How Jeans and a Cute Top shop helped establish First Street as a shopping destination in St. Charles

  • Jill Card is the owner of the Jeans and a Cute Top women's clothing boutique at 161 S. First St. in St. Charles, which opened in 2010.

    Jill Card is the owner of the Jeans and a Cute Top women's clothing boutique at 161 S. First St. in St. Charles, which opened in 2010. Courtesy of Dave Heun

Posted12/2/2022 6:00 AM

As St. Charles officials ponder the community plaza phase of the now 16-year-old First Street revitalization project, they could point to a women's boutique store as exhibit A on how a merchant benefits from these modern upgrades.

Owner Jill Card opened her Jeans & A Cute Top Shop at 161 S. First St. in 2010, making it one of the first retail locations along that strip. As it has turned out, it's been one of the stronger businesses as virtually every storefront near it has changed hands over the years.


Card came in with some experience, having opened her first Jeans & A Cute Top Shop in Wheaton the year before. It helped her stay the course as she went through some quiet years at the beginning of St. Charles' major revamp.

"We are in good shape now, we really are," Card said. "And I'm glad we did stick with it because there were some rough years, but Mayor (Ray) Rogina at that time kept saying to hang on because the cavalry was coming."

It may have taken some time, but Card now sees what that "cavalry" entailed -- more stores coming to First Street, and the vacant spaces quickly filled again. Plus, city officials are determined to complete the community plaza portion of the project, though they are pumping the brakes a bit now on the estimated $2.5 million price tag.

Stores like Artisan Soapery, Boutique Baby, Vintage 53 and Coroco Coffee have joined others that have settled in for a few years, along with an array of restaurants like Alter Brewing & Kitchen, Gia Mia, ZaZa Trattoria, La Mesa Modern Mexican and McNally's Irish Pub. It translates to positive vibes about what is happening in downtown St. Charles to complement the entertainment complex along Main Street created by the Arcada Theatre and the Graceful Ordinary restaurant.

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So much so that merchants along First Street enjoyed their first "Sip and Shop" event on Dec. 1, a milestone in getting firmer footing as a shopping destination and showing new cooperation among the retailers.

"We all want the plaza project and more retail here," said Card, a St. Charles Business Alliance member. "We would all benefit from something new coming into the former Blue Goose grocery location, as we miss that foot traffic."

Card calls St. Charles a "downtown to watch" and one with a lot going for it. "We are all thrilled with what is going on," she added.

But Card also understands how and why it takes time for a business goal like First Street, which first caught city planners' attention in 2006 with early drawings and strategies, to reach its full potential.


Card has been through it herself. After 10 years of working in downtown Chicago for Club Corporation of America, most of those years managing a private dining club above the trading floor of Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Card became a mother of two boys and spent the next decade as a stay-at-home mom.

She took a job with Ann Taylor clothing store, noting, "I like to shop, and it was a way for me to get out and talk to adults again."

It didn't take long for her to realize she was pretty good at helping women find clothes that looked good and fit.

She started to think about things she could do better during that time. She noted that nine out of 10 women in the store wanted a "cute top," a product hard to find at career-woman-focused Ann Taylor and most other places. Plus, the premium denim phase took hold, and tops quickly became a go-to need.

"My husband supported my idea to start my own place, but I did two more years of due diligence and study," Card said. Ultimately, she opened the Wheaton and St. Charles stores and found her instincts -- to provide excellent customer service and stress premium denim and cute tops -- were correct.

As she nears her 57th birthday, Card has expanded her store's niche demographics to ages 35 to 65 but stuck to the premise that women simply like quality denim jeans and an assortment of tops to go with them.

In that way, the store's name provides a key marketing value when shoppers online are seeking places to visit.

"We keep taking it one season at a time," Card said after enjoying a busy Thanksgiving weekend at the store. "We would all love more foot traffic, but there is so much activity here.

"It is up to us to keep building relationships and make customers happy -- and make it worth their trip here."

Carolers will entertain during the Geneva Christmas Walk on Friday, Dec. 2.
Carolers will entertain during the Geneva Christmas Walk on Friday, Dec. 2. - daily herald file photo, 2017
Taking the holiday 'Walk'

Earlier this week, the TV weather forecasters were telling us things should be fine for the evening of Friday, Dec. 2.

That's good to know. If they hold up on that prediction, Geneva should be in for another big turnout for the annual Christmas Walk.

We've always enjoyed this event, but even more so now that we get to take our two young granddaughters to the various festive scenes and their first look at Christmas carolers, Santa's House and the manger scene at Geneva Lutheran Church.

It's always crowded, but that's part of the fun -- especially when considering things were different during the early breakout of COVID.

It's an especially festive event for me, as it will always mark the anniversary (give or take a day) of my retirement from full-time work, this one marking my first year.

As you've probably noticed, I have kept doing my columns for the Daily Herald. For the time being, they are stuck with me.

Being retired from a daily grind is something I recommend to anyone. It makes this time of year more fun with all of the holiday activities.

But there are some guidelines I have established and a few things I highly recommend when people ask how the "retirement gig" has been going.

I'll share a few of those thoughts and recommendations with readers next week.

Enjoying holiday events

It's become somewhat apparent that despite many cases of RSV, flu and COVID still striking; people are taking on this holiday season with more gusto.

Part of it is that many of us have had all the necessary vaccinations, equating to far less severe cases of potentially deadly illnesses. Mostly, it's a desire to return to some sense of normalcy, especially at this time of year.

After all, the holidays are the holidays. Even though some big events have already taken place, other interesting events may get less attention than something like Christmas Walk in Geneva.

Here are a few events worth checking out:

• As part of its 40th anniversary season, the Fox Valley Concert Band is staging a "Home for the Holidays" free concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at the Norris Cultural Arts Center in St. Charles.

• Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley will host "Holidays by Candlelight" from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 4, at the 1834 Durant House Museum and Sholes School in LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve.

• The Preservation Partners also have the "Winterlights" display at the Fabyan Japanese Gardens in Fabyan Forest Preserve from 5 to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 16 and on Saturdays from Jan. 7 to Jan. 28.

• Albright Community Theater in Batavia is staging "A Christmas Carol" at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at 100 N. Island Ave. The show is also set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11. Tickets are available online.

• Steel Beam Theatre in downtown St. Charles is staging "Miracle on 34th Street, a live musical radio show" at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 18. Tickets, at $14 each, are available online.

Go out and get in the holiday mood if you haven't already.

It's grand for chicken salad

It's generally something I might order after nine holes of a golf round when I stop at the snack bar for a bite or to take into the cart for the back nine.

But I can certainly eat a chicken salad sandwich almost anywhere.

One of those places is sure to be Chicken Salad Chick, officially preparing for a grand opening on Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 220 N. Randall Road in Batavia.

This small restaurant site in front of Menards was previously a quick-service Italian food place and the Crabby Boil seafood restaurant.

Here's to hoping a great chicken salad sandwich is what we've been waiting for at this location.

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