Story by Jim Dallke, Northwest Herald
Less than two weeks after Northwest Suburban Driving School unexpectedly closed its doors, another driving school has moved to Crystal Lake.
Top Driver Driving School has signed a lease with Terra Cotta Corners, located at 650 E. Terra Cotta Ave. The driving school plans to take on students displaced by Northwest Suburban Driving School, and CEO Paul Zalatoris said he will offer discounted classes to those who were left hanging in the middle of their training.
“We were moving real fast,” Zalatoris said. “We kind of [signed a lease] in record breaking time.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity for us as a company and a chance to help students and parents impacted by the sudden closing of Northwest,” Zalatoris said.
Top Driver has 30 locations in the Chicago area, and 40 additional schools in Michigan and Ohio. Zalatoris said he saw Northwest Suburban Driving School's closing as a chance to expand the company to an area in need of driving schools.
“We weren't looking for this,” he said. “Northwest was a large school. There was no need to try and go into [McHenry County]. That wasn't a target of ours. It's a small industry, and you don't step on your competitors' toes. But with them moving out, there was a need to replace Northwest. There was an opportunity for us.”
On Sept. 6, Northwest Suburban Driving School, the state's third largest driving school, closed all 10 of its Chicago are locations without informing any of its students or their parents. The Secretary of State's office said the school closed for financial reasons, and it's Crystal Lake landlord said the company owed $2,021.25 for past-due rent.
Top Driver has begun reaching out to former Northwest Suburban Driving students and plans to hold classes for Marian Central High School students Wednesday. A special class for students who were in the middle of the classroom portion of driver training at Northwest Suburban will be held Monday at Top Driver's Crystal Lake location. A regular schedule for new drivers will begin “quickly thereafter,” Zalatoris said.
In what Zalatoris called a “goodwill promotion” to impacted Northwest Suburban students, Top Driver will charge $240 to students who need to finish the classroom and driving portion of the class, essentially offering the remaining classroom sessions at no cost, he said.
Top Driver also absorbed six of Northwest Suburban's former employees and has begun training them on company policies and procedures, Zalatoris said.