2001 brings 17 New River District businesses

2001 brings 17 New River District businesses

By Shawn Robinson

By Shawn Robinson

Freelance Writer

In 2001, the downtown business landscape had 17 additions. The new businessmen and women who have opened enterprises in the River District say their businesses have been growing.

Kim Wheeler, River District executive director, said many new business owners have looked to downtown with anticipation and as a good place to start their business.

“I have sensed an excitement that’s been developed,” she said. “People are getting excited about the River District. People are wanting to come to River District.”

Ryan Petty, Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce president, said people setting up shop downtown enhance the city. “I really think the River District businesses are valuable downtown and community assets,” he said. “We try to match our clients with their needs.”

The Chamber has also been promoting the River District as a fiber optic hub.

Both the River District and the Chamber of Commerce attempt to assist their members and potential new businesses by offering an inventory of downtown buildings, spaces, or land for sale or lease. Both organizations offer mixers and events where members can socialize.

The River District also hosts many downtown events and promotions, such as a recent rooftop garden conference, the Pub Crawl in conjunction with On The Waterfront, architectural tours, and the Heart of Rockford Awards.

The square-mile River District is bordered by South Rockton Avenue, School Street, Whitman Street, Y Boulevard, Longwood Street, First Avenue, Kishwaukee Street, and Cedar Street.

The following are new businesses in the River District: Rockford Marina, the refurbished Coronado Theatre, Emporium Barber Shop and Shoe Shine, William Brown Apartments, Lots A Pasta, the Divine Cup, the River District Café, Minglewood, iwebwerks.com, supplycore.com, Hefner Hills Marketing, Water Street Café, Rockford Renewal Ministries, J. Staffing Services, Morning Glory Diner, Northern Illinois University E.J. “Zeke” Giorgi Legal Clinic and Kryptonite. All opened their doors this year.

Marty Barker, Morning Glory Diner owner, at 414 E. State St., said he wanted to add a downtown branch of his Loves Park business to fill a need he saw for a family restaurant.

“I believe there’s very much potential in the downtown area,” he said. “Loves Park is definitely a better location because it’s a higher volume, but I don’t think the word’s out yet about the downtown location.”

He said although business is slow, he plans to expand the restaurant’s service to a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation on Jan. 15. Barker said he isn’t a part of the Chamber of Commerce or the River District.

At the Rockford Marina and shore store, business manager Kevin Chiodini said the marina is “on its way” since opening in July. They are located in the old brewery complex next to the Riverview Ice House on the east bank of the river.

The full-service marina at 200 Prairie St. offers boat slip rentals, gas on the river, refreshments, boating accessories, wakeboards, skis, and a boat and pontoon showroom. Workers at the repair department service boats, all-terrain vehicles, and snowmobiles. Seasonal storage is offered as well.

The Emporium Barber Shop and Shoe Shine Manager Linda Nichols said business at

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132 N. Church St., is slowly building since she opened in March.

“I think it’s situated pretty nicely,” she said. “I think it’s needed in the downtown area. I like it because it’s a neighborhood feel here as opposed to being in a strip mall. It’s been pretty steady growth, and the repeat business is growing.” Nichols said she has gone to River District mixers to network and has seen that translate into profits.

Alvin McBride has just taken charge of the shoe shine operation at the Emporium. McBride offers pick-up and drop-off shoe and boot service for shining, dyeing, waterproofing, repairing. Patrons may also just stop in the Emporium for an old-fashioned shoe shine.

Nate Sjogren, owner of the Divine Cup, 220 S. Madison St., said the first year of his business has been rough going. “We are doing better than our first year projections as far as volume, but we’re not where we need to be to stay in business,” he said. “We seem to be doing well considering the number of clientele. We expect it to grow.”

Sjogren said his cafe in the Salvation Army Millennium Center is styled like a European coffee house from the 1950s, including a 1957 wraparound bar. They feature a variety of coffees, other hot and cold drinks, as well as soups and sandwiches. A schedule of poetry readings and other community events are also offered.

Sjogren said he hasn’t been able to tell if joining the Chamber of Commerce and River District has translated into profits for his business yet, but those memberships have translated into business networking. He said he has used his membership in the River District more than he has used the Chamber of Commerce because he can attend the meetings the district holds at night, while the ones he would attend from the Chamber of Commerce conflict with his work schedule.

However, he said the Haight Village location and 1950s decor are perfect for him. “I wouldn’t want to do this (decor) in a different location,” he said. “It makes sense here.”

Another coffee shop, plus eatery, the Water Street Café, opened in April. Manager Tracy Teske said being on the river provides a nice view. The business is located at 115 Water St., in the old Mobil station that has undergone extensive renovation. The cafe also features outdoor dining.

“This area isn’t as high traffic as the other ones are,” she said. “We just have to build a reputation. It’s always hard the first few years.” Teske said her River District membership has brought her more business connections than the Chamber of Commerce.

Water Street Café features upscale coffees, breakfasts, lunches and catering.

River District Café (no affiliation with the business association) co-owner Taylor McClurkan said business is growing due to his location in the Stewart Square mall near the Metro Centre and government offices.

“Right now, it seems like it’s growing,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of lawyers, secretaries, and jurors. We decided this is an up-and-coming place to see how we fare down here.” McClurkan said the Chamber of Commerce has sent catering business their way and approached them to participate in First Night.

River District Café serves breakfast and lunch, plus a variety of coffees, muffins, bagels and pastries.

Lisa DiCanio, Lots A Pasta operations manager, said since the new Italian restaurant opened in August in the former Rockford Brewing Company building, 301 S. Main St., business has been rapidly growing.

“I believe we have a lot to offer everybody down here,” she said. “We’re in a prime location,” next to the Metro Centre and government buildings. “I feel we’re in the heart of it all, really.”

Since the new owners remodeled the former brewpub, DiCanio said she feels the restaurant that’s “like a family” will be fun for all families who attend.

With a large, full-service bar, Lots A Pasta serves a full lunch and dinner menu with something for everyone. Many River District folks have commented on how good the service is as compared to previous endeavors at the location.

Bob Shallenberger, president of iwebwerks.com, said his multi-media studio and web-hosting service found downtown to be a fine location because of the “incredible deals” on rent. Formerly located on the east side of Rockford, iwebwerks.com moved to the third floor of Midway Theatre building in May.

“We don’t rely on any foot traffic at all,” he said. “We don’t need a storefront.”

Though he said being downtown hasn’t enhanced his business, the location is nice. He said 99 percent of his business comes from outside of the downtown area. “We don’t rely on this area at all for business,” Shallenberger said. However, he noted that his company hosts the River District and The Rock River Times websites.

He said although iwebwerks.com is a River District and Chamber of Commerce member, he hasn’t relied solely on their services to enhance his business. The company does have accounts with the Rockford Area Council of 100. It produces the council’s prospectus, banners, spiral books, promotions and annual report.

Karen Elyea opend her business, Minglewood, at 321 N. Church St., on Sept 18.

“I love it here, and I wouldn’t have my store in any other part of the city. Christmas sales have been really good. Les Miserables at the Coronado has helped me al ot. One of the actresses came in the other day and really gave my sales a boost,” Elyea said. “The River District Association has given me a sense of community and support, and I really appreciate that.”

Minglewood offers unique clothing, hand-crafted, sterling silver jewelry, candles, incense and alternative decor items.

While many business owners are taking advantage of very reasonable rental rates, a need for their services, or just trying to start something fresh downtown, other businesses have closed.

Estate Exchange, an antique and consignment store at 215 E. State St., closed their doors in August. Louis Cooper’s Restaurant, El Rebozo 2, and Robins Diversified Services shut their doors in 2001.

Wheeler said the businesses that opened outnumber the ones that have closed. “Even if a few have closed, that’s very sad and disappointing, but many have opened,” she said. She noted some businesses that left downtown were members of River District.

“We were very, very sad to see them close,” she said. “It’s like losing a friend when a business closes.”

Sue Bowman, Estate Exchange and Possession Placers co-owner, said her antique and consignment store lasted three-and-a-half years before she and her partner Joan Welsh closed the storefront part of the business in August. She still conducts estate sales with her Possession Placers business. Bowman said she and her partner closed their store for other reasons than lack of community support or poor location.

“The support of the River District was fabulous,” Bowman said. “We enjoyed working with them. We enjoyed being part of that whole renaissance downtown. Our reason for closing really had nothing to do with downtown. In fact, I’d like to see more things downtown.”

The River District Association’s major project is a new plan for the area in conjunction with the City of Rockford and the Rockford Park District. Downtown boat docks are also on their agenda. If you would like to make a tax-deductable contribution to the boat docks to help promote the River District and its businesses, or become a residential or business member, call Kim Wheeler at 964-6221.

To contact the Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce for the same, call 987-8100.

Frank Schier also contributed to this article.

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