You know, I just had a great Saturday Geneva morning!
All leaf-mold-induced wheezing aside, it started with a reasonable indoor run at the . Those ladies at the front desk are always so pleasant. And they laugh at my jokes, too! Three miles in 24 minutes ain’t nothin’ to write home about, but at this allergic time of year, I’ll take it!
Sweat or no sweat, it was on to where, despite the dearth of new releases, I managed to catch up with a Dream Theatre Black Vinyl Friday release that had previously escaped my gaze. Why, I even managed to help some nice Carol Stream ladies find their very own copy of , a compilation of Christmas carols performed by local artists.
Then it was a mad dash across the street to for a loaf of pumpkin chocolate chip bread. When I threatened to start filling in the slots on my own bread card (12 marks gets you a free loaf) owner Mary Kane told the staff to charge me triple the going rate.
Next stop was where I fed my chocolate habit with a large (what the heck does “venti” mean anyway?) decaf soy mocha and finally, a few short yards down State Street to , where I didn’t look quite as out of place in my running shorts and minimal shoes.
After acquiring the best running backpack on the planet, owner Eric Ott and I got to talking, which, as you all already know, is a dangerous endeavor when it involves downtown and me. In fact, I warned Eric that even being tangentially associated with the likes of me could very well get him a slot on the chamber's black list.
Fool that he is, Eric went on the record anyway.
We interpreted the vast amount of people participating in last week’s as an encouraging sign. But Eric, a Naperville native, added the caveat, “But it’s like that in downtown Naperville every day."
And I immediately knew what he was talking about. And it wasn’t the Fox Valley Mall or Route 59, either. Eric was referring to the Jefferson Avenue, Washington Street, Chicago Avenue corridor down by the Riverwalk.
And I knew this because, before Geneva Running Outfitters and Dick Pond carried minimal running shoes, I headed down to the Naperville Running Company on Jefferson to purchase a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.
We both agreed his assessment of the central Naperville business district might be a wee bit optimistic, but Eric wasn’t that far off. When purchasing that footwear on a 10-degree mid January day, I was lucky to get a parking spot two full blocks away from the store.
A mere three weeks after Christmas, those primarily independent, non-mall shops were doing a hand-over-fist business. Upon my return for a shoe adjustment last summer, the closest I could get was three blocks from that store!
But until Eric mentioned it, I hadn’t quite put two and two together. Why shouldn’t downtown Geneva be doing Christmas Walk/Downtown Naperville business on a daily basis?
Little did I know the answer would come in the form of previous conversation with Marty Kane in which he waxed poetic about the possibility of an Apple Store taking up residence in the now-going-out-of-business . (Eric signed onto that notion quite quickly!)
And after I took a closer look at the consistency of those downtown Naperville stores, I realized that, scattered among the quainter ma-and-pa establishments was a reasonable number of national retailers.
There’s an Apple Store, Coldwater Creek, Eddie Bauer, Gamestop, Gap, Jamba Juice, Jos. A. Bank, Pottery Barn, Walgreens and Wolf Camera. We’re not talking anything as ostentatious as a Sports Authority or a Best Buy—Barnes & Noble is the biggest—but these modest franchises give downtown Naperville a more modern feel and thus, attract a more eager and young crowd.
It’s the perfect mix!
Don’t get me wrong, but sometimes when I gaze upon certain Downtown Geneva storefronts, I say to myself, “Really? Did you do any market research? Do we really need another … ”
But then Eric also reminded me of a sentiment I’ve been hearing for the last decade. “They don’t seem to want any type of chain store in downtown Geneva.” If any of you recall the “sky is falling” screams solicited by Starbucks coming in, then you already know it’s true.
When I asked former Alderman Ray Pawlak to bring back those interesting Starbucks-comes-to-town memories he added, “The rainy day is here! I’ve always been an advocate for downtown national retailers, but the City Council and Chamber of Commerce are unduly terrified of Geneva losing its unique character.’”
Naperville’s downtown, which certainly has its own flair, has not only done all right, but I’m convinced it's flourishing specifically because of those national stores.
It’s time for Geneva to wake up and smell the Starbucks’ coffee.
Don’t think our downtown merchants can compete with chains? In Naperville, Anderson's Bookshop does just fine with Barnes & Noble a mere two blocks away. Of course, Anderson's is also open every weeknight until 9 p.m.
Anytime you can bring new eyes to bear on your business, it can’t possibly be a bad thing. Remember, a rising tide lifts all boats.
So, to get this ball rolling, here’s my thought. Mike Simon! For the ridiculously low price of a six pack of Bass Ale, I’m willing to offer my formidable persuasive services in a concerted effort to lure an Apple Store into that currently empty State and Third street location. Whether it’s meetings, phone calls or a column or two, you can count on me doing my darndest to make sure it happens.
Heck! I’ll even pay for the beer.