What Businesses Are Needed in Downtown Des Plaines?

Boutiques, apparel shops, movie theater, restaurants suggested.

As Des Plaines city officials continue to search for ways to revitalize a vacancy-plagued downtown, Miner Street merchants who have run businesses that have hung on for decades have laundry lists of the types of stores they believe can help in the revival effort.

One of the most senior of those merchants believes downtown needs a jolt, and quickly.

“You know what’s downtown right now, to be honest with you? Nothing,” said Maurice Gerber, the 42-year veteran manager of , as he stood by the 91-year-old retailer’s cash register. “I just went to the currency exchange [down the block] to get my auto license sticker. I was talking to them that you used to be open at 7:30 in the morning, how come you don’t open ‘til 9:30? He said, nobody’s downtown.

“That’s true because we open at 9, and we can sit here ‘till 11 before we see a customer.”


Bringing both new businesses and shoppers downtown is a task preoccupying city council, which recently appropriated $200,000 for a streetscape design proposal for the business district.

$40,000 in TIF incentives available

Previously, the council approved up to $40,000 in tax-increment financing (TIF) incentives for businesses to set up shop. Biggest of the programs is $20,000 to update storefront facades. Next is $15,000 for interior reconstructions. Up to $5,000 more is available to approve awnings.

“The process is pretty streamlined,” said Mike Bartholomew, Des Plaines’ director of community and economic development. “Apply at this office, we review the application and within a few days we can approve it.”

Bartholomew said the city is even willing to present evidence to a potential downtown business’ lending institution that the TIF grants are available to help in the loan process.

“We would certainly be willing to say these are the three programs this applicant qualifies for,” he said.  “We can give [lenders] the documentation they can be approved for the project. If that helps, great.”

But a combination of the sluggish economy, and high rents and taxes in troubled developments like Metropolitan Square has dramatically slowed the influx of new businesses while some existing retailers have closed their doors.

Gerber, who remembers when downtown hosted the likes of Sears and Walgreen’s, said specialty small stores are the answer.

“We could use about 10 boutiques,” he said. “Women’s stores, children’s stores. On this block, you got a shoe store, a jewelry store, four beauty shops and two cleaners. That’s all you got on the block besides Leona’s and Sugar Bowl. And Leona’s doesn’t even open ‘till 4, and they close early at 10.”

Wanted: jeweler as competition

Several doors away from Square Deal Shoes is Heather Wahl, fifth-generation proprietor of R.C. Wahl Jewelers. Begun in 1894 in Chicago, R.C. Wahl has been at its present location since 1949. Heather Wahl would welcome a competing jewelry store, and more.

“We love all things jewelry,” she said. “Years ago, Slavin [jewelers] was in downtown Des Plaines, and that was good for us. We had a certain group of products that was available for clients. They had a different group of products. It expanded the options; it was complementary.

“Any destination businesses are good for us, whether an antiques store, a clothing store, any kind of independent, service-oriented retail operation. The Mosaic Yarn Studio across the street is good for us. Places where people want to come to work with an expert in the field.  I’d like to see more restaurants here. The more restaurants you have, it’s a destination. Cheeseburger in Paradise was doing well here, and they had a lease issue in their building. It was a great destination.”   

The most established downtown restaurant is Sugar Bowl, a half block west of Square Deal and R.C. Wahl. In operation continuously with one interruption since 1922, the family diner was purchased a year and a half ago by Stacy Bouras.

“I’d like to see a department store,” Bouras said. “A clothing store. A full-time [movie] theater by far would help.”

Sugar Bowl lunch patron George Alfonso of Des Plaines also endorsed an apparel shop. “I’d like to see more restaurants,” he said. “I’d do more shopping if they had more variety.”

A caveat for new businesses thriving in downtown Des Plaines is outside appearances are deceiving, said Gerber. The concentration of condo and apartment buildings in the immediate area logically provides for built-in business. Yet many of those residents are financially strapped, Gerber said.

“They can’t even pay their [condo] association fees,” he said. “They come in here looking for $12 and $20 shoes. They sold their homes, which were paid for, and all they had to pay were taxes. Then they came into these condos. Their values dropped a lot.”

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Burt January 23, 2012 at 03:10 PM
The whole town needs to be rebuilt from one end to the other. Don't bother with historical buildings; build some new ones that will last for another 100 years. A jewelry stores is useless because no one has any money. Build soteres so that no one has to leave the downtown to get what they want
Burt January 23, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Ace Hardware, Truevalue, grocery store, restaurants, drug store, UPS store, shoe repair, etc
Joyce Solvig January 23, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Take a look around Arlington Heights at the variety of stores...Well? Come on DesPlaines....
Rich Larsen January 23, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Use the casino money for a free taxi or bus service for the elderly who live and shop in Desplaines
Robert January 23, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Make the rents cheaper for businesses to move in. Anyone remember Cheeseburger In Paradise? Or how bought the Des Plaines Mall?
Burt January 23, 2012 at 04:45 PM
DesPlaines missed the boat. There were many chances to get money to rebuild the city over the last 50 years. The residents voted in morons to run the city and they got what the asked for. I think the city has had it quite frankly. Most of the city including the homes should be demolished and start over
RIck K January 23, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Invite a local micro beer brewer to take over Cheeseburger in Paradise. They will be able to bring in outside customers like beer geeks and also be able to support local festivals.
Burt January 23, 2012 at 10:38 PM
A micro brewery is a great idea! Go European! Plazas, gardens, restaurants. Awnings have been tried with new front doors and it does nothing to increase traffic! The city encouraged condos to be built for a tax base, but just left it there. The down town needs to be a place where people WANT to be. Get rid of all subsidized housing for a start
Burt January 23, 2012 at 10:41 PM
DesPlaines is on the border of Chicago and as such is a great location. The whole town needs to be redone. One master plan and start working on it . It may take 50 years but you will have something when it is finished
Laura Wagner January 23, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Love the microbrewery idea. That would definitely be a destination for people from 50 miles around. We would need more shops to support those customers though. A hardware store, bookstore (or at least a newsstand), coffee shop (quick in-and-out--not sit down like the Sugar Bowl), maybe a toy store, housewares store, electronics store, ice cream shop. I know a lot of places like these are closing elsewhere, but a lot are thriving, too. Look at Capannari in Mount Prospect, Des Plaines Hobbies (at Mannheim and Oakton), and Starbucks everywhere (sometimes 2 or 3 within a mile of each other).
Kathleen Moran January 24, 2012 at 04:44 PM
How about a Panda Express with a drive-thru? There's none near-by. If you don't want to get dressed-up and go out for Chinese you could just drive through and pick-up dinner. Also train commuters might not want to take time to go into a restaurant but would take the time to pick up a family dinner at a drive-thru.
Mark Smith February 21, 2012 at 04:12 AM
How about a hooters. No hard alcohol, decent food, and a loyal clientele that will come back repeatedly.
Burt February 21, 2012 at 04:32 AM
Ok here it is! Make downtown DesPlaines a community, a market with fresh foods and meat , fish etc. the basic necessities. This can be the model of the future. Gas will never go back down and people will be walking again. Make it sustainable!! forget gimmick solutions like more restaurants, boutiques, awnings and brass doors. 41 K won't even paint the buildings
Burt February 21, 2012 at 04:34 AM
On the other hand open a casino, strip club, pawn shop, people always have money for these
Burt February 21, 2012 at 04:40 AM
stores may not be the answer, there are too many as it is. Think outside the box!!
Burt February 21, 2012 at 04:41 AM
vote for me as mayor!!
Craig April 01, 2012 at 04:51 PM
A variety of retail businesses is an excellent idea, however, putting the businesses in first seems kind of like putting the cart before the horse. The condos/apartments likely provide an evening population, but what about during the daytime? The city may find luck in luring some major employers to the downtown area which will provide some daytime population. Imagine 4 or 5 corporate offices spread around the downtown area with 3,000+ people going to work each day bringing their pocketbooks with them. Businesses appear where people are. Make sure the types of corporations setting up shop downtown are diverse in nature so regular ups and downs of the economy don't negatively impact the whole basket of eggs. Go big or go home!


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