There was a time in local landlord-tenant relations when a handshake was as strong as oak.
“Those were the days that I learned how to do business,” Mark Costigan said. “And now everyone has to have a contract. The bureaucracy is disheartening and overwhelming all at the same time.”
He should know. Costigan, 50, is the owner of , a complete kitchen and bathroom remodeling company with a showroom in the Orland Plaza shopping center. The plaza is sometime in the next couple years to make way for redevelopment.
Individually, the shops in Orland Plaza have their charm, Costigan said. Together, they’re a diamond in the rough.
“They all complement each other quite a bit,” he explained. “You can come here (and) grab dry cleaning, do some grocery shopping, do some banking and go home. A great many of the patrons of this mall shopped at two or more stores on each trip.
“That was an art. (The owners) put this thing together quite well. If you look at a lot of the malls, I don't think they have quite the same balance. Much of the community can use this mall every day.”
In a sense that’s exactly what the village is hoping to construct in Orland Plaza’s place by mixing commercial, recreation and apartment space—albeit on a luxury scale. According to , the new development will hold 295 one- and two-bedroom rental apartments, some of which possess multiple levels and cost between $1,100 and more than $2,000 a month.
But before those plans were announced, the plaza's tenants endured just under three years of not knowing when they would have to move out.
"They have a saying with Band Aids: just rip it off. They're dragging this one off slow. It's gonna hurt," Costigan said laughing. "Let's do it."
We Do Custom, They Do Cookie Cutter
As Costigan suggested, not all businesses are created equal, nor are they equally affected by construction and rumors of closing.
Cabinetry, along with and , need a wider window of time to complete a deal. Cakes and floral arrangements for weddings are planned months in advance, as are home remodeling efforts.
“Here, the difference is someone has to give me a deposit before I build a whole bunch of cabinets,” he explained. “People start getting concerned when they give a deposit and then wonder if we're going to be closing.”
He insisted the showroom is merely moving, not closing, to a location near 151st Street and La Grange Road, but wouldn’t go public with it while it’s still occupied by another company. What Costigan fears most is the “unseen customers” whom “I don't ever know, that are maybe remodeling kitchens and maybe don't come in because they're afraid that we're going to be out of business,” he said.
As a young man, Costigan followed his brother to build homes in Florida. But when the sun became too much for the fair-skinned, red-haired lad, he decided it best to work indoors. For six years he apprenticed under a cabinet maker and then came back to Chicago, where he simply “opened this up, got married and settled down.”
Eighteen years ago, Costigan shook hands with one of the plaza’s former owners and took a third of the space once held by a hardware store. Prior to that, he kept an office and showroom near Southwest Highway and 131st Street. His workshop is in Mokena.
To control the costs and quality of the finished product, the company keeps all of its work in-house, using Costigan’s own expertise and relying solely on a designer and three carpenters. This way, the boss said, customers have “the well-being of knowing that we're responsible for all of it, and one phone call solves any issue.”
“We're the other person’s right hand,” Patricia Woss, the company designer, said. “We know very well how each of us work, and what we expect, and what our limitations are—so to speak. Our line of limitations is very different from other companies. We do custom work, other companies do very cookie cutter.”
Today Costigan is bound by lease, though he couldn’t remember when it ends, his thoughts apparently dominated by lawsuits, settlements and relocation for far too long.
“I want to say 2020, so I got about eight more years …” His voice trailed off. “Maybe I'm down to seven, I don't know,” and adding, “I'm trying to sell kitchens here.”
Either way, he’ll be forced out before his lease ends.
Somebody Else's Hands
“We've all gone out and gambled and opened up a business, and try to control our own destiny," Costigan said of his neighboring tenants. "And now our destiny is in somebody else's hands for a little while. The uncertainty is quite disturbing.”
It is a complaint heard up and down the plaza by shop owners. But unlike some of his neighbors, who put basic repairs on the backburner for fear of wasting money, Costigan’s shop is immaculately decorated with an array of fine woods and tiles and handles like a cadre of upper-middle-class bathrooms. It shows none of the characteristics of a blighted shop ripe for condemnation—but, then again, remodeling is Costigan’s trade, and the products in his showroom are simply looked at.
“But I haven't changed a single display in two and a half years because of the uncertainty,” he said. “I, too, have kind of held back on updating and bringing out the new products until I'm in my new spot.
“Why put it up if I’m going to have to tear it down?”
In one context or another, that is the question every plaza tenant has wrestled with.