The City of Geneva Did Nothing to Help Great Harvest Bread

Ellen Divita
Ellen Divita

When City of Geneva Economic Development Director Ellen Divita stood before the city council and said, “I’ve been working with Marty [Kane of Great Harvest Bread] for several months and actually found him a new location,” it would be entirely accurate (and generous) to describe that as a “mischaracterization.”

But before we go there, please allow me to issue a couple of caveats.

First, Marty did not provide any material nor did he cooperate with this column because he and his lovely wife Kim are ready to move on to their next adventure.

Since Marty has been a frequent contributor to my columns and we regularly discuss these kinds of issues, our conversations as he was wrestling with throwing more money into the business are all I really need.

Second. Though they can certainly contribute to the eventual demise and though fate can often be unkind, the success or failure of any retail enterprise is ultimately up to the entrepreneur and not the municipality in which it resides.

That said, I’m not the one who dramatically took to the podium and described how ceaselessly I’d toiled to single-handedly save Great Harvest Bread either.

Here’s the real story.

Marty and Kim decided they’d had enough in November and once they came to that conclusion, it was a done deal. The cost of premium ingredients had skyrocketed 400 percent, Wal Mart and Meijer bakeries were undercutting them, and downtown Geneva was dissolving before their very eyes.

As a courtesy, Marty called Divita to let her know about that decision and it was only with the horse was already out of the barn that she made any attempt to close the door.

Now, Divita did manage to suggest a new location, but what she failed to mention is was the only place worse than Great Harvet Bread’s current Third Street ghost town digs – the northeast corner of Routes 25 and 38.

That’s right! The old Rain Restaurant in the Geneva Place Retirement Community. No foot traffic, no adjacent retail, no parking, and you generally have to take your life into your hands whenever you cross that intersection from any direction.

Any one of us regular folks would’ve considered and dismissed that premise in a mere five minutes, but only Genevans enjoy the rare privilege of paying a six figure Economic Development Director to spend “months” coming up with a DOA thought.

And, by the way, where was Divita and the rest of the City before this closing was inevitable? How long has the old U.S. Bank building sat empty?

Marty repeatedly approached the city with simple signage suggestions that would mitigate those nearby empty storefronts only to be shot down every time. A sandwich board at Rt. 38? Nope! A sign on the now defunct Erday’s building pointing to Great Harvest? Nope! Apparently, you don’t get anything from the City of Geneva unless your last name begins with “S” as in Shodeen, Simon, or Stanton.

Meanwhile, instead of lobbying on behalf of smaller downtown business, Divita has been busy pushing for an absurd downtown SSA sales tax increase that will specifically benefit the aforementioned “S” group.

And the city council wasn’t much help either. Remember when Great Harvest wanted to install a drive through? Holy crap! You’d a thunk they wanted to tear down the Pure Oil building. Wait a minute! The Mayor actually backed that plan. The Kanes would’ve had an easier time sneaking a pair of nail clippers onto an airplane.

Not only that, but Marty consistently came up with great ideas like a downtown grocery store or a concert area/skating rink – things that would bring women with children downtown – all of which were summarily dismissed. And what was the downtown master plan folks’ main concern? Sight lines!

It would seem that, in Geneva, doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result works better than innovation because it’s so much easier!

One alderman asked me why Marty didn’t come to them sooner, but at what point do you get tired of being ignored and hearing the word “no?”

The bottom line is this. If we choose to believe Ms. Divita’s version of events, she spent “months” working on a day late and dollar short solution only to come up with a cure that was even worse than the disease.

Which means it’s time to address the city council. Though I’m cautiously optimistic about that collective pair you seem to have grown as of late, you need to take it a step further. Because when neither the Mayor nor City Manager McKittrick ever hold any city staffer accountable, it’s up to you to do it. And I’ve provided you with the perfect place to start.

For God’s sake! City Manager Mary McKittrick doesn’t even live in Geneva! What does that tell you?

On a final note, Marty did ask me to pass along this sentiment. “The outpouring from the community has been great,” he said, “ We will miss our loyal customers and we enjoyed being part of the Geneva business community.”

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jeff Ward January 26, 2014 at 09:38 AM
What! Patrick Sennett and I agree on something? It's probably gonna get pretty cold in the next few days because hell must be freezing over.
Jeff Ward January 26, 2014 at 09:53 AM
BTW, Thank you to Patrick for pointing out that, while it's valid to debate the necessity of a City of Geneva Economic Development team, since we already have one, the current argument is whether they're effective.
Matilda B January 26, 2014 at 09:57 AM
It is a shame about Great Harvest. The Chamber of Commerce needs to do more to encourage and advocate for the downtown businesses. The City Council as well. There are a lot of restrictions for businesses. Point taken on the favoritism the city shows for the Shodeens, Stanton, and Simons. This does not result in a level playing field. We also need to study other towns with successful downtowns and get ideas.
stacy January 26, 2014 at 10:15 AM
I have to totally agree with Patrick. I, too, usually remain quiet and in the background. I live in Geneva, shop in Geneva & have had a business in Geneva for 20 years. I've seen MANY come & go--but one thing is constant if they keep aiming to land the "big" deal or pleasing the so-called big S's they will continually fail to see all the promise already here or potentially here. The PUD's of lately haven't been developed with the little guy in mind, nor has the numerous committees made a substantial mark on actually advising or aiding business in need of any sort. An example; new restaurant Salsa Verde about to open on Route 38 (used to be old Popeye's) wonderful background & word is great food. Will be challenged (after the fact) on the color of the building. Why wasn't this addressed in the planning? It definitely looks better than before. It's as if the thought is, not our problem because its on there dollar. But isnt it? Doesn't a successful business benefit all? Oh & 1 other note- State Street is a mess & dangerous to people (as it appears another was hurt yesterday). Rarely, a vehicle is driving at 30mph--and as for the big trucks, lets just say we need more supervision.
Maddy January 26, 2014 at 10:38 AM
It is sad when a local business decides they can no longer drain their financial account to keep their businesses going. But business and government work together - which is why we have a six figure economic director. Retail brings sales tax into the city. Business needs government and government needs business. As Jeff pointed out, the success of any business is ultimately is up to the owner. When the City of Geneva did not purchase their office supplies from a local office supply but rather an out of town vendor with equal prices, they were not the cause of the stores closure. But each little chip away at small and getting smaller margins takes a toll. And now we must go to Randall Road not downtown Geneva for that service. And while you are out there getting one item, might as well pick up that other thing at a national drug store, or a national bread store and so it goes. And when the alderman voice that they wished Marty had come to them sooner. He did. I know that Marty was at a meeting well over two years ago held at Urban Grill between downtown merchants and a few alderman. He was quite eloquent and open when he told you. And he was joined by many other downtown merchants that told you business is fragile. Geneva is a great town, with great people and great schools. But we don’t live in a vacuum and we must stop living off our past. We need more agressive leadership at many levels of Geneva City government and the Geneva Chamber of Commerce.
Jeff Ward January 26, 2014 at 11:06 AM
Maddy, What I don't get is why the aldermen as so terrified of Mayor Burns and Mary McKittrick. It's time for them to stand up, enforce the policies they put forth, and determine what is working in Geneva and what isn't. While it's true they don't get paid very much for what can turn into a huge time commitment, no one put a gun to their head and said run!
Michael Barth January 26, 2014 at 12:11 PM
Shame the City of Geneva pays over 100K to a person who does nothing to help save or develop new business. put this postion on a commission bases or let the Chamber of Commerse seak new business.
Lou B. January 26, 2014 at 12:19 PM
It happens, constantly in a free market that businesses lose their market to larger, more efficient companies. Niche businesses with limited product selections thrive in densely packed urban markets such as the north side of Chicago. We simply don't, and never will have the population to support over taxed mom and pop stores, sitting next to highly efficient big box stores. The customer has made this decision, and City Hall really has very little to contribute.
Jeff Ward January 26, 2014 at 12:24 PM
Lou, Not only do I fail to disagree, but I think downtown's demise is sealed. So let's drop all pretense and get rid of the economic development department and save some taxpayer money.
Terrence Pogge January 26, 2014 at 01:34 PM
It sounds as if the City of Geneva Economic Development Department is taking advice from the City of Batavia, and that isn't a good thing.
Terry Flanagan January 26, 2014 at 04:02 PM
Ultimately, it's going to require some cooperative effort and support from all of the businesses. So many of the businesses in downtown Geneva are run more as a hobby than a business. Shop hours are more for the convenience of owners than customers. I know people who have arrived at shops a couple of minutes before opening only to be turned away by employees pointing at clocks. Those people never returned to those shops. I always remember businesses going out of their way, opening early or staying open a little later to serve customers. And since downtown Geneva is comprised of so many specialty shops, it's important that they all have hours conducive to their customers and that they are all open at the same time so people who are there can go from shop to shop. No store in the downtown, with the possible exception of the Little Traveler, can really be considered a destination on its own. The entire area has to be a destination, which means we can't have just a few shops open during the hours that most people can make it. But cooperation also means going to the city not as individuals to argue your case, but as a group of businessman standing together. The Simons, Shodeens, and Stantons will always an advantage because of their position and the time and resources they have to lobby their case. Is it fair? No, but that's the way the world is. You see Joe Stanton at almost every city council meeting and involved in a lot of community efforts. You may doubt the purity of his motives, but I think that his level of involvement in the community and local government has been good for his business. So the little guys have to work harder to be heard and they have to work together. Too often I hear that people can't attend meetings or get involved because it takes time away from their business, but all of that is part of their business too. And if you doubt that a group of committed people can't accomplish anything, consider that case of the Pure Oil Building. Marty is a great guy and I wish him much success in his next venture.
Geneva Green Market January 26, 2014 at 05:05 PM
Connie Weaver I agree with Terry, in a small town the business community everyone needs to stand together. As a small business owner and co-founder of a grass roots non for profit market. My husband and I have occupied properties in both "dead zones." On 5th St. north of State and in the "Rain" kitchen for the last 2 years. We were asked to vacate the corner of Rte. 25 and Rte. 38 in November because their remodeling project did not include a commercial kitchen. Maybe Ellen didn't know this when she offered it up to Marty and Kim. I have had my share of dealings with the Economic Development Department, a lot of times the information passed down from City Administrator, Mary McKittrick to the city employees gets misinterpreted and ends up as "egg on the city's face" as Ellen told me over the Green Market debacle and the parking lot used at 75 N. River Lane. We were told that city administrator said the lot was owned by the State of Illinois and that it was determined by City Administrator McKittrick that no retail could be done out of that lot. Upon further investigating, the State of Illinois does not own the lot it just has a 10' easement to the damn. None of this information came out until I pressed for additional explanation. By then the generous Mr. George Havlicek offered up the front of Ace as a location for the market. An example of business working together. I wish Marty and Kim all the best in moving forward. And for a good laugh, maybe the Economic Development Department has their finger on it, Mark and I already had a call from the owner of the Great Harvest building to see if we are interested in renting the kitchen. He was referred to us by Ellen Devita, go figure.
Jeff Ward January 26, 2014 at 05:42 PM
Dear Geneva, The bottom line is Mary McKittrick will use disinformation, deception and outright lies if she thinks she can get away with it. And she typically does get away with it because the Chronicle certainly ain't gonna challenge anyone. It will be interesting to see if they respond to my FOIA for information an alderman requested. I'm kinda hoping they try to refuse the FOIA because it will give me something to write about for months.
Bob McQuillan January 26, 2014 at 05:43 PM
The sad thing is that residents of Geneva don't realize what is happening right in front of their eyes. It has been going on for years. For too long this town has been run by a small group of individuals whose "passion" has blinded them. They are so passionate about, the city, the schools, the library (you can fill in the blank) that they don't see the problems and issues that each entity has. They blindly make decisions that they think are in the best interest of the community. In reality, they are only in THEIR best interest and satisfy their passion. When someone tries to step up and speak about the real issues, they are quickly painted as anti-city, anti-schools, etc. People go to local government meetings and when they aren't listened too, they give up. The problems get worse because the same people run for the same offices over and over. Is it good that the Mayor ran uncontested for 12 years - absolutely not. Is it good that local boards continue to pass things 7-0, 6-0, etc. - absolutely not. Is it good that either no or very few residents show up for local government meetings - absolutely not. Do residents even know what has been going on at the library over the last few months and the decisions that have been or will be made. Residents can't know because the last special meeting had 4 residents in the audience. Most meetings don't have any residents or even reporters present. Five years ago a "watchdog" group was started to try and understand how our tax dollars were being spent. Like it or not, the group's intentions were honest - let the residents know what is happening in their own town. The school board now will not even answer e-mail questions from me. Why? Because I have personally attacked them, called them names and have a combative personality - yes that is what they actually wrote me. Which really means that I understand the issues and ask the tough questions that they don't want to answer. They still haven't answered why the district superintendent was given $800 per month for undocumented travel expenses and a two year car loan in the amount of $4,300. They can't answer the question because there is no good answer. The superintendent lives in Fisher Farms and his office is on 4th street. Why in the world does a person making $203,000 in base salary even need a travel allowance let alone a car loan for 2 years???? When stores close in Geneva and when taxes increase every year, don't blame anyone but yourself. Did you support those stores? Did you attend any board meetings and speak out? Did you get involved in any way? This is our town and unfortunately we are allowing a small group of people make stupid decisions. Wake up Geneva and demand that your elected officials and public staff do what is right for the entire community, not just what is right for them. Go to a meeting and speak out when you believe something wrong is happening. Maybe people will finally realize that we are the ones that are really Pro-Geneva.
No more taxes January 26, 2014 at 05:47 PM
Jeff is it her job to save them? Not sure what her job really is but it is naive to think government can do anything to change shopping behavior. There is a bread shop in SCS and the location is not great but does have parking and easy access from RTE 31. How many bread shops does a community need? Although in a different city they are not too far from each other. There is another bakery in Geneva too. Seems everyone also missed the invention of the $100 breadmaker. Put in a package and 2-3 hours later fresh bread. That probably did not help them either. Regarding downtown I agree with Terry, hours are not consistent, Sunday???, staying open late for those that work,etc. Also retail is very tough and big box took out the small independent, office supply"see Viking" , hardware stores, sporting goods stores. The internet is taking out the small specialty stores. Nothing a city council can do to change the economy. They can stay out of way, help with parking, less taxes not more, less rules, zoning rules could allow for less banks and allow for more business that bring foot traffic. North side of Rte 25 and 38 is a terrible location for anything.
Lou B. January 26, 2014 at 11:18 PM
Property taxes, at least in my experience contribute to killing off marginal mom and pop stores. Put the core of downtown in a TIFF district, and use the money to subsidize the tax bill for the businesses at 50% off. It's been done before. Also... keep the library right were it is... with stagnant growth, we don't need ever more taxes to pay for a bigger (more distant) library, a larger city hall, and new cultural center.
Lou B. January 26, 2014 at 11:37 PM
Jeff, how about just measuring the results and see if the taxpayers are getting a return on our investment in the development team. Can we attribute a return in Tax dollars equal or hopefully multiples of the salaries, benefits and pensions that are being paid to these public sector folks? I'm all for them, but just like bread shops, sometimes they need to deliver - or go out of business!
Jeff Ward January 27, 2014 at 07:35 AM
Lou, Apparently great minds think alike. That is exactly what I suggested to some of the aldermen. Let's get a report on what the Economic Development team has accomplished over the last two years and determine if it's worth our tax dollar while.
Tony D January 27, 2014 at 12:32 PM
I live in Geneva and run a small locksmith business in Chicago. I believe my business is much like the local baker. I know that I cannot compete with the big box stores on price or location. I also realize it's not government's job to keep my store open or prop up my business. I do believe they can make it difficult to be successful through over taxation and regulations. Running a business in Chicago I know that first hand! However, at the same time they don't owe me a good location, a break, an exception or a hand out. I am in a business that is what I refer to as "the last of the 'smiths'" so I need to keep my prices fair, offer value added services & be the best at customer service. The day may come though where the way I come to market is no longer viable or relevant, kinda like buggy whips. Maybe, just maybe, an $8 loaf of wonderful french bread isn't viable anymore, even in "posh" Geneva. My heart goes out to the owners of Harvest Bread Co. I hope their future ventures prosper and flourish.
Terry Flanagan January 27, 2014 at 03:03 PM
It's difficult to assess blame or assign credit for business fortunes as the result of any particular public economic policy or program. Politicians will try to take credit for successes, but there are so many factors to take into consideration, many beyond our control, that it's a fool's errand to attempt to do so. The best we can do is to survey the business community to see what they like and don't like about our economic development policy and personnel so we can improve the product. But there are also a lot of duties that the economic development personnel have besides business relations. Those things couldn't be evaluated in such a survey. We can certainly run the numbers for new businesses in town and old businesses lost, but the numbers don't tell the entire story either. In any case, business owners should always attempt to work with staff to resolve problems first and if they can't get any satisfaction, they should contact their aldermen. And if they are still dissatisfied, I would recommend going to a city council meeting and bringing up the matter under new business so that the entire council and the public is made aware of the problem. You might even get a reaction from the often comatose press and possibly gain some public support.
Jeff Ward January 27, 2014 at 05:24 PM
Terry, By report I meant more than just businesses retained, lost or gained. I mean an evaluation of the job as a whole. And your speak out if you're not happy theory would work if not for the following: 1. The Mayor, Ms. McKittrick and Chamber chief Jean Gaines are all infamous for their inability to take any criticism whatsoever and every merchant knows it. And they're very vindictive in response. The likely shop owner coming forward scenario would end much like the proverb of the tall blade of grass getting cut off. 2. Unless it's something like stealing or making them look bad in the press, neither the Mayor nor the City Manager are willing to hold any city staffer accountable - ever. And though they're getting better, the Aldermen aren't willing to take that step either. So not only do the loud voices fail to change the status quo, they basically get blacklisted for their efforts.
Terry Flanagan January 27, 2014 at 06:47 PM
Jeff, first we need to ask ourselves what the objectives of our economic development program are as well as what the priority of each objective is. It's possible we may not agree with those objectives or the priority attached to each. But unless we know what the objectives are, we can't really establish the criteria to measure how successful we are in reaching those objectives, which has to be the basis of any report. Take a look at the city web site under Economic Development and see what information and resources are available or offered in partnership with other organizations. A lot of the information has to do with area demographics, property inventory, and applicable city regulations. But there's also marketing information, links to other resources, and programs designed to help business owners like the SnapRetail Presentation, Frontline Training, the Business Improvement and Retention Committee, Outdoor Music Grants, etc. How effective are these programs? I don't know. I don't even know how many people know about them. But every business owner in the city should become familiar with them and other resources available, especially since most are free. The answer to this problem and most other problems is to get involved. Learn about the available programs and take advantage of them. If the programs are ineffective or could be more effective, work with people in the community to improve them. We're all so busy that we don't really take the time to learn more about the opportunities that are available. But that's no excuse, especially when our livelihood may depend on it.
Lou B. January 27, 2014 at 06:49 PM
Tony D - Sorry to hear you're in Crook County. I just received the tax bill today on one of my Crook County buildings. The announced increase is 5% this year (so far), and they actually included a list of the 9 Billion dollar Crook County "Pension And Healthcare Shortages." Sooner or later the straw will break the camel's back, regardless of how 'merchants work together.' I don't know of any Geneva aldermen who have ever run a mom and pop style business, so it's hard to imagine they would understand the effects of their policies. By the way, are our public sector 'servant's' going to move their cadillac health plans to Affordable Care Act (or is it too expensive).
Jeff Ward January 27, 2014 at 07:26 PM
Terry, If you can't quantify the economic development department's job performance, then that's the best reason to do away with it. And you almost successfully sidestepped my fear of vindictive city leaders stipulation.
Terry Flanagan January 27, 2014 at 08:06 PM
Jeff, you can't always quantify programs because a lot of the time the measurements are subjective. We can count the number of businesses opened, businesses closed, and the amount of retail sales tax from year to year. But we can't always tell if any particular program is successful or will be successful. We can tell how many people have used a particular service or program, but the opinions of the effectiveness of the program will differ from person to person. We also don't know how many people know about a program or know about it and have decided not to use it. And we have no way of knowing how long it make take for some programs to start producing results or what adjustments we'll need to make as we learn from mistakes we made in implementing a program. The review process has to be ongoing and continuous. The important thing is to make sure our objectives and priorities are correct and that we constantly look for ways to improve programs to meet those objectives. I'm not going to assume that any city staff member or elected official is going to be vindictive. But if that is the case, it's all the more reason for people to come forward. We can't have people in public service who place their egos above serving the public interest. And if we have evidence of that sort of behavior, we either have to correct it or get rid of the person. But if people do not report problems or don't want to discuss the problem for fear of retribution, we will never resolve the problem.
Lou B. January 27, 2014 at 08:08 PM
Jeff, we all know that quantifying outcomes is anathema to the public sector. Any such endeavor would result in something resembling a massive Walmart layoff, for the good of the customers (low prices). All good citizens are instructed to retain the correct mindset. Always trust, never verify.
Eddie Thompson January 27, 2014 at 10:35 PM
Something stinks at City Hall and its not the skunks winter mating season.....
Bob McQuillan January 27, 2014 at 10:59 PM
The goals for the economic development department are outlined in the Fiscal 2013-14 City Budget. The goals are listed on pages 111 thru 116 at the following website: http://www.geneva.il.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/848 The programs run by the economic development are listed on the city website at: http://www.geneva.il.us/index.aspx? nid=158 I would assume it is the city administrator's responsibility to evaluate the effectiveness of the department. I do not know who or how the goals for each department are developed. Maybe local business owners should be involved in the process to make sure what is expected of all parties.
Terry Flanagan January 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM
Bob, good catch. The program description and mission statement in the budget provide a summary of the overall purpose of each department. The overall performance of the department can be measured by how well it lived up to the purpose stated in the program description and mission statement. Each year all departments provide goals, projected resources needed, and time to complete those goals. The goals should be aligned with the purpose and mission of each department. Since each goal has specific objectives and a target date, it should be easy to determine if those goals were met or not. Whether the specific annual goals of a department fall within its mission statement, or whether or not a department is fulfilling its overall purpose and mission, or whether or not the mission statement meets public expectations, are separate matters. These things are usually subjective and difficult to determine. However, it's a good idea to review the mission and purpose of each department on a regular basis and to try and determine if that department is actually operating according to those guidelines and whether those guidelines reflect the current needs of public.
Jeff Petersen January 28, 2014 at 08:06 AM
Great article, provides insight as to the politics economic decisions made in our community.


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