A new confectionery has moved into downtown Wheaton, and four other businesses are expected to open on nearby streets in the coming months.
Kilwins Chocolate and Ice Cream Shop began operating Saturday at 100 N. Hale St.
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Sweet smells now fill the corner shop, which had been vacant for more than a year after The Genuine Article jewelry store closed, said Downtown Wheaton Association Executive Director Paula Barrington.
The store offers a wide assortment of chocolate-dipped products, toffee, caramel and other candies, along with Mackinac Island fudge -- and it's all made on the premises.
"You can come and watch the fudge being paddled in the store," said Bill Barrett, assistant to the store's owner.
Customers also can pick up gift items or taste a variety of ice cream flavors made from a recipe that dates to 1947.
Kilwins is a small Michigan-based franchise that has two other Illinois locations, in Chicago and Geneva.
The Wheaton store is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Barrett said hours may be expanded in the summer, depending on the amount of business they get.
A grand opening is still being planned and likely will occur in the next month.
Aside from Kilwins, Barrington said two new businesses will be opening just down the street.
A Subway is expected to occupy a space left empty by Skylight Bakery last fall at 105 E. Front St. Barrington said she is unsure of an opening date, but renovations are underway.
Next door, at 107 E. Front St., a new educational toy store called Moore's Toys & Gadgets plans to open by June. Besides toys, the store will offer a variety of clubs and activities, such as chess and Minecraft.
"We want unique and different retail and frankly, toy stores are hard to find. In this day in age you're really limited to your big box stores," Barrington said, adding that the hope is to fill more vacant storefronts with businesses that "offer not just great production, but also offer experiences that are unique."
Just south of the train tracks, at 120 E. Liberty Drive, two more new businesses are moving into the ground floor of the white, five-story building that houses First Trust.
"It's very exciting," Barrington said of the new retail and restaurants. "We've been very pleased over the course of the last year."
A few other stores she mentioned that have opened in the last few months include Joan's Place at 120 N. Main St., which offers home furnishings, and PampleMousse Bakery at 118 N. Main St., which opened in December.
Two vacancies Barrington said she is really focused on filling are those at 135 N. Hale St., which housed Knippen's Shoes, and 124 N. Hale St., where Paper House gift shop was once located.
"We're quite eager to see those spaces filled with active, vibrant tenants," she said.
Another space that is sitting vacant and ready for a tenant, she added, is the old Ron's TV store at 130 W. Liberty Drive, near Liberty Drive and Hale Street.
"That corner, it offers you great visual windows facing north and facing west," she said. "The interior has been completely gutted and cleaned out."
Barrington said she has been pleased with the number of phone calls and inquires she has received from perspective tenants recently.
She also mentioned that many new business owners in the downtown area have been taking advantage of two incentive grants that provide them with money for build-outs, renovations, improvements to the facade, signage or awnings, and even rent.
"That's very encouraging to me," she said. "That tells me that they see potential in downtown Wheaton, they see it as a vibrant, strong commercial district."