Wheaton downtown merchants eager for grocer
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Downtown Wheaton businesses hope the arrival of a Mariano's Fresh Market grocery store at the old Hubble Middle School site will increase foot traffic in the area.
Mark Black | Staff Photographer
Don Joseph isn't afraid of a little competition.
In fact, if it means a grocery store opens close to downtown Wheaton, he welcomes it.
The owner of Wheaton Meat Co., a 71-year-old downtown business, says he wasn't shocked when he found out the sale of the old Hubble Middle School site would mean a new Mariano's Fresh Market grocery store just down the street from his butcher shop. He said the arrival can only mean good things.
"Hopefully, it will help our business just by attracting people to the downtown area," said Joseph, who has owned the butcher shop since 1978. "Overall, I think for the betterment of the area, it's probably a good thing to have a grocery store located downtown."
Shop owners throughout downtown echoed Joseph's optimism and said the arrival of a Mariano's, if done right, will have a positive impact on their businesses. They say the store, expected to open in spring 2013, will be worth any headaches stemming from construction.
Last week, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 sold the 22-acre site to a developer who has since said it will build a Mariano's. Bradford Equities LLC bought the land on the highly visible northwest corner of Naperville and Roosevelt roads for $5,000,200.
Mariano's debuted in the Chicago area in July 2010 with a store in Arlington Heights. Since then, a second store opened last month in Vernon Hills and a third is now under construction in Palatine.
Bradford spokesman Chad Jones said last week that a "conservative timeline" places the Wheaton store's grand opening in spring 2013.
Joseph, the meat company owner, said a grocery store in downtown Wheaton was more of an inevitability than anything else.
"It didn't surprise me," said Joseph on Tuesday from his shop at 310 S. Main St. "If not there, eventually someone would put one in where the old Jewel was."
Ever since Jewel on Willow Avenue shut down in February 2008, residents have been waiting for another grocer to open downtown. Last week, Mayor Mike Gresk and school board President Rosemary Swanson said they often shopped at the Jewel.
Mike Burke, a co-owner of The Bank Restaurant, 121 W. Front St., said the Mariano's will have a residual effect on his and other businesses.
"Not having a grocery store in downtown Wheaton, that was ludicrous," he said. "The more people come into downtown, the more likely they will do other things while there."
Burke said construction work could hamper some downtown businesses temporarily, but it would be well worth it.
"Obviously, depending on how long it will take, there will definitely be some inconvenience to local merchants," he said. "But like anything else, once it's done it will be a great benefit. You have to go through the pain to get to the gain."
Downtown Wheaton Association President Keven Graham said Tuesday he was excited to see Mariano's arrive and he was curious to see how it integrates with the rest of downtown.
"How it links in and connects with the rest of downtown is a real important piece of the planning puzzle I am real anxious to see," he said. "We have one chance with this property to really make it a part of the downtown versus a piece adjacent to the downtown. Hopefully, that all works out."
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