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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.

ann holt-harris May 02, 2012 at 12:07 PM
How about a year 'round french market in the bank building like the one at the Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago which is run by the same group that runs the outdoor summer market at the Geneva (and other towns) train stations? Not only is there city parking but room for outdoor tables that aren't four feet from the curb. or how about a Dick Blick? Since the Viking closed, there isn't any place except Michael's to buy art supplies and Dick Blick's are so much higher quality and without the fake flowers.
Rudy May 02, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Good article Jeff with one exception The Mac ites like Mac because they don't have the mental capacity to figure out a PC they always complain how difficult they are to work with? Maybe apple figured there are too many intelligent people in Geneva and an apple store wouldn't make it here!
Lori May 02, 2012 at 12:31 PM
My neighbors have always said we'd love a downtown grocery especially because we live in downtown. It is one of the disadvantages of living here. Not that anything is really far in Geneva, but to walk to a grocery store esp when you are out of something other than eggs, milk or butter would be great. Of course we have 7-Eleven and Aldi but they don't always fill the bill. And we are very grateful to have The Spice House (wonderful!!). I have always said living in downtown would be complete with a grocery store, post office, office supply store and movie theater, three of which are either gone or tentative. We used to say "if downtown Geneva doesn't have it, we don't need it". Sadly, as more and more staples like Viking leave or close all together we are forced to drive to Randall Road and give our business to big box stores that lack service and the personal touch.
Bob McQuillan May 02, 2012 at 01:45 PM
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. What "they" are looking for is traffic and downtown Geneva does not have foot traffic. For the most part, you can roll up the sidewalks at 5pm and turn the lights out at 7. There is no way a supermarket or a specialty grocery store can operate a business between 9 and 5 and survive. Why do you think Trader Joe's is at Fabyan & Randal (car traffic). Lets face it, downtown Geneva has no real draw anymore. This started ten years ago when Randall Road became the new Main Street in Geneva. The town fathers wanted the tax revenue, and gave concessions, and expected downtown Geneva to survive on it's own. Wasn't going to happen. Everyone has these great ideas on how to spend other businesses money. If a grocery store is so viable, why doesn't someone complaining open one. Those wanting a grocery store probably haven't been in the new ACE hardware store more than twice since it opened. Ask the Havlicheks how easy it was to get their store up and running. I'm sure no one came running to them with financial help but everyone wanted "their" hardware store back. Downtown Geneva will fade away until the city gets serious about rebuilding it and working with the business owners. What is the incentive for anyone to open a store in downtown Geneva? Unless it is a restaurant and we will tripping over them soon.
Mike Bruno May 02, 2012 at 02:01 PM
If sending and e-mail is considered woo-ing, I one tried to woo Whole Foods to downtown Geneva. Some might remember back in the early 1970s that Jewel food store was located in the Sav-Way building. They expanded and built [what is now] Ace Hardware before they went out to Randall Road. Grocery is a difficult niche. Our entitlement culture seems to feel offended if we are not presented with 14 varieties of peanut butter when 2-3 should be adequate. Appealing to today's grocery-buying public requires lots of real-estate. I don't know many/any people that do ALL their grocery shopping at the Trader Joe's / Fresh Markets / Soup To Nuts. They seem to fill a niche with specialty items and services that the big boxes don't offer. That said; would there be interest in a grocery co-op with membership fees? There could be a board of directors that vets the products that make it to the shelves so we would only have 2-3 peanut butters. I haven't had time to flesh out the idea in the span of this patch comment.
Colin C. May 02, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Rudy, I know that this is off topic but I could not resist. Yeah, I know it's old but I still like it. If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would be driving cars with the following characteristics: For no reason at all your car would crash twice a day. Every time they repainted the lines on the road you would have to buy a new car. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left-turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart and you would have to reinstall the engine. When your car died on the freeway for no reason you would just accept this, restart and drive on. Apple would make a car powered by the sun, reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but would run on only five per cent of the roads. Oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single 'general car default' warning light. The airbag would say 'Are you sure?' before going off. Occasionally, for no reason, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed the radio antenna. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car. You would press the 'start' button to shut off the engine.
Colin C. May 02, 2012 at 02:40 PM
The Blue Goose used to have a store in Geneva. If a new competitor did locate here it would hurt their St. Charles store. Could they be encouraged to open a "branch office" here? Maybe not as large or complete as in St. Charles but with the basics available? After all, the banks and the chain drug stores have a branch every couple of miles. Why not our favorite grocery store?
Angela Kane May 02, 2012 at 02:48 PM
A couple weeks ago we went to downtown Naperville. Wow, that's what a downtown should be! Ate at a wonderful Greek restaurant, walked around and found great shops and other fantastic restaurants. No big grocery store in sight, but tons of little shops--most of which seem to thriving. That's what a downtown should be! But wait--they have a college a couple blocks away and a Barnes & Noble right there on the corner!
Stacy May 02, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Headed home from a meeting the other night, my girlfriends and I were discussing what was lacking in downtown Geneva. Of course we all felt that Apple was missing the boat here. Northern Illinois is close by and I think everyone is tired of driving to Naperville and Oakbrook whenever they need something Apple. However, all of us being middle aged moms mentioned the need for a little more quick family fare in downtown Geneva. I am a HUGE fan of many downtown Geneva restaurants. We frequent Preservation Bread and Wine, Bien Trucha, Stockholms and Fioras among many others for great lunches and those along with Niche and Wildwood for dinner. Graham's 318 has a great thing going offering sandwiches among other things. I'd love to see an all day/evening diner. We're missing that downtown. I love Egg Harbor, but in the evening when you want breakfast or a soup and sandwich for dinner, good old fashioned comfort diner food, we're missing the boat. I agree about an offshoot of Blue Goose. It could be a spin off OR several of our local Merchants can go together and create something unique and special. I thought the local post office would be a great venue for a Market of sorts, add some counter service home cooked foods, Great Harvest Breads, Cheese, meat and Italian specialtes from Josefs, desserts from out great local spots and add in the basics. Maybe just place items you can only get at the Market vs the stores to keep them all thriving. Lots of ideas!
Peter May 02, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Go take a look at Winstons grocery speciality store in Orland Park s an example.
Terry Flanagan May 03, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Jeff, I don't see getting an Apple store as any sort of crowning achievment for Geneva. Do we really want to beg a company to locate a store here when that company outsources its manufacturing to Asian sweatshops, has created very few jobs here, and charges way too much for its products? Apple may be one of the most admired companies in the world, but insiders claim it is also one of the most secretive companies, often assigning new employees to work on fake projects for months because Apple does not trust anyone. Considering Apple's delayed response to working conditions in its Chinese manufacturing plants, and the shortcuts it took to maximize profits at greater risk to workers, you have to wonder how it became one of the most admired companies anyway. Steve Jobs may have been a genius, but by many accounts was not a nice person. See this Forbes article on Steve Jobs http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidcoursey/2011/10/12/steve-jobs-was-a-jerk-you-shouldnt-be/ for more perspective. Steve Jobs capitalized on the engineering skills of Steve Wosniak and the ideas that came out of the Xerox Palo Alto research facility and created a successful marketing strategy rooted in product secrecy and annual releases. I've never understood the almost cult-like devotion of Apple users, but I don't think the over-hyped annual Apple product events would have contributed much to the local economy. I think what we really need is to extend store hours downtown to accomodate working people.
Stacy May 03, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Terry - I understand where extended store hours will help, but it isn't going to solve the problem. Having had dinner downtown on a beautiful night a few weeks ago, there were people walking all over downtown, but no place to shop. However, you have to pay employees and utilities to stay open longer hours and if the weather was bad, would it really warrant being open? I'm not sure. I understand your beef with Apple, but it isn't necessarily Apple for Geneva, but what Apple represents. Granted I drink the Apple Kool Aid, but it brings attention to an area that right now is hurting. Honestly it could also be Lullemon or a Lego Store, but whatever it is, it needs to be a draw to downtown Geneva and it needs to be unique. Let's face it, Genevan's will support their downtown, but we also need to draw more people in to make it thrive again. Apple has proven to be a nice draw for Naperville and quite frankly I think we're all a little sick of seeing downtown Naperville, not quite as charming as downtown Geneva, thrive. I hate driving down there and fighting for a parking space just to shop when we don't have those alternatives in the Tri Cities Area. Maybe I'm jealous that they have great things to get you into the area that we don't have. I don't want to leave here to go to Oakbrook, Naperville, OR Aurora. I want everything here in my town. I guess I'm trying to say that we need better eve hours, but I still think we need that unique draw to downtown.
Martina Natoma May 03, 2012 at 05:23 AM
I suggest we get a four year University, a Junior college or a Prison. All three would be ideal. 30k of Illinois' best and brightest all going to college, bidding up rent and real estate prices and spending mom and dad's money downtown. THEN you'll get your Apple store.
Martina Natoma May 03, 2012 at 05:35 AM
... following up on my post, I was just in Claremont Ca, a town I know quite well. Back in the 70's is was a sleepy little town with 6 colleges. Today, it's a rocking' little town, very prosperous and the downtown has grown tremendously. The same can be said about San Luis Obispo. UC Cal Poly, and Cuesta JC, along with hosting a prison (California Men's Colony), keep this area's downtown vibrant, growing and fun. Of course they have the perfect weather as well, but don't discount the value of the publicly funded institutions. San Luis Obispo also has the most amazing parking garage, right in the middle of the downtown area. They build stores all around it, and it's entrance and exit area very innocuous so the quaint look is preserved while affording shoppers with a very easy to find a parking space.
Len Bielefeldt May 03, 2012 at 10:48 AM
Ann, My name is Len, I own Art Box, an art supply store, right on State Street in Geneva. And though I do not have the selection that the mega stores have, I do have the essentials for Profession Artist and those just starting out. I can also order anything, and have it for you within three days. We have kids art classes, and are doing kids art camps this summer. The store is staffed with professional artist, and we give out knowledge and inspiration, to all ages and levels absolutely free We give Geneva something special. I have responded to your "no art store" comments before. If you know of us, and feel that Geneva would be better off with a Bick Dlick, then a small town, family run, art store, then with all due respect, I don't think you get it.
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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