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Plainfield strives to keep downtown unique

Area on its way to becoming a destination point

PLAINFIELD – Having a vibrant downtown is vital for the good of all of Plainfield, village officials say.

“Downtown is a critical component,” Village Planner Michael Garrigan said. “It’s fundamentally different than what you would see in the Route 59 or other corridors.”

Downtown Plainfield businesses are crafty, unique and complement each other. Many local businesses sell items or food available in few other places, if at all.

And a stretch of Lockport Street was designated a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places.

Since reconstruction of Route 59 and the downtown streetscape, including sidewalks and outdoor seating areas, the downtown is becoming what village leaders wanted it to be: a destination point.

“A lot of towns would love to have a downtown like we do,” Mayor Michael Collins said. “Some of the surrounding municipalities are trying to create a downtown. Ours has been here since the conception of the village, developed in the early 1800s.”

Businesses eye downtown

Collins said the village has received more interest in businesses looking to set up downtown, but those businesses need to be specialized.

“The downtown area is more of a niche market for business,” Garrigan said. “It requires a different strategy for the village to recruit businesses. We take great pride that we don’t recruit big-name nationals downtown.”

But one of the few big-name retailers on the outskirts of downtown also has a local tinge.

Kin-Ko Ace Hardware, 24604 W. Lockport St., has served Plainfield residents for 34 years.

“Like other businesses, the economy has taken a toll on us,” store manager Dave Flentge said. “Our house accounts were hit hard, but we’re trying to work business-to-business back up.”

Flentge said customer service has kept the hardware store afloat through the recession and other hard times.

While many local businesses were hit hard by the recession, several have survived and thrived.

“Some are still here and a lot of them aren’t,” said Cary Miller, owner of Miller’s Old Fashioned Butcher Shop. “With that economy, you’ve got to have a lot going on to keep going. I have very good quality stuff, and I take care of people.”

Unique service helps

Miller’s butcher shop at 24032 W. Lockport St. has been open for the past 23 years. The shop is unique, processing deer and wild boar meat.

“We were basically grandfathered into it,” Miller said. “Not a lot of places process that. As far as a butcher goes, I’m here for the hunter, too.”

For Mary Alice Lambert, weathering difficult economic times was a matter of adjusting the product line in her downtown Plainfield shop and the way she carried them.

Lambert owns The Tawny Tortoise, a specialty store that has operated under several names at 24012 W. Lockport St. selling unique foods, gifts and dolls. She has operated from the store for the past 26 years.

“We have customers from a lot of surrounding areas and they are definitely looking for things I have in my store they don’t readily find in other stores,” Lambert said.

She also commended the village for streetscape improvements made to the area.

“We needed to believe that the economy and traffic was going to improve and hang tough,” Lambert said.

Village reaches out

With their eyes on strengthening the business district, Plainfield officials are interviewing downtown businesses to gauge how it can better retain and help businesses thrive.

The interviews are part of a larger process to retain more business in the village. Last year, the village sat down with major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Target and Meijer, to get their perspective.

“We’ve reached out to all the downtown businesses,” Garrigan said. One of the businesses that responded was The Tawny Tortoise.

“We told [the village] we need a stronger retail center with a variety of retail,” Lambert said, adding that downtown still needs to be a center for specialty products.

Another business with a unique twist that opened up last month is The Shrimp Barn, 24136 W. Lockport St.

Owner Robert Degen, who also owns a Minooka restaurant by the same name, said since he opened his fresh seafood restaurant, he has experienced the effect of downtown Plainfield.

“It’s very unique,” Degen said. “It takes you back in time a little bit. It doesn’t have the hustle and bustle and it has its own niche industry. A lot of people are walking up and down the streets.”

Garrigan was pleasantly surprised by how well businesses are doing in the downtown area and how bullish they are.

“One thing that is coming out loud is that they want us to keep events like Cruise Nights and Plainfield Fest,” Garrigan said. “More civic activities are bringing more business downtown.”

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