Hops 'n Barrels Wine & Spirits in St. Charles aims to be more than a liquor store
Does the city need a liquor store with plenty of bars and restaurants in downtown St. Charles? The answer to that question would be yes, considering there aren't any in the central business district, but only if the liquor store can offer something more to its customers through permitted events or tastings.
It has to fall into the category of engaging customers with some form of entertainment above and beyond stopping in to buy some craft beer, wine or bourbon. Otherwise, it's just a liquor store, which doesn't particularly do much for a downtown steering itself toward entertainment and dining.
Pratik Patel fully buys into that theory as he enters his fourth month of operating the new Hops 'n Barrels Wine & Spirits store in downtown St. Charles.
"We need something different for St. Charles other than a typical liquor store," Patel said. "People come downtown for special events, so we have to offer some of that."
Patel has to work with landlord Mark Grossklag and the city to add some special events or features at the location that formerly housed the Grossklag Real Estate and, later, a home décor shop over the past several decades.
"We have to get creative with what we could do with a permit because we can't really have people sitting inside and drinking," said Patel, who envisions a bourbon or wine tasting area near the front of the store.
Patel is committed to improving the customer experience in the store in any way he can, considering the unfortunate events that slowed his progress before and just after opening the store.
Over that time, Patel said he dealt with nine deaths in his extended family locally and in India. He endured a city sewer line backup in his Bloomingdale home that caused significant damage.
On the side, and with the help of his father, Harry, he was venturing back into the liquor store business with Hops 'n Barrels at 203 W. Main St., a prominent corner in the city.
Since opening, the store has settled into what Patel calls a "feedback period," in which he wants to hear from customers and residents about what they want the store to be -- above and beyond a downtown liquor store.
Landlord Grossklag has encouraged residents through a Facebook posting to reach out to the Patels and provide ideas for the business.
After nearly a decade of working for a wedding reception company and learning about the entertainment business, Patel realized he liked this aspect of customer interaction. He also helped his cousin operate a liquor store, so eventually, he was ready to open his own.
Once in St. Charles, he was ready to act on his first impressions of the market.
"We got into being more specialized, and we realized in this market there is going to be a demand for bourbon, wine and craft beer," noted Patel, who has helped his father operate stores in North Aurora and South Elgin. "Our other stores have similar selections, but we noticed there are a lot of 'whiskey' people around here."
By that, Patel is essentially saying those who enjoy bourbon are willing to pay for the hard-to-get brands or would be interested in trying new brands.
"We're hoping to set up more of a whiskey tasting area in the store, but we can't have a bar in here," Patel explained.
Patel said he feels "very confident about the store's future here" but acknowledged it had taken longer than planned because of the unexpected deaths in India (where he initially went for his brother's wedding). He planned that trip for a few weeks, but it took months.
"We're going to try to make the inside of the store better for customers," Patel said. "We are right in the middle of downtown, but some people still are not sure of what we are."
Right now, it's a liquor store open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with parking spaces in the rear of the building. It offers more than 2,500 brands, including a wide selection of wines, craft beers and some rare bourbon whiskey like Buffalo Trace and others.
But it wants to be more than that, which will be Patel's goal moving forward.
Consignment shop takes hold
The last time I roamed around the retail location at 122 W. Main St. in St. Charles, it was the Colson's department store. My estimate puts that between 30 and 35 years ago, considering Colson's closed at this key downtown corner location in 1992.
I had no reason to scope out the stores that followed in that spot. I was not a consumer in need of skiing equipment or patio furniture when it was Vertical Drop, and most definitely not in need of a new saddle or other accessories for horseback riding when it was Stanbridge Master Saddlers.
But my wife and I venture into consignment shops occasionally, and that's what owner Tammi Rojek has on full display at Double Take Consignment in a historic corner of the city.
I wrote late last year about Rojek's desire to open Double Take Consignment in St. Charles to complement her other Double Take store in Crystal Lake.
After getting through the winter and a significantly chilly and rainy spring, Rojek said business is picking up, especially as more people get out and about and realize where her store is, how large it is and what it offers.
She's done a nice job setting up this location, bringing back memories of the Colson's days with clothing, shoes, purses and other accessories. It also has a "Man Cave" section of men's clothing on consignment.
But has the soaring inflation hurt Rojek's business or given it a boost?
"You know, I haven't experienced inflation like this, so it's hard to say," Rojek noted. "I was talking to my husband about this, and I think what it comes down to is that consignment stores do well when money becomes tighter, especially for essential things like a parent buying clothes and shoes for their kids.
"But it is likely to slow down on some of the other purchases of what would be nonessential things," she added.
Lots of prairies
When you spot a colorful prairie that catches your eye, be it in LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve in St. Charles or the smaller patch in Wheeler Park in Geneva, it is fascinating to consider that up to 22 million acres in Illinois looked exactly like that about 200 years ago.
Historians and ecologists claim as much as 90 percent of that prairie land has succumbed to roads, buildings, parking lots and other things we tend to build.
But the prairies are still out there, especially locally. And area farmers have lived on or near them all these years.
You can see for yourself when Campton Township hosts its annual Prairie Fest from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, at the historic Corron Farm, 7N761 Corron Road.
Open to the public, this free rain-or-shine event offers guided tours of the 1850 Corron home, with restored carriages, farm equipment, civil war letters, early photos, sheet music and vintage postcards on display.
Children's games and hayride tours of oak savanna and prairie are also scheduled.
The Corron Farm Preservation Society will hold a 50-50 raffle to raise funds for restoration projects on the farm.
Using 'COVID math'
COVID has done a number on our sense of time.
It's just a minor inconvenience or quirk of the pandemic, considering how many families have suffered the loss of loved ones or continue to deal with long-term aftereffects of COVID.
But when guessing the age of a child I hadn't seen for some time, I said she was probably 6. I was corrected. She is 9 years old.
It was a surprise, but not when realizing I had not used the "COVID math" in my guess. COVID math tells us that even though we thought time stood still the past two years, it did not. People were still aging, and things we owned got older, but that's hard to realize when you were not getting out too often.
The next time you ponder the age of someone or something, consider the COVID math equation. Everybody is a little older than the last time you may have seen them. Time didn't stand still for that.