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updated: 2/21/2014 4:39 AM

Small business owners sound off in Elgin

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Parking, difficulties in dealing with the city staff and the need to band together -- small business owners in Elgin had plenty to say during a round-table discussion Thursday night.

It's extremely difficult and stressful to figure how to start a small business in Elgin, said Erin Rehberg of Side Street Studio Arts. She suggested creating a checklist to help people navigate the process.

"If I didn't have a partner in it, I would have cracked a few times and walked away," she said.

She was among about 50 people who attended what Councilwoman Anna Moeller called "a listening session" about how to create a healthier business climate in Elgin. Councilman John Steffen co-organized the event.

Elgin's code enforcement division is too strict, said Andy Engelmann, owner of Town & Country Gardens. "It's guaranteed if you get to a councilwoman or councilman, things will happen a lot faster," he said.

Jim McGrath, who owns McGruder's Irish Pub, agreed. Regulations won't allow him to install a permanent sign to advertise his business, he said.

Several people said the aesthetics of Route 31 need to improve to entice people to cross the Fox River into downtown.

Also, police should make the riverfront more family-friendly by dealing with fishermen who drink beer "all day and all night," said Ruben Ramos, owner of Ruben Ramos Photography.

Judith Colletti, who owns the Elgin Car Wash building, suggested that small businesses promote each other by displaying coupons and banners.

Some business owners said they are working on new initiatives.

A new "Elgin Area Small Business Network" will be launched March 15, said Keith Rauschenberger of Rauschenberger Financial Advisors.

Rehberg said several ideas are in the works, including a "First Fridays" event when all businesses would agree to stay open later.

However, empty storefronts are detrimental to all nearby businesses, said Mike Copeland of the Elgin Technology Center. "We need to fill those storefronts, whether it's just to make them look pretty, fake them out -- we need to do something."

Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin Executive Director Deirdre White said her organization has started working on that.

Rria Foods co-owner Kevin Echevarria pointed to the controversy surrounding a new tattoo parlor that eventually was granted a permit from the city last fall.

"This is not about nitpicking about who should go where. It's about, 'If you have the money, we're in business,'" he said, getting the biggest applause of the night.

Business owners should keep a sunny facade in public and never complain on Facebook and Twitter, said Elizabeth Haney, director of social media and marketing for Acme Design Inc.

Moeller agreed. "We have to be our own best advocate, because if we're not doing it ourselves, nobody is," she said. "And social media, those messages spread."

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