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Jeff Ward: Some Geneva Aldermen Need an Imagination Infusion

A grocery store would fit just fine in our downtown.

Before we start tackling another fascinating pronouncement from Craig Maladra, my favorite Geneva alderman, please allow me to offer a hearty pat on the back to downtown landlord Mike Simon who did his darndest to bring an Apple Store to the corner of Third and State streets.

Despite those efforts, it would appear that regularly observing a herd of Apple “geniuses” wandering the streets of Geneva will not come to pass. Though I think they’re making a huge mistake, those buttoned-down corporate folks have specific algorithms to which they unerringly adhere before placing a store.

And we didn’t make the cut!

Though the credit for this Apple Store concept frequently comes my way, let me once again remind you all that it was owner Marty Kane who had this kind of vision. We simply covered his concept here.

But back to Alderman Maladra and his ongoing thoughts on downtown Geneva, which apparently do not include a grocery store. Of course, that’s also something Marty and I have been harping on for years. It’s all part of our regular “give Genevans a reason to come downtown” theme.

“The question is where?” “That doesn’t belong downtown,” and “There’s got to be a place for parking,” were among Maladra’s many objections. Then 1st Ward Alderman Chuck Brown chimed in with his theory that grocery stores are an endangered species because Wal-Mart was “ … trying to create a downtown under one roof.”

Upon reading all that, I immediately started singing a Paul Simon tune to myself:

And after it rains there’s a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It’s not that the colors aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack
And everything’s the same back, in my little town

If you take that contention at face value, then our central business district’s fate is already assured at the hands of Wal-Mart, Target and Meijer. So why bother having these downtown roundtable discussions to begin with?

If price was the only consideration then, trust me, Abercrombie and Fitch would’ve already been history and so would downtown Geneva.

Yes! If you want to see exactly how to run a grocery store chain into the ground, then simply stop by the Geneva Dominick’s. But despite its proximity to Meijer, that Route 38 and Randall Road Jewel is always packed on weekends.

I guess nobody’s told St. Charles’ Blue Goose the jig is up! St. Charles was smart enough to help that business relocate as a major part of their revitalized downtown plan. Like much of downtown Geneva, the Blue Goose survives because some folks actually prefer good service.

The thing is, Marty and I aren’t even talking about a full-fledged grocery store! If you want to talk about packed food-purveyors, Batavia’s Trader Joe’s and our own Fresh Market, across the street from Wal-Mart and Meijer respectively, always seem to be bursting at the seams.

On Sunday morning, the herd of shoppers at the TJ’s checkout is something to behold. And if an olive-oil store can make it in downtown Geneva, then an independent semi-specialty grocery store can make it, too.

And I’ll be happy to tell Alderman Maladra exactly where it could go. Right in the vacant U.S. Bank building on Third and Hamilton (next to Great Harvest Bread.) The former drive-through would provide reasonable parking, and you have a municipal lot right across the street.

After 37 years, I finally understand just what Simon and Garfunkel meant when they sang “Nothing but the dead of night, back in my little town.”

C’mon guys! Where’s the imagination? Between the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce, there’s more than enough Mayberry-itis to go around at a time when time is running out. Although we do have time to spend weeks talking about tearing down a landmark building on State Street.

On the plus side, Alderman Brown rightly noted that our downtown’s survival does not rest solely upon the City Council's shoulders. But when he added, “What we want to do is create fertile ground,” I had no idea they’d be spreading quite as much manure as they have.

Ah! But while the aldermen aren’t solely responsible, we do have two in-house economic development staff. Perhaps it’s time for the council to provide a little bit more direction in that regard.

It may not have worked out this time, but at least Mike Simon had the good sense to run with a reasonable idea. Give it a shot, guys. You might surprise yourselves.

Noel G. Rooks May 03, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Oh man. Too bad about Apple. I was starting to think that would be a good fit. I guess the question is, what *kind of business are we trying to lure? Are we talking local flavor, or national presence? Apple obviously fits the latter category, and I'm surprised that Geneva didn't make the cut, both on demographics and the relative proximity to NIU. Lots of folks have mentioned DT Naperville, and yes, they've done a good job luring in some of thos national chains. But, we lived in Naperville and chose to move here because, among other issues, the relative sameness of all the stores on offer in Naperville. I can go anywhere and get a Restoration Hardware, a Barnes and Noble, a Gap. Geneva is different, it has its own flavor that isn't chain driven. With that said, I can see why you'd want to locate a chain here as a draw. Maybe a new outpost of Anderson's Bookshop? You'd have the local feel. It would be a draw for me, anyway. Sur La Table? Naperville has one. I'm on the fence as to whether a grocery store would be a fit downtown. Would people really leave the Meijer/Jewels of the world to shop in Geneva? Not sure. As people have pointed out, Naperville also has the obvious - a college right off central downtown. i guess what I'm saying is Apple might have been the anchor to draw folks and the rest would follow. Now we have to figure out plan b. What can we put in that will draw?
Terry Flanagan May 03, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Stacy, Apple in Naperville has been robbed three times that I know of. We probably don't need that kind of draw. I don't think that an Apple store is going to solve the problems we have with the decline in retail anyway. Part of the problem is the economy and part of the problem is on-line sales cutting into retail sales. A grocery store may help, but we also need higher density housing in the downtown area to take advantage of a grocery store. People tend to shop regularly at the closest grocery store and occasionally at specialty grocers. I think extended hours and possibly Sunday hours might help along with family restaurants and attractions. Long Grove was always a huge draw on Sundays because the shops were open and there were things for parents to do with their kids. We tend to have a lot of high-end shops in the downtown area and not enough restaurants and shops with food and fare that would appeal to families on a budget. Parking is also a problem. We might consider a trolley service between the parking deck and shops further away or even to stores on Randall Road. We need creative solutions that work here and not necessarily imitations of what works elsewhere.
Lou B. May 05, 2012 at 08:46 AM
Jasssper - well said.
Dennis C. Ryan May 05, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Save-Way liquors WAS originally a Jewel food store. The bank on north Third Street was also originally built as a National food store, replacing one on State Street between Second and Third Streets. Ace Hardware on State Street was the second location of the Jewel food store. The southwest corner of Seventh and State streets was the location of the third National food store (it closed when the National Tea Company went bankrupt.) Geneva has a long history of "downtown" food stores. What happened? One answer: increased use of the automobile made a need for more parking space than downtown could provide. Until Geneva can provide enough close-to-store parking, the problem may be unsolvable.
Jeff Ward May 05, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Denny, I don't think a Jewel, Dominicks, or any of the major chains would work. Again, it would have to be a Trader Joe's or Fresh Market style venue. Jeff

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