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Cole Travel Says Goodbye

Another downtown Geneva business is going down.

We don’t take it seriously enough because it happens to us in inches. In fact, the deterioration process is very similar to how the Universe will eventually fade into a cold, dead, empty space. Sometimes the end comes with a whimper.

When we finally do reach that tipping point, as I believe we already have, we will react to it much like we do when watching our first child head off to college. We’ll wonder where the time went and how this kind of thing could’ve happened right under our noses.

If we have regrets, we’ll harbor a desperate desire go back and relive some of those difficult moments. But it’s too late. It’s out of our hands. The arrow of time only points in one direction.

After 52 years in Geneva, is closing up shop. You probably wouldn’t even notice if it weren’t for this column and the one in the Chronicle because they share a storefront with The Gift Box which will remain open.

I know it seems like small potatoes, but rest assured, it’s just another nail in downtown Geneva’s coffin.

“We did so good for so many years. But in the last six years, there was a huge slow down,” manager Barbara Cox told the Chronicle. “We have had a disappointing year on overseas business. People buy tickets online. That is the story.”

And it’s a story that quite a few downtown folks oughtta be paying a whole lot of attention to. “People can buy their tickets online.” That certainly says it all.

Maybe if it was just this small business, we could collectively sigh and quietly mutter that times will get better. But in our hearts, we know it’s just another sign of this downtown death by degree.

Folks keep telling me a nightclub will be coming into the old 302 West site, and I certainly wish them the best, but how will they survive with a complete lack of nearby parking? People don’t want to have to walk across a ferociously busy street to eat dinner, either.

While Mike Simon certainly pulled out all the stops to snag an Apple Store, despite downtown landlord Joe Stanton’s previous optimistic pronouncements, every last one of those Merra-Lee shops sits empty.

What worries me even more than the totality of what we’ve just outlined here is that one of the downtown guardians we hold in the highest esteem is turning out to be part of the problem.

Pure Gardener owner Craig McLean's fruitless efforts to get Joe Stanton to relent on rent no longer matter because the Pure Gardner and The Art Box—both sales-tax-paying businesses that actually attract foot traffic—are being pushed out for yet another cookie-cutter bank.

I suppose you can’t fault someone for looking out for their own financial interests, but when Wood Award winner Joe Stanton isn’t looking out for our business district’s best interest, then I can’t help but whisper the phrase, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

I also had high hopes for the downtown aldermen who took the bull by the horns by hosting meetings with downtown merchants. But so far, the only thing the City Council has done is issued momentous declarations like we don’t need a downtown grocery store.

Meanwhile, if we have to wait much longer for our in-house economic development team to add the word "proactive" to their vocabulary, we’ll all be sitting around taking Geritol and bragging about our bowel movements.

And don’t get me started on the Chamber of Commerce. They still think it’s 1985. I’ve seen the plans for Swedish Days and, with the exception of High Infidelity on the music stage, it’s just another cure for insomnia.

Guys! As that rock group once sang in the '80s, “video killed the radio star.” It’s over.

If it will make you happy, go ahead and get as mad at me at you want, but in your hearts you know it would be just another case of shooting the messenger. If you’re willing to take the time and effort to add up the variables, there’s only one reasonable conclusion—Downtown Geneva will continue to slowly fade away.

And our reaction to this sad reality? It’s like the lethargic creature in Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, “His tail is so long, he won’t feel any pain, ‘til the nip makes the trip and gets up to his brain. In exactly eight hours, The Chippendale Mupp will, at last, feel the bite and yell, “Ouch!” and wake up.”

But when our downtown pain finally hits, it will—sadly—be too late.

 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this column included a paragraph that suggested the Erdays were selling their building. A post by Ron Erday on the You Know Your From Geneva When ... Facebook page says his brothers are selling only the part of the building at 301 W. State St. (on the corner of State and Third streets) and that Erday's at 10 N. Third St. is alive and well and "not for sale or lease."

Jason May 23, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Agreed! Hard to hear (and watch,) but it's the truth. That said, I still think there is time. While an Apple store would have been awesome, they are they only high profile retailer that could help breath life back in to downtown Geneva.
Rich Walker May 23, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Nope. Blaming Geneva leaders for this closure is too much of a stretch. Few people use travel agents anymore. Once they were your only option to get an airline ticket, and you had to physically visit their office and wait while they plowed through various airlines and flights. Then you came back several days later when they "issued" your ticket. That changed years ago, and as one who travels frequently I was thrilled to handle my own bookings. The closing(s) of Merra-Lee shops are a result of dropping sales figures; how you can blame anyone but discerning consumers is beyond me. Erday's was a fine shop in its day, but I found there styles and tastes more in tune with the 1950's, so I went elsewhere. Again, a consumer choice shared by many. Kiss The Sky, was moving well before the building was for sale, so you can't count them. Fact is, running a small business is a risky undertaking, relying on the whims of a fickle public whose tastes change rapidly. Your react to the natural turnover of businesses by blaming the city, and not the economy or the product line of the store. What's also missing from all your complaints against the city is an understanding of the risks any business venture faces. You fail to address two important points : How much money it will cost to establish and run the business, and the likelihood of consumer support (success). You may blame others all you want, but the consumer is boss, and their purchases are what decides who stays and who goes.
Danny H May 23, 2012 at 02:22 PM
This isn't a bad column, but it's low on facts and high on emotion. Let's call it one of Mr. Ward's call to arms. Here's a fact I found in less than 3 minutes: there were almost 25,000 travel agencies in the country in 2002 compared with a little over 14,000 last year. Seems relevant. I understand the point of the column, but really downtown Geneva seems to have done a pretty good job of holding it together during the Great Recession. Walking around I see customers, parking lots with cars in them, construction being done, and the for-sale sign come down and a coat of paint go up on the post office. No sign of a coffin to put nails in yet.
James May 23, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Have you tried to open a business in Geneva? The rent is outrageous and the building owners show no loyalty. Until we start to make the shift that Europe has done where building owners team up with small business owners and share the profits and risk, we will continue to see more banks and insurance company's sprout up in Geneva retail space. Our city and it's building owners are dinosaurs. As they die off so will there greed and unwillingness to work with small business owners who want to be in Geneva but can't afford the start up costs. The brick and mortar banks will die by way of the Internet as well it's just going to take a little longer.
Julie May 23, 2012 at 02:56 PM
I was downtown Geneva on Sunday, early afternoon, attending the Farmer's Market. Where, oh where did that vendor go that sold the awesome fruit smoothies and coffee? I hope they will be back because it's why my family and I went there every Sunday! As we made a trip to Graham's, I was surprised that each of the garbage cans on the corner where overflowing with trash. So, someone is filling them...or...someone isn't emptying them over the weekend. I can't imagine how they looked at the end of the day.
Rich Walker May 23, 2012 at 03:02 PM
"James:" So your solution is waiting for people to die? Yikes! By the way, the "percent of sales to the landlord" scheme is not that uncommon a business model. However, it asks the building owner, who already has assumed risk and expense, to assume more. Tough call. Keep in mind, the building is every bit a business as the shop that rents space in it, and It has to be profitable, too. I think your real beef is you don't like landlords and owners, which is a completely different subject.
Noel G. Rooks May 23, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Sadly I ithink long term, travel agencies are going to go the way of meals on airlines as a relic of the past. I'm sad to see it go, but certainly not surprised. The question still on the table - how do we save downtown?
Colin C. May 23, 2012 at 06:56 PM
I agree that the downtown faces challenges. I also agree that a rapidly changing world wide business model largely to blame. But these changes will go much further than envisioned here and they are just beginning. Online shopping will replace many, perhaps most brick and mortar stores, banks, and outlets of all sorts as those raised on the internet mature and their children began to grow up. In the future a great many everyday items will be produced locally and on demand by additive printing. Factories, wholesalers, and retail stores no longer needed. The future of a downtown shopping area like Geneva's will come to rely on restaurants and specialty shops that offer antiques and unique items that you didn't know you wanted until you actually saw them. It's going to become--no--it's already becoming a very different world and most of us now living will have a difficult time understanding or adapting. Remember the "Ancient Chinese Curse": "May you live in exciting times!!". Well, here we are.
Rich Walker May 23, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Colin: Pretty good peek into the future... I think we are moving more and more towards the day when the only storefront businesses that survive are those that require our presence...as in restaurants. And even they may succumb to online menus and home delivery. I'm hard-pressed to think of many businesses that absolutely have to have a physical storefront in order to succeed...and fewer that couldn't run profitably entirely online.
Steve Warrenfeltz May 23, 2012 at 11:00 PM
In the first place, and for the record, Kiss The Sky is relocating. They are not going out of business ... and that, I have from a very good source ... me! ... the owner of Kiss The Sky. In the second place, Erdays is not going out of business either. They are merely attempting to sell the building that is being occupied by Kiss The Sky ... and that, I also have from a very good source ... Victor Erday ... my current friend and landlord. The folks that work for the City of Geneva that I have had the pleasure of being involved with, including Mayor Burns and The Economic Development Director, Eileen Devito, have been most excellent and helpful. Although we are moving back to Batavia, it is for reasons that fall under the umbrella of opportunity rather than wanting to leave the town of Geneva where we have enjoyed a fantastic stay. Our leaving Geneva is bittersweet. If I could paint the perfect picture, it would include a winning lotto ticket so that we could purchase the building at 301 West State from the Erdays and install a sprinkler system and convert the basement into a coffee house and club featuring live entertainment. However, the $20 that I invested with the State of Illinois and their lottery a couple of months back resulted in zero return. The independent business world is a challenge... always has been and is more so today than yesterday. Running a City is no less challenging I am sure. Probably more difficult. The City of Geneva has it goin' on.
Jeff Ward May 24, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Steve is right! I was misinformed. It's only the front of that building that's for sale. Erday's will be staying open. My mistake! Jeff
Justin Eggar May 25, 2012 at 07:00 PM
I own a business in Geneva - my landlords are fantastic (shout out to Mary and Doug Chandler!).
Justin Eggar May 25, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Steve - great post. It's always good to see rational posts with people who are "in the trenches" if you will. I'm sad to see you guys move to Batavia, but who knows what the future holds. I do agree, a trendy little underground club would be great. Called me old fashioned, but I'd like to see a cellar jazz club. Think Alexander Platz in Rome ( http://www.alexanderplatz.it/GALLERIA3.html ). Coffee with some eclectic vibes would be good too though :p I don't think that downtown is dying. I do think that we need to focus some energy on it to attract businesses that will have a long term benefit to the area.
John R May 26, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I agree with rich :)
John R May 26, 2012 at 03:15 PM
There's a lot of open retail and office space vacant in downtown. Here's an out of the box idea......How about District 304 moving there offices to a downtown location. Work out some sort of deal on the Coulcrap building and the 4th street block that currently houses the district offices???? Here's even more out of the box.....Talk with Stanton on the space next to pure oil with that building housing the Dist offices. Incorporate the Pure Oil building into the plan and turn it into some sort of youth community center. Like I said earlier maybe deal the Coulcrap property and the 4th street block to a residential developer. (Lane/Shoedeen/or Henry) Or here's even a crazier idea.....Still deal some of these properties but get the city involved and look at the 4th street block and develop it into affordable housing. Affordable housing seems to be an issue the city is ignoring in the hopes that it goes away. Just a couple idea's to mull over.
John R May 26, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Here's another idea then I'll stop posting for the day. I wouldn't want to become just another serial poster. Reduce the sales tax within a determined downtown district by say two or three percent. That maybe enough to attract some small business to all the vacant storefronts.
Justin Eggar May 26, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Does a lower sales tax lower the barrier to entry for retail? Its never once kept me from shopping - and the tax is technically absorbed by shoppers, correct?
Bob McQuillan May 27, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Don't think it would be a wise decision to move the school district offices to the downtown area when the district offices do not generate any sales tax or pay property taxes. Plus the district office has no reason to move, they have all the space they need. This is not the time to spend money just to spend money. I'm not sure the residents around 4th street would embrace your idea of "affordable housing."
Angela Kane May 27, 2012 at 01:09 AM
What is Naperville doing right because their downtown is wonderful? Parking is available (multi-level) and there are plenty of restaurants and even an Apple store. Don't know if they have done this already but someone our city officials need to take a short ride and take some time to stroll around and then sit and chat with Naperville's business development folks.
Mitotero May 27, 2012 at 02:39 AM
I would disagree with your rating Naperville's downtown wonderful. I also find comparing a city of 140,000 to 25,000 rather pointless. Any charm that downtown Naperville had is long gone. I suppose Geneva could build a multi level garage in the center of town, then invite big box stores like Crate and Barrel to build stores downtown, but then the river town charm would be lost. I would rather see Geneva maintain it's individuality, and not try to emulate the bland, suburban feel, of Naperville. Geneva has a plethora of dining options downtown too. Geneva continues to open new, small stores. Many are replacing small stores that did not make it. As long as we continue to attract these entrepreneurs, and the store rents are reasonable, the downtown should remain healthy. However, we need to keep the Downtown atmosphere constant. We want people to come here for a reason. These reasons are varied, but we keep chipping them away. When visitors who loved seeing the Pure Gardener return and see a bank drive through, it is one more change to being just like every other suburban downtown, and they may stop coming to Geneva. Might as well go to the downtown with the Apple store.
Terry Flanagan May 27, 2012 at 02:43 AM
The mult-level parking decks work well for Naperville because the topography and the design of the decks allowed them to blend into the neighborhoods. We don't have a lot of space where we could do that. Parking helps, but I think the best thing Naperville has going for it is the proximity to so many businesses, the high tech corridor along I-88, and the college. The restaurants are packed at lunch. Shops are open longer and there is a thriving after hours business, mainly due to the many offices located in the area. Perhaps if we had ever gotten the Dupage Technology Park off the ground, Geneva might have gotten additional business from that. I have talked to some Naperville shop owners, though, who closed their businesses and decided to lease their storefronts instead. Taxes, managing a property, and running a business were too difficult. For some, becoming landlords was a more profitable route to go. Perhaps that will happen in Geneva too.
John R May 27, 2012 at 03:03 AM
@ Bob, those are just a couple rather far out ideas. It drives me nuts when I look around the city and see all the open retail and open office space. I keep thinking the district could sell the 4th street block and also demolish coultrap and sell that as well. Those properties must be worth some pretty good money. Then sign a long term lease for space downtown. Downtown needs more bodies who come and go, eat out etc.. I haven't crunched any numbers and it would have to be very favorable for the district. But it just strikes me that maybe they could save a lot of money by leasing space rather than owning and maintaining their own district offices. If nothing else sell the northeast corner of the 4th street block to a residential developer who could build a McMansion or two right in the heart of downtown. @ Angela I don't know what Naperville is doing. We should ask them and I'm serious. If Geneva doesn't get creative we are going to lose our downtown. I think I will drive around and count the open retail and office space sometime next week. There is a lot of it.
John R May 27, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Justin, I don't know? I'm just trying to get out of the box.
John R May 27, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Terry I agree with your post and most of Mitotero. I have to say one thing about parking downtown. I have never had a problem finding a parking spot downtown. I can normally find one within a block of where I'm going. I don't know if you advocate for a third level or not but I hear a lot of talk about the lack of parking downtown but for whatever reason I haven't experienced any parking problems.
Angela Kane May 27, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Well comparing Geneva to Naperville might be "pointless" to you but they are doing something right with their downtown. As to parking--we need more--because if you bring in more business (which means more cars) you will need more spaces. That parking along Rt. 38 downtown is horrible. Backing out to a busy state road is awful. Good designers can make it "blend" into the neighborhood. And you might like the "charming" aspect of the downtown but charming doesn't pay the bills. Don't like an Apple store? Well SOMEONE does and they generate a lot of $ in revenue and therefore taxes to the municipality. Don't shoot the messenger here! All this "charming" stuff might be warm and cuddly, but anyone brave enough to open a store needs income. We're too festival driven for revenue. Businesses need ongoing sales to stay.
Mitotero May 27, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Angela: No shots intended for the messenger. I lived in Naperville, and like Geneva a lot better. I would not want to follow their lead. I do not like your snarky comment that charming does not pay the bills. There is a reason that the Geneva downtown is the envy of our neighboring communities. And I believe that a big part of it is the warm cuddly feeling you get when shopping here. My point was that we should continue to try to differentiate our downtown from other communities. I also think that the Apple store would have been an excellent add to our downtown. However, Apple probably looks at traffic counts and populations, making the 140,000 town an easier sell than our 25,000 town. Finally, I totally agree with you that our festival driven marketing plan is not enough.
Angela Kane May 28, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Snarky? Ask the owners of the properties that are vacant in downtown Geneva how "charming" is going to pay their mortgages and property taxes. Hey, I love Geneva and love the wonderful small town feeling it has. Someday we'd love to live close enough to downtown to walk to the restaurants and coffee houses. But I'm also a realist who lives in real-ville. I understand the changing nature of commerce and see that old-line businesses can't make it in today's world. We can't survive on shoppers over 60 or the folks who drive into town to buy a pretty basket at some kitchy shop. Shop owners need real sales to generate enough revenue to pay the rent or the mortgage and insurance. We can't be festival driven because the iffy nature of our weather can turn a well planned festival into a disaster (ala county fairs). So yes, I do understand the difference between us and Naperville, but their downtown still rocks!
James May 31, 2012 at 02:25 PM
What if we have more Festivals? Use the stage in island park and have a blues and brews festival, bluegrass festival, film festival, jazz festival, etc. that works for ski towns all over the world during the summer months to drive traffic to there small towns attracting thousands of people.

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