Maintaining Mayberry

By on March 5, 2009

Elburn wants to keep historic downtown alive
by Martha Quetsch
Many Elburn residents wish their historic downtown was still as bustling as Mayberry. In response, locals have adopted strategies to make it happen.

The latest initiative to boost downtown vitality is the Shop Elburn First program, which the village is working on with the Elburn Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s to promote businesses and let residents know what we have here,” Community Development Director Erin Willrett said.

Through the program, residents will receive coupons for local shopping, highlights about new and existing businesses, and information about how retail sales tax can help the village. The promotional materials will be enclosed in residents’ water bills, so the program will not require mailing costs.

“It’s all about getting the word out,” Willrett said.

Panel’s advice pans out
Elburn was the subject of a study on growth planning conducted in 2004 by the Technical Assistance Panel of Campaign for Sensible Growth. As part of the study, residents shared with the panel characteristics they wanted to preserve in Elburn, one being the village’s hometown “Mayberry” atmosphere.

The fictional TV community of Mayberry, which some people compare to Elburn, had a barber shop and a diner downtown, just like Elburn does. Mayberry also had a lot of other stores, including a pharmacy and a grocery, which downtown Elburn no longer has.

After Jewel-Osco opened at Route 38 and Main in 2007, downtown Elburn lost two retailers, Gliddon’s Pharmacy and The Grocery Store, both in the 500 block of North Main Street. Another store in the same block, Sears appliance store, shut down in 2008 after less than two years in business.

The advisory panel suggested that the downtown not try to compete with new big-box stores; instead, the village should promote a niche market in its historic business district, keeping it vital with specialty shops.

Indeed, stores that specialize have fared well in downtown Elburn, while other non-niche shops have struggled or closed. Among those specialty-shop successes are Ream’s Meat Market and Party Animals. Ream’s owner Randy Ream’s decision to specialize in sausages has been a boon for business, he said. Party Animals, a gift shop that also hosts children’s parties, is doing so well that its owner, Cindy Thul, moved it down the block last fall to a larger space at 166 N. Main, the former Gliddon’s.

More measures designed to boost retail
To ensure that if retailers want to open in Elburn they have prime space including downtown sites, the village adopted a new ordinance in 2008. The ordinance prohibits new financial institutions from locating in prime retail sites or within 1,000 feet of the same type of business. The village’s goal is to keep retail space available for stores and restaurants that will produce sales tax and draw people to town, Planning Commission Chairman Pat Schuberg said. The village already has five banks in Elburn, and two others are slated for construction.

To make the downtown more attractive to new businesses, the village several years ago started a façade improvement program. Through the program, the village splits the cost with business owners for improving their storefronts.

Organizations help promote downtown
Elburn Lions Club is doing its part to bring more people to the downtown. In 2007, the Elburn Lions Club hosted a farmer’s market every Sunday during the summer at Lions Park. Opening the farmer’s market was among suggestions four years ago from the Technical Assistance Panel for community revitalization. The Lions had such success with the first farmer’s market that the club brought it back again in 2008.

The chamber created a new event in 2008, Aleburn. Chamber member Leslie Flint said the beer festival last fall had a good turnout, so the organization may hold it again this year.

Photo: By Sarah Rivers