Oregon's Conover Square offers 'baby grand' shopping adventure

Shops and restaurants make for good day trip

Shopping mecca in old Schiller Piano factory pays homage to building’s origins

OREGON—Conover Square Mall is a unique shopping village in Oregon, Ill., that many are not even aware exists.

The name of the mall originates from the old function of the building it currently occupies.

In 1893, that same building opened as the Schiller Piano factory. It was one of the largest companies in Ogle County, employing more than 400 workers and manufacturing more than 40,000 pianos in its first 15 years.

The word Conover used in the mall name was originally a brand of piano the factory manufactured. The company also manufactured Schiller and Cable pianos.

In 1936, the Schiller Piano Company consolidated with Cable Piano Company and produced victrolas, music pianos, player pianos, spinets and baby grands.

Winter Company of New York City bought the piano factory in 1943, and it was closed by 1971 when they were bought and moved to Memphis, Tenn.

The building was renovated from 1975 to 1978 and then reopened as the Conover Square Shopping Village. By 2003, the current owner, Lou Vander Wyst, had taken over and made many more improvements and renovations.

“The big difference is a lot more variety and a lot more choices,” Vander Wyst said. “It’s not the limited selection it was two years ago.”

The mall continues to grow, adding 10 new merchants in the last year alone. Vander Wyst plans to continue restoring the historic building and bringing in more merchants over the next few years.

The shops at Conover Square include Cook’s Collection, 23 Clark St., The Soap Shoppe, Conover Books, Slip and Slurry Pottery, Vanasey’s Hillside Gardens, T.C. Concepts, Something Special, Lifeline Food & Self Help, Neighbor’s Antiques & Collectibles, Mystical Mountain Jewelry, PAWZ! and Stitches in Tyme.

After all that shopping, The Cheese Shop, Conover Bakery, Chili Pepper Café and Conover Coffees & Chocolates will be open to re-energize patrons.

For those who are uninterested in shopping or exquisite food, there are always the services and attractions.

Services include Expression Wear, Hair Expression, Alpha Plus Kishwell Massage Therapy, Touch for Health Massage, Burton Placement, Yolanta’s European Tailoring, Country Companies Insurance, Dynamic Horizons, In Color Printing, Melanie A. Madsen—Attorney at Law, Miller Insurance, Publisher Data Management Group, and Tures and Associates.

Conover Square’s attractions include the Blackhawk Railroad Model Club, Eagle’s Nest Art Group and Billy Barnhart Museum, which features many vintage toys, collectibles, sleighs, farm equipment, and relics of the past.

Even with all that to do, just walking through the village is something special in itself. Inside, the hallways and walls are lined with memorabilia from the old piano factory, and vintage pianos are on display for viewing and playing.

Conover Square, 201 N. 3rd St. in downtown Oregon, is open seven days a week with hours varying by merchant. More info: 815/732-3950 or visit www.conoversquare.com.

From the Sept. 21-27, 2005, issue

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