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.
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:
Auto SupplyBeauty Supply
Child Day Care (private)
Dance Apparel Store
Health Club/Gym (Private)
Health Food Store
Party Supply Store
Sporting Goods Store
Uniform Supply Store
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.