Mundelein's Area General Store a place for coffee, conversation
At its core, Mundelein's Area General Store is a coffee shop.
But to owner Rob DuPont, the 1,200-square-foot storefront at 18 E. Park St. is more than a place people can buy hot beverages or sweet treats.
To DuPont, the shop is a way to spotlight some of the other small businesses in Mundelein and neighboring communities by offering locally produced edibles and merchandise.
That means selling coffee beans roasted in Libertyville, barbecue sauce and pickle relish bottled in Mundelein, artwork created in Grayslake and honey taken from hives throughout Lake County.
"Our goal is to source everything for the store within 30 miles of the store," DuPont said. "People are starting to realize where they buy things and what they buy and what they put into their bodies make a difference."
Set just east of Route 45 in the heart of Mundelein's downtown district, the Area General Store opened in July in space that formerly housed a beauty parlor.
It's next to the popular Park Street Restaurant, which DuPont also owns.
The downtown location is important to DuPont, who once served on the board of a downtown merchant group called Mundelein MainStreet.
The building has some sentimental value for DuPont, too.
"My father owned the building that houses Park Street and the general store, and ran DuPont Jewelers out of one of the units for 45 years," said DuPont, a longtime Mundelein resident who is overseeing a staff of four part-time employees at the coffee shop.
"Area" may seem like an unusually nonspecific name, but it's actually historically significant.
Before the village was named Mundelein in 1924 to honor Catholic Cardinal George Mundelein, it had been called Area.
"We decided to call the business Area General Store as a nostalgic nod to Mundelein's past, as well as a way for people to identify with the locally produced aspect of the business," DuPont said.
"Nostalgic" is a good word to describe the business' decor.
A metal rack near the front features rows of old records -- actual LPs, the kind you need a turntable to play. Nearby, a classic Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game sits on a table near a comfy couch, inviting players to sit down and challenge each other to a match.
"We are hoping to be a local gathering place where commuters can run in for a cup on their way to work (or) moms can come visit with their friends," DuPont said. "And a spot for teenagers to hang out and play games."
In just a few months, Area has garnered attention for its coffee, which comes from a Libertyville company called Hansa Coffee Roasters. The shop also sells prepared food and baked goods from Holcomb Hollow, another Mundelein-based business.
Scented oils, wooden boxes and pens, candy and other items created by various Lake County entrepreneurs and artists are for sale as well.
"(These are) locally produced products that you normally wouldn't find in a retail environment," DuPont said.
DuPont's wife, Nancy, occasionally helps out at the store. She's a big fan of the "buy local" philosophy, which has been gaining popularity in the Chicago area and elsewhere.
"I think people are trying to get away from the big chains and support local businesses," Nancy DuPont said.
Mundelein resident Michael Atkinson is a regular at the store. He can be found there most weekends, working on his iPad while he eats breakfast and enjoys a cup of coffee.
"It's the best coffee I can get anywhere," Atkinson said. "They've wrecked me for chain coffee."
Mundelein Mayor Steve Lentz is an Area fan, too. He praised the store as "entrepreneurial, original, innovative, creative and hopefully successful."
"The village is all about attracting those kinds of businesses, and the more the merrier in our downtown," he said.
Other developments on Park Street and in the broader downtown area could soon boost business at the general store, Lentz said. They include the pending opening of a new restaurant on Park Street called Tina G's and the planned construction of two apartment buildings in the area.
DuPont said he hopes the store will become "a hub for change" in the neighborhood.
"I have been searching for a way to contribute and give back to the community," he said. "Opening a neighborhood gathering place that focuses on local producers and artists was the best way to I knew to accomplish that."