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updated: 6/11/2011 5:01 PM

Charlestowne Mall starts mini makeover

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  • Ben Frederick, left, and Mark Goecke of BHFX put up some of the 40 signs announcing a sushi restaurant and other new businesses at Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles.

      Ben Frederick, left, and Mark Goecke of BHFX put up some of the 40 signs announcing a sushi restaurant and other new businesses at Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer


It's been nearly a year to the day since St. Charles announced -- with a relative sense of excitement -- that Charlestowne Mall had new owners.

Charlestowne Mall Investments LLC, a privately funded group stemming from a California real estate investment company, was hopefully an answer for a mall that was less than a shadow of its former self.

Of course, the city was not going to have negative overtones or doubts when talking about mall revitalization, but there was plenty of that to go around among the general public.

The only truly major development in the past year has been Sears leaving the mall, which had to sting.

Regardless of anything brewing at a retail center that has always been somewhat mysterious with its plans, the "eye test" reveals many empty storefronts, and the "gut feeling test" says it is hard to imagine this mall making a glorious comeback in this economy.

That said, those at the mall for a movie or shopping will notice some wood framing inside. City officials tell me a portion of the frames are being established for the skating rink proposal in the center of the mall, while others are being set up near storefronts for a new look for future tenants.

So, a makeover of some sort is brewing. Count me among those who hope the mall survives and can even flourish again in some form. In the meantime, I enjoy going to the movies there and picking up that occasional shirt or pair of slacks at one of the anchors.

Business fest buzzing: Laurie Milbourn didn't have to clean up her house after this get-together of area business owners.

For three years, Milbourn, owner of Going to My Happy Place yoga instruction, hosted area business folks in her St. Charles home to exchange business cards and ideas.

"It was OK at my house, but then I met Tom Castronovo (owner of the Beehive in downtown St. Charles) and I asked him if he would be interested in hosting this event," Milbourn said last Tuesday during the hustle and bustle of her "Business Bee Fest" at the Beehive on Main Street.

Several business owners had displays set up for visitors, who also enjoyed free appetizers at the restaurant.

"My intention was to help businesses showcase their products in a mixer-type format, and I am really happy with turnout here," Milbourn said.

The turnout was decent, considering it was more than 90 degrees outside and downtown parking was stymied by the beginning of the Pride of the Fox Riverfest setup. The St. Charles VFW post made its lot available to attendees.

Area chambers of commerce obviously have cornered the market on mixer-type events, but it was good to see a small-business owner come up with her own idea to gather similar businesses in a friendly format in a nice downtown tavern.

Hot dogs coming: It shouldn't be too long before Scooby's Hot Dogs will open at the former Main Street Tastee Freeze location (formerly Pop's Place) on the east side of St. Charles.

The Scooby's flag is flying over the building, and it is being repainted in the Scooby's checkerboard pattern.

Michael Mertes, economic development coordinator in St. Charles, said the last time he spoke to Scooby's owners they indicated they wanted to open the restaurant in early summer.

The Checkmate blaze: I wonder if anyone who was watching local firefighters work to limit the damage of the recent fire at Salerno's on the Fox remembers the other significant downtown restaurant fire in 1983.

The Checkmate was a popular restaurant that stood where what is now the parking lot near the Szechwan restaurant and Private Bank. A Sunday afternoon fire caused by a gas leak that summer took hours to put out. Many credited the fire chief at that time, Larry Swanson, who passed away last year, for his quick decisions that helped keep neighboring businesses from being damaged.

I remember it well because I was playing in a park district league Sunday softball game against the fire department team. And we all -- firefighters and media types -- rushed off the field in the middle of the game when the general alarm rang.

It's the venue: Counting the Kenny Loggins concert June 3, I have been to about 10 concerts at the Arcada Theatre since owner Ron Onesti took over seven years ago.

I have not been a rabid fan of some of the bands, but I have come to realize that doesn't matter. It's more about the venue now. We can count on Onesti to bring in high-quality national acts, and most everybody sounds great in the Arcada, which has always been the perfect intimate setting.

Sure, it's a little warm in there, especially when it's hot and humid outside, but I don't need the comforts of an opera house to hear Kenny Loggins or Foreigner blow the roof off a place.

The Arcada is our own little grand music venue, sort of like the Fillmore in San Francisco or the Troubadour in Los Angeles.

Again, our hats are off to Onesti and his staff for keeping the tradition of the Arcada alive -- making memories on a weekly basis.