Stop to shop: Explore tiny shops and downtowns in communities along Fox River

As the saying goes, it’s the journey, not just the destination, and along the Fox River Trail there are many great ways to enhance your journey with a chance to hop off the bike saddle and explore by foot.

Tiny shops drawing big interest

Taking a business from the kitchen table to an independent thriving storefront is a leap larger than the Grand Canyon, and rather than rely on faith, local communities are putting in the effort to support startups.

Business leaders in Batavia, McHenry and other towns have embraced the idea of an incubator project providing small shop spaces that are located together to draw visitors. The communities have created a village of what, at first, looks like backyard sheds. Beyond the location space, the business community nurtures the retailers with support and networking, allowing the entrepreneurs to test the waters and gather retail experience that ideally will lead to future brick-and-mortar enterprises.

McHenry Riverwalk Shoppes

There’s a buzz in the air with the return for a second year of the McHenry Riverwalk Shoppes, a collection of 10 independent businesses operating now until Dec. 3. The shops are open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Since the launch of the shops last summer, the community has embraced the venue, explained Amy Humbracht, director of chamber outreach and economic growth for the McHenry Chamber of Commerce. She said there were 29 businesses vying to be part of the venue’s 10 locations this summer.

“So many people are excited,” Humbracht said.

This year, the collection of 10 shops will feature a variety that includes Patina Wine Shop, Kest Jewelry, The Bumble Bread Company and a tiny outpost of Marvin’s Toy Store, which has a shop location in Crystal Lake.

Located near the Riverwalk Shoppes is another new addition, Rita’s Italian Ice, a perfect complement to a warm summer day.

Some of the shops are adding Thursday hours to their stores to complement the weekly Pearl Street Market, featuring local vendors and live music concerts. The market opens at 5 p.m. and concerts start at 7 p.m.

Batavia Boardwalk

These businesses opened previously at the Batavia Boardwalk Shops. The new ones just launched for the season. Sandy Bressner/

Ten new shops opened for the season at the Batavia Boardwalk Shops on May 12, 2023. The Batavia Boardwalk shops also include a pop-up shop which will feature a new vendor each weekend.

Now in its fourth season, the Batavia Boardwalk on Wilson Street in downtown Batavia has helped several businesses start tiny and then blossom into larger retail spaces in Batavia and throughout the Tri-Cities.

This year’s tiny shops will include Jodi Mac Sweets & Treats, the unique jewelry and art of Morbid Mementos, Big Bear Sunglasses and Home Run Hot Dogs & Lemonade. Shoppers will find plenty of treats and unusual wares to explore as they visit the shops Friday, Saturday and Sunday from now through Dec. 22.

For those riding through town on Saturday mornings beginning May 18, visit the Batavia Farmers Market outdoors on North River Street between Wilson and Spring streets. The market includes fresh produce, as well as meats, eggs, baked goods and handmade items.

Steer into the downtown groove

Restaurants and shops beckon along Third Street in downtown Geneva and bordering streets. Shaw Media

The Fox River Trail offers a scenic ride, but sometimes one needs to venture off the path in the name of good coffee, browse through vintage home décor and grab lunch, too. Here’s a downtown well worth a pause along the trail and a chance to refuel.

With every visit to downtown Geneva, it seems there’s something new to explore from delicious restaurants, havens for decadent desserts and boutiques boasting style for your closet and your coffee table.

From fine dining to casual fare, the restaurants in downtown Geneva will have you planning a return trip. Grab a seat and dine al fresco or pick up lunch to-go and find a shady spot to enjoy the sport of people watching along Third Street. For a lighter treat, go for an ice cream cone, a coffee or dive into the multiple sweet spots where chocolate, edible cookie dough and ice cream topped by a cloud of cotton candy will satisfy a sweet tooth.

Join in the fun during one of the street festivals in the summer or a Sunday morning at the Geneva French Market in the downtown Metra parking lot. The market is open now through November.

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