run.

He also applauded the efforts of local aldermen and officials for the annual Hickory Hills Street Fair. Ald. Deb Ferrero came up with the idea for having a car show during the event, which drew praise.

“Sometimes you want to change it up a bit,” Howley said. “The car show was great.”

Howley did mention that a local school official who took part in the Howl in the Woods run collapsed at the end of the race. He was hospitalized and it initially appeared his condition was grave. But remarkably, the mayor said, he recovered and was out of the hospital two days later.

“He walked into City Hall two days later and thanked the first responders and everyone who helped him,” Howley said. “As it turned out, it was a great story.”

Howley also praised Bennett over the development of the park that is now named in his honor. Bennett Park, 10801 S. Roberts Road, has several walking paths, activities for kids, exercise equipment and a bridge.

“It’s a wonderful park to walk through,” said Howley, who walks through the park frequently. “It’s a great, great location.

Howley also pointed out that the crime rates are low in Hickory Hills. He praised the efforts of the recently retired Police Chief Charles Hobart. He has since been replaced by Jason Bray, who is continuing that excellence, according to Howley.

However, the only crime statistic that has risen has been catalytic converters. While they may pale in comparison to other communities, Howley said they rose from four to 19 during the past year.

Howley mentioned that Waste Management has begun a pilot program in Hickory Hills in which plastic bags and other materials will be placed in special containers. This is the only community in the state that has been chosen for this program, Howley said.

The mayor also said that Kruse’s Krew, that collects care packages for U.S. soldiers serving overseas, has been a fixture in the community. The program was created by Jim Kruse, a Vietnam Army veteran. Care packages can be donated at Hickory Hills City Hall, 8652 W. 95th St., and Strange Brew Cafe, 8650 W. 103rd St., Palos Hills.

Howley also mentioned that improvements in infrastructure may not always gather headlines, but they are vital for the community. Numerous road repairs and sanitation improvements have taken place since 2018, Howley said.

“A lot of credit goes to Sue Lehr,” Howley said about the city’s public works director. “When we are not having problems, this goes unnoticed.”

Both Bennett and Howley praised the efforts of Elsie’s Food Pantry, which is based out of Savior Divine Lutheran Church in Palos Hills. Residents can drop off food for those in need.

“They do a remarkable job and a lot of families are in need right now,” Howley said. “It’s a wonderful organization.”

Both Bennett and Howley praised Hills Chamber for creating the Hills Farmers Market that was held Fridays this past summer and fall in the Hickory Hills City Hall parking lot.

“The farmers market just blew me away,” Howley said. “The vendors could not believe that it was the first time they did this.”

Phyllis Majka, president of the Hills Chamber, was honored during the event for her years of service to the community and the organization.

Both mayors said that a dedicated staff of employees is another reason each city is heading in the right direction.

“I wouldn’t be up here today if it weren’t for the people who work here,” Bennett said.

1 Comment

  1. Kevin Giera on December 9, 2022 at 11:14 pm

    I’ve lived in Hickory Hills, on Willow Road, for 26 years now. I’ve known Mike Howley before he was even our Alderman, but that’s another story. Ever since Mike became mayor of HH, there have been many changes to the community…… all for the better. He’s done an extraordinary job with everything he’s done.



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