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Article posted: 2/19/2012 6:00 AM

Downtown Lombard vacancy signs coming down

By Marie Wilson

Several entrepreneurs preparing to set up shop in downtown Lombard say the area should be livelier come mid-March or April.

Six new businesses are preparing to open this spring along Park Avenue and St. Charles Road, giving the area a new coffee shop, deli, hair salon, photography studio, marketing and graphic design firm, and realty office.

With all those spaces now spoken for, Lombard Town Centre Executive Director Karen Stonehouse said the village's downtown has 10 vacant properties, down from 19 a year ago.

"It's just so nice to see those vacancy signs come down and the build outs begin," said Vernon Hammersmith, who owns the building at 106 W. St. Charles Road now occupied by Desert Rose Design.

Lombard's downtown plan was approved last spring, outlining ideas for economic development, improvements to facades and streetscapes, and redevelopment.

"It has to be a public-private partnership," Community Development Director Bill Heniff said about the downtown plan. "We're now starting to see movement on the private side, so we can step up and be our best," in terms of offering grant assistance or speeding the review of building permits, he said.

Heniff, who led several community meetings to gain input on the plan, said he's excited to see renovations actually taking place at Park Avenue and St. Charles Road.

"You have to consider it a positive sign," he said.

Here's a look at several of downtown Lombard's newest additions:

The Corner House

Owner Mohd Assaf said he is excited to unveil a coffee shop at the northwest corner of Park Avenue and St. Charles Road in March or April, depending on when he receives health department approval.

The Corner House, which has been under construction since receiving a building permit in January, will seat 30 people and be decorated in "antique colors" with wood paneling, he said. Near its front door will be a small stage for live music performances.

"They don't have this kind of coffee shop here," Assaf said. "I want to make a difference in downtown Lombard."

Pre-made sandwiches and pastries will be sold along with coffee drinks, juices and smoothies at the shop, which will employ between six and 10 people, manager Jerome Kings said.

Shannon's Deli

Shannon's Corner Butcher Shoppe, which opened last May at 15 S. Park Ave., is expanding two doors north and plans to open a deli at 11 S. Park in early April.

"Our customers wanted it yesterday," general manager Theresa Brzezinski said.

The deli will have a full kitchen to serve hot and cold foods to 30 to 40 customers in its seating area.

The owners plan to apply for a liquor license to serve beer and wine, and for a downtown retail business grant to help offset the costs of the $200,000 interior renovation and furnishings. The grant could provide $20,000 if approved by the economic and community development committee and the village board.

"We believe this is an area that's going to build up and hopefully we can be a part of it," Brzezinski said.

Fringe salon

Lombard resident Michelle Potvin said she is set to open Fringe, A Boutique Salon on March 1 at 104 W. St. Charles Road, set between The Corner House and Desert Rose Design.

"I like the location and I kind of think Lombard needs something a little bit more upscale for a salon," Potvin said.

Customers getting their hair colored will get to see the stylist mixing dye at a color bar instead of in a backroom. The color bar adds to the "top-of-the-line" experience Potvin said will set her salon apart.

Randall Bullen Photography

A former Glenbard East High School photography teacher, Randall Bullen has been running his own photography business for about eight years. But he's always shot on location and never had a headquarters.

"Getting a bricks-and-mortar (studio) makes it a little more legitimate, and people kind of recognize you that way," he said.

Helping Bullen turn the vacant storefront at 5 S. Park Ave. into a photography studio and office are two other former Glenbard East teachers -- Larry Dhamers, who taught electronics, and Roger Stieglitz, who taught woodworking.

The building has needed a lot of work on its deteriorating floors, heating and electrical wiring, and Bullen said he's over budget so far. But he's optimistic his downtown location will give good exposure to his business among commuters heading to the train.

Bullen said he aims to open the studio by April 1.

Desert Rose Design

The 14 employees of marketing and graphic design firm Desert Rose Design have been settling into their new home at 106 W. St. Charles Road since receiving an occupancy permit last month.

"We love being part of a downtown area, being in a storefront," business principal Kathy Steele said. "The building is just kind of inspiring in itself. It feels like a great, creative space."

The woman-owned business, led by Steele and Helen Levinson, helps businesses build their brands, launch marketing campaigns and manage social media.

Steele said she likes that downtown Lombard provides easy access to Chicago via the Union Pacific West rail line and that it's centrally located within the suburbs. The company's office formerly was in Elmhurst.

"I feel like we're in a secret component of the suburbs," slightly tucked away, yet centrally located, Steele said.

While downtown Lombard still is seeking more retail tenants, Stonehouse of Lombard Town Centre said Desert Rose Design will enhance the area's lunch crowd and provide a stable office presence.

"It's not retail, but it's the next best thing," Stonehouse said. "It's a filled space."

Building owner Hammersmith agreed.

"I think they bring a really positive energy downtown even though they're not retail and not a restaurant," he said.

After working three years to find a tenant, Hammersmith said he's satisfied with the five-year lease Desert Rose Design recently signed.

"I'm really grateful that we got a solid, successful company on a long-term lease and we finally turned that corner," Hammersmith said. "It looks like downtown is turning that corner, at least I'm hoping so."

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