Thoughts on some of the Tri-Cities' businesses that opened, closed or seemed in limbo for 2021

  • The work on the former Little Owl building in downtown Geneva has stalled. The owner put the site up for sale in early December at $1.5 million.

      The work on the former Little Owl building in downtown Geneva has stalled. The owner put the site up for sale in early December at $1.5 million. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2021

 
 
Updated 1/7/2022 8:10 AM

My first column of a new year traditionally looks back at some of the interesting people and places highlighted in "Talk of the Town" for the past 12 months.

Today, we'll take a slightly different twist, reminding readers about some things mentioned in this space, but with a short summary called "Thoughts Start Swirling." It represents what was going through my mind at the time, but thoughts that maybe weren't shared in the column.

 

These comments strictly represent how my wheels were turning. They don't necessarily represent how the stories played out, but they might raise a question or two that remain unanswered. Or they might complement the story with my opinions about a person or a place.

Either way, we all had plenty to talk about. And my thoughts were swirling.

Graceful Ordinary hits its target

What happened: Early in 2021, we mentioned Chicago chef Chris Curren and his wife Megan planned to open the Graceful Ordinary restaurant at the site of the empty BMO Harris Bank building in downtown St. Charles.

Despite supply chain woes, labor shortages and COVID concerns, Graceful Ordinary hit its target when opening at 1 E. Main St. in mid-November. The restaurant endured a COVID scare not long after that when an employee came down ill. It shut down for some time and quickly handled the information with local media. It reopened, but owners will have to navigate the latest virus surge like all restaurants now.

Thoughts start swirling: So, folks who are vaccinated are going to go about their business at live shows and restaurants and stores, etc. Those who are not vaccinated take risks, but it's not good for any of us. Others agree with that premise, as proof of vaccination is increasingly becoming routine.

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But the Graceful Ordinary opening and brief closing illustrated how things were likely to continue playing out, probably just about anywhere.

The Little Owl saga

What happened: The Little Owl restaurant in downtown Geneva had plenty of history behind it when Nick Smith of Karas Restaurant Group bought the site at 101-105 W. State St. in 2019 with plans to start a new restaurant operation.

The building sat boarded up, with the interior gutted, for the next two years. The city indicated an electrical voltage upgrade was needed at the building. Still, apparently, some other things were coming into play that would cause delays, as Smith put the site up for sale in early December at $1.5 million.

Smith, who owns Alexander's Café in St. Charles and the Old Republic Kitchen and Bar in Elgin, felt his Elgin site had grown so much, he needed to put full attention into that operation.

Thoughts start swirling: Granted, I haven't looked at Smith's financial books, nor do I know who gives him financial advice. But it may mark the first time I can recall someone saying they couldn't expand because they were too successful.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Generally, success triggers other investments and fuels a desire to build bigger operations in more places. It might not be a formula that works during COVID and worker shortages, but those weren't factors Smith included in his explanation.

As for the electrical issue, I got an A in basic electricity in high school 50 years ago, and that's enough to make me believe any electrician could solve most any problem in less time than the long stretch in which Little Owl sat boarded up.

Karri Custardo, left, and Heather Corcoran are co-owners of Trend + Relic in St. Charles.
Karri Custardo, left, and Heather Corcoran are co-owners of Trend + Relic in St. Charles. - Courtesy of Trend + Relic, 2021
Home décor and gifts galore

What happened: We came across more than a few different locations and vendors selling home décor, vintage gifts or specialty items. And many of them came together at Trend + Relic on the east side of St. Charles.

In fact, an interesting business on the east side of Batavia called Vintage Villa, and Farm Home Décor set up shop in the Trend + Relic warehouse at 1501 Indiana Ave. for the holidays.

Villa and Farm owner Carolynn Maltese said she left her spot on the east side of Batavia after three years to instead showcase her fare at local pop-up locations every two months or so.

As a side note, I came across one of the best smelling holiday candles at the Villa and Farm pop-up. It's called "Sleigh Ride," and Maltese was excited about it because it marks her "first foray into a signature scent."

We also spotted Joanna Scara's Farmstead Home setup at Trend + Relic. Scara specializes in Amish and vintage furniture, a business model she learned when working for Amish Furniture at the Charlestowne Mall and on Villa Street in Elgin.

The Trend + Relic shop in St. Charles features about 50 vendors.
The Trend + Relic shop in St. Charles features about 50 vendors. - Courtesy of Trend + Relic, 2021

It also didn't hurt to come across owner Andie Groff's The Chocolate Shoppe stand during our visit to Trend + Relic.

Thoughts start swirling: With retail changing so much with online shopping and large retail centers downsizing or changing their models, it is refreshing to see artisans specializing in vintage and unique décor who operate through online marketplaces but still make an effort to turn up in physical locations.

A lot of this sort of thing unfolds in the area, and those who enjoy browsing at these places have no problem finding out where they are. Plus, Trend + Relic has an incredible setup, with about 50 vendors with spaces in the warehouse.

A new business site that has been nothing but a guessing game as to when it might open was the Dunkin' Donuts site on East State Street in Geneva.
  A new business site that has been nothing but a guessing game as to when it might open was the Dunkin' Donuts site on East State Street in Geneva. - Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2021
About those doughnuts

What happened: Another new business site that has been nothing but a guessing game as to when it might open was the Dunkin' Donuts site on East State Street in Geneva.

There have been many reasons for the delay, from a slowdown in construction materials to the Hari Group, developers of the site, saying it had to pull work crews off the Dunkin project to finish other sites.

The "Now Hiring" and "Opening Soon" signs are up, and the digital menu board inside is lit up. However, as it has been for the past two years, progress can best be described as a snail's pace. Thoughts start swirling: Is there any way a franchise business like Dunkin' Donuts would have second thoughts on a project because of all the obstacles with staffing and supplies? Probably not, but it does spell delays.

We also think someone has at least pondered the traffic patterns along East State Street at Crissey Avenue as less than ideal at the site.

Dimples Donuts on the east side of St. Charles ran into a similar problem, as turning left in or out of that site off East Main Street was close to impossible most hours of the day. That may not be why Dimples Donuts eventually closed that site, but you have to think the business owners weren't singing the praises of the in-out traffic pattern there when deciding to opt out of a lease.

What's next for the Boston Market site?

What happened: The former Boston Market site on Gleneagle Drive off Randall Road in Geneva had been empty for the better part of two years. In the past few months, work crews have been on-site, but I haven't been able to find out what might be coming next or if the commercial agent showing that property has something else in mind. She did not return my phone calls.

And apparently, the city wasn't having any luck either, as attempts to reach the owner or contractor to receive permission to pass along information to the media resulted in no return calls as well.

Thoughts start swirling: It's at least somewhat odd when a property sits for a couple of years, and then some work begins on it, but no one seems to know what that work is for.

I am sure someone does because work crews don't work without direction and, of course, payment. So, if anyone knows anything, feel free to let me know, and I will pass it along to readers.

dheun@sbcglobal.net

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