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Photo: John Greenwood|
This view of downtown Geneseo is looking to the north from the intersection of State and 2nd streets,taken in 1877.
The story of Geneseo's downtown involves more than simply a few blocks of stores and shops.
The changes have come with growth and development on the south side of the city and a concern among retailers that they aren't left out of the mix.
Dawn Tubbs, Geneseo Chamber of Commerce executive director, said the health of Geneseo's downtown is "pretty good."
"But, it's not without it's opportunities," Ms. Tubbs said. "I think we're in better shape than many small towns.
"We can attribute that to the strength of the business community here and the local support we receive from them. However, due to the big-box environment, Internet shopping, and the changes in our social structures and working environment with men and women working, we've seen small businesses struggle more."
Downtown Geneseo's decades-old buildings hold a mix of specialty shops and businesses.
Leaders from the city and business community are looking at ways to develop the I-80 entranceway and keep the downtown vital.
"We're poised, and we have been working hard to make sure we don't have empty storefronts," Ms. Tubbs said. "This is an uphill battle, of course, and we will continue to work on that."
George Kutsunis, chairman of GWK Enterprises, which does business as Four Seasons and Pegasus Fine Gifts, a Geneseo-based woman's apparel company, has seen the changes over the last 45 years in Geneseo's downtown. His daughter, Katie Andrios, is president of GWK.
"It's pretty obvious to the observer that there aren't as many retail businesse today not only in our downtown, but in many downtowns," Mr. Kutsunis said. "The reson is services formerly offered were offered by smaller operators now taken over by larger merchants like Farm and Fleets, the big box depots."
Mr. Kutsunis went into business for himself in 1962 when he opened Merry Go Round junior shop in downtown Geneseo. He opened his first Four Seasons missy shop in 1968, when a nearby storefront became vacant.
"We know there has been constant change in the retail area even since I've been in business," Mr. Kutsunis said. "You adapt."
He said back in the 1980s, Geneseo's downtown underwent a makeover with the creation of a street scape downtown with brick pavers and decorative lamps and trees.
Ms. Andrios said the spirit and idea of being an entrepreneur is still the same today as it was for her dad 45 years ago.
"If you're a 25-year-old today and want to start a business, you'll probably start something like an Internet business," Ms. Andrios said. "We have a good-looking downtown. One building for rent probably gets two or three inquiries a week from someone wanting to start a business."
Mr. Kutsunis said part of the reason Geneseo's downtown isn't in the bad shape that others are is because of those improvements.
"Look at our town and the investment we've made in this community," Mr. Kutsunis said. "The off-street parking we have in the downtown district is unparalled.
"It was a labor of love back in the 60s. All of the businesses chipped in to create off-street parking independent of public money. They created a street scape downtown in the early '80s. We raised $500,000 to do that.
"We didn't get the government for this or ask for grants or TIF money. We did it out of our pockets, because we believed in this community."
Ms. Tubbs said she would like to see Geneseo's future downtown go in the direction of the specialty stores, something she said one sees in St. Charles, Ill.
"That's what our community lends itself to," Ms. Tubbs said. "Hopefully, that will appeal to young professionals."
Since 2004, when two local developers, Todd Cahalan and Chris Anderson, began to change Geneseo's entranceway, the city has focused much of it's efforts there with a multi-million dollar road project along Ill. 82. New lighting and pavement work is scheduled for completion in 2007.
Mr. Kutsunis said that shouldn't hurt the downtown.
"We're on an interstate, and we've always attracted interstate-type businesses -- fast food, motels that cluster around the interstate," Mr. Kutsunis explained. "What has developed now is additional restaurants and motels. The only retail that has gone out there is Klavohn's Home Furnishings.
"To say the south end of town has drained the downtown is a misnomer."
Margaret Behr is one of the specialty shops that bring flavor to the downtown. Her business, Retroplitan, 100 N. State St., opened in February 2006.
She said her boutique business was having a good holiday season.
"I would say that 80 percent of our business is from out-of-town," Ms. Behr said. "When I go through the checks and make the deposits, many are from people passing through or visiting someone here."