Retail incubator: Boardwalk Shops draw browsers to Batavia

  • Shoppers check out the new Boardwalk Shops in Batavia during opening weekend.

    Shoppers check out the new Boardwalk Shops in Batavia during opening weekend. Courtesy of Dave Heun

Posted6/19/2020 6:00 AM

It was quite apparent during last weekend's beautiful weather that many of us didn't really need a reason to get outside, but it didn't hurt for Batavia to be offering something new and unique to the Tri-Cities.

The opening of the Boardwalk Shops in Batavia fed off that great weather, as area residents starving to get out helped the merchants in these shops at the corner of Wilson and Route 25 enjoy a highly successful debut.


Plenty of folks browsed around the eight shops that look like small houses, lending some credence to the notion that this is a concept that everyone should heed for startup businesses.

You most often hear about "incubator" programs when startups are developing new technology for mobile devices or digital features on appliances or any other number of entertainment advances or security features in our homes and workplaces. And they hope a larger firm will buy their technology, or it becomes popular enough to strike out on their own.

The Boardwalk Shops businesses are a brick-and-mortar version of that phase -- not quite ready for prime time with a larger storefront or accompanying online presence, but certainly ready to do so if things go well during this "test run" in a smaller setting.

Shoppers check out the new Boardwalk Shops in Batavia during opening weekend.
Shoppers check out the new Boardwalk Shops in Batavia during opening weekend. - Courtesy of Dave Heun
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As these businesses move on to bigger and better things, new tenants would set up to essentially test their ventures in the Boardwalk Shops. That sort of turnover is what makes it an incubator program.

"In a time when so many downtowns are losing retail, to be able to offer a retail incubator and allow eight new stores the chance to grow and succeed is incredibly satisfying to be a part of," Batavia MainStreet executive director Sherri Wilcox said. "We truly believe that this new retail 'community' will bring folks to our downtown, and keep them here longer … strolling along Wilson Street and Batavia Avenue, dining on Water Street and River Street and hopefully, spending their dollars on great stuff from our local businesses."

It's a sound sales pitch, particularly when the Boardwalk Shops will feed off the farmers market on River Street, and vice versa. While it's been a somewhat annoying fact of life that downtown Batavia's traffic flow is like being stuck in mud, it almost looked like a good problem to have last weekend. Cars were lined up from Batavia Avenue (Route 31) to Washington Street (Route 25), presumably as people continued to flow into town to check out the new shops, welcome back the weekend market and visit other retail shops opening under new guidelines.

A couple of the Boardwalk Shop food vendors actually sold out on the opening day, Wilcox said. "It wasn't because they weren't well stocked; their shops were full to the brim."

Shoppers check out the new Boardwalk Shops in Batavia during opening weekend.
Shoppers check out the new Boardwalk Shops in Batavia during opening weekend. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

"People are so enthusiastic for a project like this one, especially right now," she added. "It's a bright spot, and those sales are proof the concept has legs."

It's also a bright spot when you consider that more than 700 volunteer hours went into building the new shops, and thousands of dollars worth of donated materials and supplies from local businesses helped make it all happen.

The shops are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.

More information about the shops is available on the Batavia MainStreet website.

Offering a holiday parade:

With so many Fourth of July fireworks displays and events being canceled this year because of coronavirus, Batavia VFW Post 1197 leaders figured they had to try something that would be safe and on a smaller scale open to the public.

The post at 645 S. River St. is hosting a Fourth of July parade on the grounds for kids, starting with the assembly of participants at 10 a.m. and the parade at 10:30 a.m.

Post commander Jay Davis says kids and their parents dressed up in patriotic attire will march on the post's lawn areas and not leave the property. Davis added that the lawn is capable of handling wagons if parents want to pull little ones during the parade.

Those who want to watch can bring lawn chairs and buy beverages from The Impact Zone outdoor bar.

Fire trucks will be parked at the post for kids to tour with local firefighters.

After the parade, the post will offer hot dogs, chips and soda, free to any children younger than 8, and at $5 a plate for anyone older.

Davis also shared this important reminder. Pet owners can bring friendly dogs but also have to bring leashes, water bowls and poop bags.

The likable Mr. Bartels:

I can't speak for all journalists, but it seems most would be able to reflect on the first interview they conducted for a story as a professional.

Mine came in the kitchen of Plato Center resident Ken Bartels at his home on family farm property in July of 1977. I was fresh out of college, where I had spent a fair amount of time on the college newspaper covering all sorts of topics, but mostly sports.

But my first job in this area as a reporter called for me to cover the rural townships and school districts in Kane County. Bartels was involved with the Plato Township board. He agreed to talk to me about that job, the workings of his sprawling family farm along Route 47 near Plato Road and other things taking place in a world I had not had much exposure to, having grown up on the southwest side of Chicago and in a fast-growing Naperville.

Bartels passed away on June 11 at the age of 87, and it made me think about that first interview. My impressions that day were pretty much reflected in his obituary in the Daily Herald.

In so many ways, this nice fellow was pulled out of a Norman Rockwell painting that could have been titled, "Life in Middle America."

He married his high school sweetheart, served in the Army in the Korean War, and spent much of his youth and high school years working the family farm in Roselle alongside his father. He and his wife ultimately moved to Plato Center in 1964 to establish the family farm on that land.

I could tell my encounter with Bartels might also have been his first with a newspaper reporter. In looking back, he was understandably cautious about what he said and how he said it. However, he still flashed the traits that family and friends say were his calling cards: He had a big smile and warm greeting for a young reporter who had much to ask about farming and township government.

For a first professional interview, Bartels may never have known how important that was to me.

Hippie days over:

With about 25 years of experience of cutting my hair, my hairstylist has a perspective of my graying noggin that most others would not. She glanced at my head last week and said, "In all this time, I've never seen your hair longer."

As most everyone knows by now, that's what happens when you can't get a haircut for more than two months because of the pandemic.

But my answer was, "You didn't know me in high school."

Yes, this short revisit to the days of longhaired "hippies" is over. I finally got my haircut -- and it made for a fairly dramatic change.

How dramatic?

Our dog barked at me when I walked in the door. She had the look of "Who is this guy?"

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