While there is a certain amount of ebb and flow to any commercial district, the trend in downtown Homewood in 2016 was toward rebirth after a dip in the area’s fortunes. Two years ago, the term “renaissance” might not have applied. Now, it does.
When Kim Nolen appeared before the Homewood Board of Trustees to apply for a liquor license for the farm-to-table cafe she is developing, she described the business climate downtown as a renaissance.
The term seems to fit.
While there is a certain amount of ebb and flow to any commercial district, the trend in 2016 was toward rebirth after a dip in the area’s fortunes. Two years ago, the term wouldn’t have applied.
Downtown shops were closing faster than they were opening. Mr. T’s Barber Studio closed shop at 1953 Ridge Road after 45 years in business. Another long-time local business, Wayne’s Paint & Carpet, closed about the same time. World of Enrichment closed. Homewood Kitchen & Bath closed. Savoia’s T’Go was empty. Bogart’s Charhouse was vacant.
Then in January 2015, Tessa’s Dollhouse, a collectibles and consignment clothing store on Martin Avenue, also closed, leaving only one remaining business in the Triumph Building. The trend appeared to be going in the wrong direction.
The downturn didn’t last long, however.
A new tea shop, Civilitea Gardens, opened in August 2014 at 2025 Ridge Road, and Upsa Daisy Boutique opened in March 2015 at 18100 Martin Ave., the first of a new generation of downtown stores.
Village government helped set the stage for the downtown comeback. Money from the Central Business District Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district was used to renovate Martin Avenue from near Cedar Road to near Kroner Lane.
The renovations allowed the summer Farmers Market to relocate there from its previous home in the Village Hall parking lot. Market Manager Kate Duff said vendors and patrons lauded the move, noting that the new location is a better atmosphere for the market.
TIF money was also used to invest in the downtown area ‘s new business anchor, La Banque Hotel with its La Voute Bistro + Bar, which opened in June 2015 and provided a center of gravity around which more business development would gather.
In 2016, the gathering began.
Most of the empty storefronts were papered over as renovation work began in preparation for new businesses.
And on the near horizon is a proposed development that will give the downtown area another big boost. Third Coast Development has purchased 2049-2051 Ridge Road and is in the process of purchasing the Triumph Building at 2033 Ridge Road, former home of Balagio Ristorante and a number of shops.
If the sale of the Triumph Building goes through in February, the company plans to demolish the two buildings and construct a multiple-story combination retail and residential use building.
Mayor Richard Hofeld said the resurgence of the downtown area is an exciting prospect, and he’s encouraged by the number of new ventures springing up.
He attributed much of the recent economic development success to a board of trustees that he says has a vision of what Homewood can become and a village staff that does a great job implementing that vision.
He said the trend toward dining and entertainment business fits that vision of a downtown that becomes a destination, not only for local residents but for visitors.
The board has supported business incentive funding for La Banque Hotel, Vice District Brewing, Lassen’s Tap and Bottle & Bottega.
Former Economic Development Director Tom Vander Woude said there are several factors that contribute to Homewood downtown’s resilience.
“Homewood has all the elements you look for in a strong downtown,” he said. “Business owners have seen what’s here and want to be part of it.”
Proximity to commuter rail service, situated at the west edge of the downtown area, has been a primary asset for the village’s entire history. But the downtown area is also “walkable,” he said, which is a characteristic increasingly valued by young people.
“You can walk everywhere you need, to the bank, stores, restaurants, even groceries,” he said. “There’s entertainment, good public transportation.”
The physical characteristics are important, but he said Homewood also has a somewhat indefinable characteristic that nevertheless is attractive to businesses: character.
“Homewood is a nice town. There’s a strong sense of identity,” he said. “Businesses want to be in a place where there’s evidence of the pride people take in the community.”
Vander Woude said part of the village’s strategy for attracting businesses is to get prospective owners to visit and let the downtown area sell itself.
Michelle Horan, representing the South Suburban Food Co-op at an economic development event in April, said the co-op decided to move its store to downtown Homewood in part because of the cohesive sense of community in the village.
Vander Woude said the owners of Vice District Brewing initially planned to open a production facility in Homewood, but after visiting the downtown area, Quintin Cole and Curtis Tarver decided to expand their plans, adding a taproom where they will serve their craft beers.
Homewood’s village government also gets credit from new business owners for providing good support through the process of getting a new business going.
“It’s not too often you look at a building and the mayor gives you the tour,” Cole said at a board of trustees meeting. “I was shocked. That meant a lot to us.”
The 2008 recession was a factor in the slowing of business development for several years, Vander Woude said, but though recovery in the area has been slow, it appears economic momentum is starting to build again.
Business license activity seems to support that assertion. Village-wide license applications in fiscal years 2012 through 2015 averaged about 74 per year. In 2015-2016 there were 101 applications, and they are on pace to exceed that number this year.
Licenses in the downtown area are not the tidiest measure of economic health, according to village Finance Director Dennis Bubenik. Some licenses are applied for but never issued, for various reasons. Some businesses acquire a license but don’t stay in business in the same location for long. New licenses might be issued for existing businesses that have new owners.
But the trend in licenses for new stores along the village’s main thoroughfares appears to support the recent dip in activity followed by the current resurgence. There were seven licenses for new stores in the downtown area in 2013-2014, two in 2014-2015, three in 2015-2016, three so far in 2016-2017 and three more pending for stores that are currently being prepared to open.
Beans & Greens
1941 Ridge Road
The first grocery store in downtown Homewood in four decades opened in September 2016. The store, which features locally produced and organic foods, is operated by the South Suburban Food Co-op, which has been serving the area for more than four decades from other south suburban locations, most recently in Park Forest.
The store also acquired a liquor license so it can offer locally produce meads and wines.
Bottle & Bottega
2007 Ridge Road
Greg and Darcie Loudon opened the painting-party studio late in September. The business offers a relaxing, upscale atmosphere where anyone ― regardless of talent
― can enjoy creating a painting, with a little guidance from local artists.
The business has a bring-your-own-bottle liquor license, so patrons can sip on wine and listen to music while exploring their creative sides. The studio is in the space formerly occupied by Nathalie’s Interiors.
18009 Harwood Ave.
The auto repair business opened a shop in the fall where John’s Auto Service was until July. The new shop specializes in antique and classic automobiles.
The Copper Still
1961 Ridge Road
The martini bar opened Jan. 2, after being in development during the summer and fall of 2016. Owners Dana McDermott and Christina D’Agostino, with help from McDermott’s husband, David, hosted two preview events in December, a sneak peek during the Holiday Lights Festival on Dec. 2 and a holiday open house on Dec. 29.
The martini bar will feature CD vodkas and will hold martini-making classes periodically.
The next phase of the project will be the completion of the Blind Tiger, a Prohibition-era speakeasy in the basement. The Blind Tiger will be a membership-based club with opportunities to enjoy a slice of history.
Divine Sole Boutique
18109 Dixie Highway
The shop opened in September and features diverse fashions and hosts fashion events, often with live music.
Owner Sabrina Davis said she moved the shop from an Oak Lawn strip mall because she liked the atmosphere of downtown Homewood and the increased visibility of her Dixie Highway location.
Homewood Science Center
18022 Dixie Highway
The village purchased the former Ryan Funeral Home at the end of 2014, and 2015 was spent creating a plan for developing the science center. In 2016 the center began to make its presence felt in the community.
The science center board of directors hired Executive Director Edie Dobrez in March. She and Holly Kelsven, marketing and events coordinator, soon began developing programs and activities to give the community a taste of what’s to come.
PopUp Science, a series of events often in conjunction with the Homewood Farmers Market and village festivals, features hands-on activities that kids enjoy while learning science and engineering ideas.
Jonathan Kane Salon & Spa
18065 Harwood Ave.
The salon and spa, which opened Oct. 26, is a transplant from Flosssmoor. Homewood is generally reluctant to grant special-use permits for salon-type businesses downtown because so many are already there, but Kane was granted a permit in December 2014 after making the case that his business is sufficiently distinct from others in the immediate area.
2049 Ridge Road
The boutique specializes in vintage furnishings and decor and has a strong craft and art focus. Do-it-yourself workshops and art shows are regular events at the store, which opened in February.
Like UpsaDaisy, which opened in 2015, Loulou Belle is a pop-up shop success story. It started when partners Dodi Wions and Lisa Komorowski ran Wink & Belle as an independent pop-up shop during the holiday shopping season late in 2015.
The shop’s future is uncertain, though, because the building has been purchased by a developer and is slated for demolition to make way for a new mixed-use building. Wions and Komorowski are currently looking for a new home for the shop.
Medina Casa Fina Art Gallery
2015 Ridge Road
Joe Medina opened the gallery of his work Jan. 14. Medina’s career was in the Chicago advertising business, but he was an artist in his spare time most of his life, and after spending much of his retirement years in Arizona, he moved to Homewood recently and decided to open a gallery to share and sell his original artwork.
2057 Ridge Road
Kim Nolen is developing an intensely local, farm-to-table, slow food cafe that she hopes to have open soon. Healthy food is what she will serve, but what she intends to create is a place for the community to gather and connect. She has been working on the idea for more than a decade.
Vice District Brewing
18027-18029 Dixie Highway
The project has met its regulatory requirements and preliminary work has begun on renovations, but one key element ― adding a water line that involves digging into Dixie Highway ― will have to wait until spring to comply with IDOT regulations.
Other moves and changes
Body by Ivory
18667 Dixie Highway
The personal training service moved from a downtown location, 18205 Dixie Highway, to a Southgate location. According to village officials, the owner, Ivory Lofton, said the move was precipitated by multiple changes of ownership of the building downtown.
18225 Dixie Highway
The restaurant has been closed for several years, and the building has deteriorated to the point that it wouldn’t be practical to renovate, according to village officials. While the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority continues efforts to acquire the property so it can be redeveloped, village officials in May began the process of condemning the building.
2009 Ridge Road
The former Duo’s Nearly Nu at 2015 Ridge Road moved two doors east on June 1 and shifted from consignment clothing and accessories to an upscale boutique.
Edward Douglas Salon
1940 Ridge Road
The salon was the last business to leave the Triumph Building, relocating during the summer two blocks east on Ridge Road.
18035 Dixie Highway
The real estate firm was founded by Laura Walter in 2014, and in August it moved from its office on Morris Avenue to a downtown location that had been vacant for about two years, the former home of World of Enrichment.
2045 Ridge Road
After her lease expired at 2009 Ridge Road, Nathalie Goich tried to set up shop a block west, but problems with the building led to her decision to liquidate her furnishings, accessories and collectibles. The final sale was conducted Dec. 2 through 4.
18136 Dixie Highway
The village purchased the unoccupied restaurant property early in 2015. In June, the building was demolished and the property converted to a temporary parking lot while village officials seek a developer to create something new on the site.
Upsa Daisy Boutique
18100 Martin Avenue
Owners Julie Lawton, Suzy Moore and Julie Smith started the business in 2015, and in May completed the purchase of the building. They now own the space formerly occupied by Thai Rickshaw and are seeking a tenant to complement their business and fit well with the downtown business landscape.
Xscape Salon & Mini-Spa
1950 Hickory Road
The salon is in the process of moving across the street from its previous location at 18110 Dixie Highway.
Zone Comics & Games
18107 Dixie Highway
New owners Joe Bullaro and Alex Stritar took over operation of the comic book store with a plan to expand game offerings and to make the store more of a family-friendly gathering place for comic book and game fans.
Correction: In the first version of this story, Laura Walter’s first name was misspelled. The Chronicle regrets the error.