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Richmond, Illinois: A Small Midwest Village Searches for Identity and

Richmond, Illinois: A Small Midwest Village Searches for Identity and Fights for Survival

People who visit Richmond think of it as a place to buy antiques. Those days are coming to an end. A rash of store closings in the past few months heralded a new reality for the village. With the arrival of eBay the brick and mortar antique business has fallen on hard times. Richmond village officials now must find and court other types of businesses to fill the slots left vacant by the antique stores that Richmond depended on to for many years.

Judy’s Java and Books closed late last year. Jacquelyn Faire & Co. and Forget Me Not’s are now closed. Station House Gifts closed in February. But new businesses are arriving to fill vacancies. Tranquil-A-Tea opened on Broadway last fall. A martini bar and lounge is expected to open this summer if the owner can obtain permission from the zoning board. It will have a European Kitchen serving cold sandwiches.

The downtown area of Richmond needs significant improvements. An aggressive Economic Development Committee (EDC) is staffed by Barb Gallegos, Jeannine Nagel, Bryce Klontz, Trustee Cindy Walleck, and Village President Lauri Olson. EDC has the full support of Olson and Village Manager Tim Savage who are anxious to bring the village back to financial health.

“There is definitely a feeling of optimism in the air,” said Gallegos. “A dressmaker boutique will go in the Forget Me Not store. An interior designer will take over another empty store soon. There is a car alarm company looking at the vacant store on the southwest corner of 173 and 12. We need to make a keep in mind that the business owners are the village’s customers. They need easy rules to follow when they come to us for direction. The person you need to talk to is Cindy Walleck. She is highly involved in the EDC and promoting the village’s revival.”

Village Trustee Walleck could not be reached in time for publication.

Heidner Properties, the developer, will open the already built mini-mall on the northwest corner of Routes 12 & 31 in the near future. The mall is set up to install five new stores. Each store will have1,000 square feet of interior space. Real Estate agent Sonny Katzenberg who assisted in the sale of the property said, “We know for sure that Subway is committed to rent one of the units. Other businesses looking at the property include an ice cream shop, a doughnut shop, a coffee shop, a Chinese restaurant and a currency exchange.”

Katzenberg handled the sale of another lot on the west side of route 12 across from Van’s Supermarket. According to Katzenberg the mini-mall owner, Mac Patel, will operate a gas station named Richmond Petroleum. He will also construct a car wash facility and a 3,600 square foot state-of-the-art convenience store inside a building that will house two more small businesses Katzenberg would like to hear from people who might be interested in putting stores in the malls. He can be reached at 815-678-4131.

East on Route 173 in the golf course area, the village is negotiating with owner Chris Khayat who would like to build a complex that would include a small hotel, mini-mall, banquet hall, wine store and a housing development with 240 town homes. The current golf course would be pared down to nine holes.

Jamino’s Pizza, a full service restaurant, will be opening soon on Route 12 next to the middle school. Work is swiftly coming to completion on the building. The EDC is anxious to complete a walking trail that would connect the downtown area to other places in Richmond. Discussion is under way to implement a TIF funding mechanism that would pull tax increases from a defined area into the village resources. This money would be used to improve the area within the TIF boundary. However, the final outcome is still in question until more research is completed.

The village board is on the verge of settling the lawsuit with developer Peter Bell. Village Attorney David McArdle said that he was tweaking the papers for a settlement and that there would probably be no other obstacles. In addition, the new wastewater treatment facility could be completed before the year ends.

Change, as usual, brings doubt and criticism. Not all village officials are on board with the new developments. Trustee Charles Schultz is not a fan of more housing on the golf course. “The impact of yet another large housing development is not necessarily good for the village,” said Schultz. ” The ratio of houses to businesses is already lopsided. The impact fees do not come close to paying the real cost of houses on our community.” Regarding the golf course Schultz said, “When we had public meetings a couple of years ago the people indicated they wanted to keep the golf course in tact. I am in favor of putting up the winery with a reworked golf course. This would help pay for the impact on the schools from the other developments. I want to see Richmond’s economy leaning toward tourism and that would keep Richmond as a destination for visitors. I also recommend the village needs a combination of stores that sell both products and services.”

At a recent board meeting Trustee Dan Deters expressed his dissatisfaction with the number of golf course homes proposed by Khayat. Deters is concerned about the impact of development on the Nippersink creek, a Class A stream. He believes that maintaining good conservation techniques can only help the economy of the village in the future by attracting visitors who are looking for a “country” atmosphere. Deters said he is not against some development on the golf course property but he wants to see the course stay keep its current 18 holes. “I would not drive anywhere to play nine holes,” said Deters.

Olson is in office for one full year as of April 2006. She inherited a village embroiled in a major lawsuit regarding the sewer project and she engaged in heated debates with the village’s primary housing developer.

At the end of 2005 some people were referring to Richmond as a “ghost town” in the wake of many closed antique stores and little prospect for new commercial ventures. However, in just a few months prospects for the village are brightening. Olson is studying hard and learning quickly.

If commercial growth is any barometer of Richmond’s economic well being, then Olson could be charting a profitable course for the future.