Since taking over as executive director of Lombard Town Centre last August, Sarah Richardt has brought what she calls a "kinder, gentler attitude" to the village's downtown business arena.
"I'm not above calling code enforcement on somebody if they're not complying with things that need to be done, but it's an attitude shift," she said. "I think a lot of it is just talking to (downtown business owners) and asking them what they want instead of telling them what Lombard Town Centre needs from them."
In the past, Richardt said, the downtown business promotion group tended to ask members to do a lot of things -- an approach that may have discouraged businesses from getting involved.
"We've had people for years who said, 'We don't agree with Town Centre, we don't believe the village should fund it, they're not doing enough downtown and I will never become a member,'" she said. "Those people have not only changed their attitudes in the past year, they've also become paid members."
In just one year, the downtown organization has been able to double its membership, which now includes about 30 businesses. Richardt said residents are welcome to become members, too, which gives them a discount "passport" that can be used at many downtown businesses,
"It would be nice if people would utilize it more because it is a great value," she said.
The organization also has sponsored several successful fundraisers in the past year, including big-screen viewings of sports games -- and on Aug. 9, "The Lego Movie" -- and a Halloween-themed street festival that keeps growing each October.
And communication with the village and businesses also has improved, Richardt said.
Town Center consists of four committees that could use more volunteers, she said -- economic restructuring, promotion, design and organization.
Besides preserving and promoting the downtown area, the group is focused on helping business owners be successful. For example, Richardt is in the process of becoming a notary because some businesses say it's difficult to get their documents processed when they are working during the day.
Officials for Town Centre are pleased that five businesses have opened in the downtown area this year. Richardt is hopeful more will be moving in soon.
"We have quite a few people looking and they're in various stages, but nobody's necessarily signed leases and had things approved," she said.
That includes a pasta restaurant, a bead store, a yoga studio, a bakery and a vintage toy store.
In addition, the Town Centre hopes to bring in more "destination retail" stores, Richardt said.
"I think people are recognizing that Lombard is growing, the downtown is growing, and people are saying nice things about the downtown," she said. "It's getting better every year and we work very hard at it, all the time."