47 Categories: Brainstorming for Downtown Elgin

Tonight’s Downtown Brainstorm Workshop lead small groups through a prioritization list. The Downtown Neighborhood Association identified 47 different types of businesses that currently don’t exist in the downtown core. (For purposes of tonight, “downtown” was defined as the central business district only: roughly the area bounded by Grove, Villa, Dexter and Prairie.)

But not so fast: before we could start prioritizing, Tonya Hudson, Executive Director of DNA, gave us some background and parameters. (Ted Schnell covered the details well in his live-blog on BocaJump.)

Essentially, to flourish, downtown must be full of unique, innovative businesses – unlike what people access on Randall Road – that can draw people as a destination. Meanwhile, we must also build the daytime downtown population to support these businesses. And at this point, we’re not talking about specific brand names.

What can fill these storefronts?

With that in mind, we ranked the 47 categories individually, then tallied our rankings and began discussing our top 10 for each group. All the groups had different lists, but the aggregate showed some commonalities. As we did in the session, let’s look at each for a) existing, complementary businesses; and b) target customers.

1) Ethnic restaurants: A good variety of ethnic restaurants would fit in well with our growing entertainment district. Positioned among the various bars and other restaurants on and near Chicago Street, restaurants can benefit from proximity to entertainment options at the Hemmens, the Elgin Art Showcase, and the casino – if only they can get the word out. Such restaurants could attract foodies and 20-40 year olds with disposable income. What type of restaurant would you want to see? One of my group mates was advocating hard for an Indian place, but I’d also love to see tapas or a good Middle Eastern place to join our existing Villa Verone, Toom Toom Thai and Bangkok House.

2) Pet Store/Supplies/Grooming: This didn’t even make my group’s top 10, but several of the other groups talked about the dearth of such a place in Elgin, especially since the small, “scary” place on McLean closed. And they’re right. If you need anything beyond the basics, you do have to leave town for pet food. This would attract families and other pet-owners. Given talk of pet licenses in Elgin, we could probably determine how many dogs (at least) are in Elgin.

3) Convenience Store: Many mentioned the lack of any true convenience stores in downtown, other than those attached to gas stations, which are kind of shady. And they’re right. There really aren’t places to pop in for a very quick drink or snack, or a gallon of milk. A nicer convenience store could fill this gap, and attract professionals downtown during the day (City Manager Sean Stegall specifically requested a place that carries Hostess Cherry Pies), and residents in the evenings/weekends. Butera’s ok, but it’s hard to access on foot – there’s no real pedestrian access, other than playing Frogger through the parking lot – and they close relatively early.

4) Gift Shop: My group discussed merging a couple of the categories together, including Gift Shop, Card Shop and Stationery Store. I envision something like the Paper Merchant in Geneva, attracting women from teens through their 30s, and perhaps beyond. Positioned near good coffee and Elgin Books, this could create easy browsing and lingering.

5) Electronics: This was barely a blip on my group’s radar, but other groups talked about bringing some kind of Radio Shack-type store to downtown that could supply the electronic odds and ends working professionals need: batteries, cables, maybe print cartridges?

6) Musical Instruments: This would tie in well to ArtSpace, coming next year. Also, it would help attract the teens and artists DNA desires, as they will spend on things like dining and entertainment.

7) Full Service Restaurant: See also, ethnic restaurants (above), but with a focus more on families and after-work professionals. This could be a steakhouse or similar to the existing (and fabulous) Elgin Public House.

8 ) Call Center: A call center would bring more people downtown, increasing the daytime population that helps support all the other businesses.

9) Card Shop: See Gift Shop above.

From there, the conversation devolved as people mentioned some of the categories overlooked. (I don’t have a #10 in my notes, and nor does Ted’s transcript.) Here are all the rest:

Art Gallery
Auto Dealers
Auto SupplyBeauty Supply
Bike Shop
Camera/Photo Shop
Candies/nuts/popcorn Shop
Child Day Care (private)
Cigar/Tobacco Shop
Clothing Store
Comic Books/Collectibles
Costume Shop
Craft/Hobby Shop
Dance Apparel Store
Dance Studio
Doctors Office
Dry Cleaning
Grocery Store
Health Club/Gym (Private)
Health Food Store
Movie Theater
Home Furnishings/Decor
Office Furnishings
Party Supply Store
Quick-Service Restaurant
Shoe Store
Sporting Goods Store
Tanning Salon
Toy Store
Uniform Supply Store
Wine Shop

What would help draw people to downtown Elgin?

Thanks for all the great suggestions so far – keep them coming!

In the next few days, I’ll have more thoughts about the direction of downtown, including some marketing shifts. In the meantime, add your thoughts below.


10 responses to “47 Categories: Brainstorming for Downtown Elgin

  1. More sidewalk cafes–I love Al’s–and outdoor cafes along the river,
    Trader Joe’s, an internet cafe. I come downtown for lunch every now and then–if an antique shop such as Scentimental Gardens of St.Charles and Geneva were next door to one of the downtown restaurants, I would patronize them as well. I also take my grandchildren to Hemmons for plays–a nearby ice cream shop would be nice. It seems to me that adding a business that complements a business that is already there would be the most successful.

    • Completely agree with your last line about complementarity – that was a key point of the session: finding businesses that “fit” with each other and can attract similar crowds.

      Sidewalk cafes make me happy. I’m curious to see how the riverwalk progresses – I heard Chooch’s Pizza is planning to have an outdoor, riverwalk-facing seating area. And a Trader Joe’s would thrill me!

      Have you been in Elgin Antiques & Uniques and Two Doors Down? They’re both on Chicago Street and have interesting, ever-changing selections that are fun to browse.

  2. Oooh…I like the wine shop possibility. You might also pair video games with the comics/collectibles idea. A Gamestop might work very well, too. The closest one is in Streamwood, and beyond that, Hoffman Estates.

    • A wine shop would be fabulous, I agree. I hadn’t thought about a game shop, but that definitely makes sense, especially if it draws teens/20-somethings with disposable income to spend at restaurants and such.

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  4. All very good ideas. I’m a sucker for “stuff” stores – the well-curated, reasonably-priced resale/consignment sort . And what about a downtown-feeling Half Price Books? They seem fairly neighborhood friendly. As for the call center idea…I would tread carefully. Having worked in a building shared with a collections agency call center, who were a very tough and extremely colorful bunch, I’ll just say it might not be exactly the kind of charming character you’re looking to add…

    • Come on down sometime, Amy – we’ve got a couple of really cute “stuff” stores, like the Elgin Antiques & Uniques mentioned above and SpaceTaste Gallery. We can do lunch. The Half Price Books is an interesting idea. We have one great bookstore downtown already – Elgin Books & Coffee – but some of my fondest memories of Hyde Park are wandering the row of bookstores on 55th Street.

      I’ve heard similar things about call centers, which raises some interesting questions about types of downtown patrons vs sheer numbers.

  5. *Bike Shop
    *Cigar/Tobacco Shop/wine shop
    *Dry Cleaning
    *Grocery Store
    *Quick-Service Restaurant
    *Shoe Store

    I can definitely agree on some of the ideas on this list. There have been many instances where I wished downtown Elgin had some of the listed businesses above. One in particular stands out.

    My father and I restore, rebuild, and customize bicycles as a mutual hobby for the last two years. Upon starting this hobby we noticed that Elgin too became more cognizant of bicycles and have made strides to become a more bike friendly city via bike lane implementations and community bike related events. But as an avid bicyclist, albeit I enjoy the infrastructure that downtown Elgin possesses for bicycle commuting, I get a bit lonely on the road  I don’t see very many other bicycle commuters using their bicycles for utilitarian purposes which is depressing. We feel one very large reason for that is downtown Elgin’s lack of a bike shop. We have toyed with the notion of starting one but it would remove our “hobby mentality” into a business. With that comes a lot of changes and we fear that working on bicycles would become less fun and more, well, work. One idea we did like was the idea of a bicycle co-op similar to the co-ops that exist in Chicago. A place where a novice and experienced bicyclist can work on their own bikes together and teach others how to repair, work on, and maintain their bicycles. It would allow Elgin to form an actual bicycling community and would help promote cycling for all purposes, not just recreational. Id like to help remove the stigma that bicycling is only for children, DUI offenders, the poor, or athletes. Biking for utilitarian purposes promotes an image that Elgin is a tightly knit community. Seeing someone transporting light groceries via bicycle allows others to know that there is a local convenience/grocery store. Bicycling within Elgin’s downtown sector will ultimately make Elgin more localized and fun. I recently visited Madison, WI and fell in love with their downtown area. The infrastructure reminded me of Elgin but the lushness of commerce and acceptance of bicycling made me envious. I wish Elgin could become a thriving, fun, and community based city.

    Now, another issue I have with downtown Elgin is this advent of these mega bars. These bars that try way too hard to please every demographic Elgin has. These bars that simultaneously have an active dance club, a band playing, but also try to be a family restaurant. These venues overexert themselves and frankly, become annoying. They ultimately fail and another mega bar tries to fill the void. I really miss the days of Prairie Rock, namely for the good food and great micro brew. Its amazing how the only micro that I am aware of in the vicinity of Elgin is Emmett’s in East Dundee. What happened to the micro brew trend? Please bring it back!

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