Visitors to Streator’s downtown may have found it difficult to find a parking space these past couple of weeks.
It’s a problem businesses on Main Street are happy to have.
“(Passersby) are parking a block or two away, which is marvelous as they’re walking down the street and stopping in,” said Nancy Holmberg, owner of H & H Mercantile.
Holmberg said she’s seen increased traffic on Main Street this year and attributes some of that activity to a rising number of stores. She also credits community efforts such as the Jammin’ at the Clock concerts every Friday at Heritage Park from June to August as well as the newly installed Heritage Park Vintage Wall that will now make the backdrop for those concerts.
Holmberg noted the injection of newer businesses, such as the coffee shop More on Main and its associated vendors at Main Street Market as raising interest recently.
“It’s really snowballed and I’m delighted for Main Street. For the people who have hung in there all those years, I hope they get the business,” Holmberg said.
She’s one of those who have “hung in there” as her business has been at 314 E Main St. for 16 years. She said she’s not seen it this busy since opening shop.
Streator Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry Executive Director Jack Dzuris credits the increased interest in part to Streator residents growing an appreciation for their small downtown area.
“New shops in town are doing an excellent job and we’ve made great improvements,” Dzuris said. “Everything is looking nicer, cleaner and looking up-to-date.”
Some of the businesses have taken advantage of the city’s facade grant program wherein they update their facades to meet a unified look the city is trying to develop downtown.
Dzuris also credited the work of the community’s START Committee as being useful in filling holes in Streator’s marketplace.
Dzuris said the committee found money was leaving Streator and attempts were made to get those businesses into the downtown.
Deb Sergeant just celebrated her one-year anniversary of opening Wild Hearts Boutique in Streator’s downtown after previously operating on Route 17 outside of Wenona.
Sergeant said many guests have said her business saved them a trip to Ottawa or Peru.
“It’s far exceeded my expectations,” Sergeant said of her first year. “I knew it was going to be good but I had no idea how good it was going to be.”
Sergeant said she made the decision to relocate to Streator after touring its downtown and reminiscing about its past, when a long line of cars was more common.
“I grew up here and I know what it used to be. There’s no reason that it couldn’t be again because it’s not dead,” Sergeant said.
Dzuris said Streator’s downtown used to be home to larger chains such as Sears and Montgomery Ward. He said it was a time when people rarely traveled outside their city limits for shopping. Later customers started traveling to malls and with the advent of the internet, they’ve taken their shopping dollars online.
But Kay Fulkerson, owner of K’s Secret Garden, said local stores like the ones in Streator sometimes offer a unique personal touch as well as Streator-branded products that can’t be bought anywhere else. Her candle line based on popular Streator landmarks as well as pottery made by Gavin Finefield, of Fine Field Pottery, has attracted customers both locally and across the county and Chicago suburbs.
“I think there’s a revival in just shopping downtowns everywhere,” Fulkerson said.
Finefield said he’s always getting the word out about Streator’s offerings when attending craft fairs.
“People are coming and exploring the whole Illinois Valley Area and there’s something here to see,” Finefield said. “Now with the (Walldogs) murals coming in the summer we’re gearing up and getting ready to go because we expect quite a few people to come through these doors.”
Finefield agreed the downtown shopping experience offers customers something different, adding people are able to walk into the shop and see the owners making their products. He said it creates a more personal connection between business owner and consumer.
Whatever the reason, and more likely is a mixing of them all, the business owners say they look forward to seeing continued growth in the city’s downtown and are excited about what the future holds.
“I think it’s coming along fine and for the future of Streator I hope it keeps going,” Holmberg said.