The Mega Center at Pheasant Run was full of retailers from around the country and parts of Europe a couple weeks ago. They were in St. Charles to attend a conference about opportunities and challenges of an evolving retail world in which consumers are using smartphones more often to shop and pay for goods.
Those of us who have lived and worked in the Tri-Cities most of our lives don't often get the opportunity to really see the area through the eyes of others.
After hearing some of these people talk about their impressions of the area, it made me realize how important it is for St. Charles to get the Charlestowne Mall monkey off its back.
A few women talked about going over to the mall, having no idea they were entering a retail dead zone. They didn't have kind words to share. It's not the kind of impression you want to leave any visitor, regardless of whether they are involved in retail.
Some top executives of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were at Pheasant Run, so you can imagine their impression when realizing they couldn't even see their St. Charles store from that side of Main Street because of the massive piles of rocks from the torn up streets. Again, not the kind of impression you want to leave anyone about your city.
On top of that, the area endured its Noah's Ark re-enactment that week with the biblical rains. So instead of people getting out and visiting our nice restaurants and downtown retail areas, they made do at the resort, which isn't the worst place to be stuck.
When that many retail people are here at the same time, you'd like to see them getting around and, possibly, contemplating placing a business here in the future.
The way things went that week, we'll be lucky to see any of them set foot here again. Their loss? Maybe. But first impressions are everything.
Better feel at center: Another event at Pheasant Run's Mega Center last week put a much better spin on the Tri-Cities. The annual Rolling Down the River event featuring area businesses and chambers of commerce gave business folks a chance to network and learn more about each other.
Of course, I have made it an annual ritual to stop and try the various food samples offered by local restaurants.
This time, Moretti's Ristorante and Pizzeria wowed me with "Rustic Penne Pasta" and a sausage and pepper mix that was delicious. Moretti's is located in Bartlett -- as well as in other suburbs -- but they cater out in this area.
Claddagh Irish Pub and Restaurant was offering samples of balsamic chicken that was tasty indeed.
Qdoba's grilled chicken Mexican Gumbo qualified as a pleasant surprise. My perception of this place being just a fast-food joint was off target, based on this decent gumbo.
PushCoin makes it push: The folks at PushCoin in Geneva have their new pushcoin.com website up to publicize the mobile payment method geared toward students 12 and older.
As mentioned previously in this column, PushCoin eliminates the need for young people to carry around cash. Instead they use wireless communication chips through a smartphone or wristband to make payments tied to a PushCoin account.
In addition to making payments easy and secure in a school setting, founders Anna and Slawomir Lisznianski feel PushCoin helps keep cash out of young people's pockets, eliminating the temptation to spend that money unnecessarily. PushCoin allows parents to monitor spending, because the funds can be used only at merchants or schools participating in the program.
The mobile prepaid system provides parents with "a powerful tool for allocating money into accounts and monitoring the spending," said Anna Lisznianski, PushCoin's chief executive officer.
Parents open a PushCoin account online and establish PushCoin as a payee in their bank's online bill-pay system. This allows the bank account to provide one-time or recurring funding to the PushCoin stored-value account.
With the world of payments changing so rapidly, parents would be wise to check out PushCoin.
Whoooo wants a photo?: The last time this many nature photographers got together in the same place, baby owls were nesting near the Kane County Courthouse on Third Street in Geneva.
Now, photographers looking for those rare nature photos are hanging out on the west side of Fabyan Forest Preserve, near the picnic shelter. They are snapping photos of a baby owl nestled in a hole in the side of a tree. It really is a fascinating thing to watch.
The tree is marked for removal, probably this spring or summer. So this owl will want to grow and find a new home fairly quickly.
Big prayers: It was tough to learn about the challenge that Rev. Michael Chernetzki of St. Peter Catholic Church in Geneva faces.
Father Mike had become one of my favorite priests, at least partly because there is no wasted motion or words at his services. Everything gets right to the point and keeps you engaged.
And that's how his message in last week's bulletin read -- a brief, but thorough, summary of the rare brain cancer he's battling at Loyola Medical Center.
He's fondly known as "Big Father Mike" in our house because, well, he's a fairly large fellow.
But that description takes on a new meaning, as he surely knows now that big prayers are heading his way daily from the entire parish and school at St. Peter.