Parking, snow and code issues among Elgin business concerns
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media February 24, 2014 10:48AM
A light tractor clears snow from around the entrance sign at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin last month. Snow removal in the downtown area is one of the issues local business owners say they are concerned about. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: March 26, 2014 6:13AM
ELGIN — Parking, snow removal, signage and code enforcement area among the issues that get Elgin business owners riled up.
Some of those business owners came to a special meeting held Thursday night in downtown Elgin. Sponsored by city council members Anna Moeller and John Steffen, the roundtable-style meeting was designed to allow business owners time to explain what some of their complaints and concerns are.
The idea came from sitting down with Ron Weiner, owner of Mr. Cheaps Mattresses on Walnut Avenue, Moeller said.
“He and I talk regularly … and we agreed that hosting a forum would be a good opportunity to talk about the similarities and shared concerns” that Elgin business owners have, Moeller said.
While business owners are always welcome to attend city council meetings or contact their city council members directly, that is not always easy for busy owners, Moeller said.
Neither, she said, are council meetings a good venue for a discussion of problems or concerns.
By hosting a meeting at the former Villa Verone restaurant, “it is a more informal setting to tell us as your city council representatives and staff here tonight the things we can do to create a healthy business climate here in Elgin,” Moeller said.
Parking is one of the issues that concern Weiner. His business at 213 Walnut lost on-street parking as officials tried to ease congestion at Route 31 (State Street) and Walnut.
While he and the adjacent Kendall’s Kountry Kitchen diner lost parking, on-street parking is still allowed on Route 31, he noted.
If the effort was to reduce congestion there, losing parking for his business doesn’t make sense, Weiner said.
For business owners in the city center, snow removal or the lack thereof has been difficult this winter, said Lisa Madrid of Retro-a-GoGo, a vintage-items shop on Chicago Street.
Parking was lost this winter due to snow piled in the street, she said. If people can’t find a nearby parking spot, they will not stop.
Customers going to the mall “will park a mile away,” Madrid said, but they do not have the same considerations for downtown. Also, at least one downtown resident would park a vehicle on Chicago Street on Friday evening and not move the vehicle until Monday morning — meaning snowplows could not work around the vehicle.
“People park cars overnight, all night long … it is ridiculous” that the street is not posted as a snow route, she added.
Several business owners talked about changing regional — and local — perceptions of downtown Elgin. That does not help when people passing through the community see someone urinating outside a bar, they said.
Neither, said Elizabeth Haney of Acme Design, does it help to bash Elgin on social media. “If you want your business to do well, be a part of the good news. If don’t have good news, don’t share the bad,” Haney said.
Some business owners feel that the city does not do a good job of explaining what fees and licenses they need to pay for, or what is needed by code enforcement.
Attorney Shirley Sadjadi said the city was wonderful to work with when the second floor of her Chicago Street storefront was renovated a few years ago. But when the renovation program was put in the hands of the Downtown Neighborhood Association and further regulations were added, they eventually gave up on the program.
“It wasn’t worth it” for the paperwork involved, she said.
Some of the concerns brought up at the session can be handed by city staff, Moeller said afterward. Others may need the city council to address.
“Marketing and changing the perceptions ... are things we need to work on,” Moeller said. “But I hope the people who came out tonight know that they have the attention of the city council and high-level city staff. They can be confident that their issues will be taken seriously and addressed, and that they feel supported by the city.”