On Dec. 31, Patty Weber locked the door at Le Grand Decor, a retail and consignment home decor business located at 3748 Grand Blvd. in Brookfield, for the last time. After five years of battling through an economic recession, a major road construction project and torrential rains in 2010 that flooded the store and shut her down for months, Weber decided to pull the plug.
“After Thanksgiving I finally realized it wasn’t going to work,” said Weber, a LaGrange resident.
Le Grand Dcor will live on as a business, but it will be an Internet-only venture, said Weber, who is still developing a new website where she can sell goods online. The store’s old website was merely informational.
“I’ve never done Internet before,” said Weber. “I think it’s the only thing I can do. You make any major move with trepidation, but I think it’s a workable plan. I’ve had two friends who have done this, so I’m going to develop a website that’s going to be comprehensive.”
Abby Brennan, who owns and operates Brennan Massage and Spa, 3700 Grand Blvd., said she’s sorry to see Weber’s business closing down.
“It’s a shame to see any store close in our business district,” said Brennan, who opened her spa business four years ago. “She brought a retail presence to the district that we really don’t have a lot of. It’s too bad we’re losing that street presence.”
Closing the bricks-and-mortar store was hard for Weber, who has developed close relationships through the years with other Grand Boulevard and Brookfield merchants through the Grand Prairie Crossing business association and the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce. She played an important role in the growth of the Brookfield Farmers Market.
Most of all, she liked Brookfield.
“I think Brookfield is charming,” she said. “I like it here. I like the people and I like working with everybody.”
But the store couldn’t overcome the reality of a business climate that proved unsustainable. Just two years into the venture, Weber said she began to feel the impact of the recession in early 2008, even before the collapse later that year.
“We started feeling it right away,” said Weber, who had expanded the business into a second storefront prior to the slowdown.
Not only did walk-in traffic slow down, Weber saw reluctance in customers to spend, especially for larger ticket items.
“There was a reluctance in spending and [it caused] a difference in the way I was merchandising,” said Weber. “I carried larger items, fairly distinctive pieces. But they were not going to sell anymore.
“So what we did was to go into dcor and accent mode. That worked somewhat.”
But then other problems cropped up.
In 2009, the village of Brookfield embarked on a road improvement project for Grand Boulevard that essentially closed the street to traffic from the circle to Grant Avenue for six months.
While the 3700 block of Grand Boulevard wasn’t part of the project, it made getting there difficult.
“The construction had an impact on all of us,” said Weber. “It wasn’t a breaking factor, but it definitely impacted all of us.”
In 2010, the store air-conditioning system failed in May and June. By July the store was back in business. Then the rains came. The storm of July 23-24, 2010 didn’t flood Grand Boulevard, but the rains were too much for the roof of Le Grand Dcor.
“I got it through the roof,” said Weber. “They had to re-roof the building and I lost a lot of merchandise. In my business, if things are damaged, it’s difficult to sell. Flaws can’t be remedied.
In 2011, business remained flat and frequent power outages from another summer of storms didn’t help.
The Grand Prairie Crossing group in the past couple of years tried to mitigate the impact to all of the businesses by hosting events, like Brides on the Boulevard and an art fair. The Chamber of Commerce held their street dance in the district.
“That did help, and the people were great,” said Weber. “When we started doing events it brought additional walking traffic and additional attention.”
Brennan said she hoped Weber would maintain her ties to the Brookfield business community in the future.
“It’d be a shame not to have her energy,” said Brennan.
In July 2011, Brookfield Zoo also started running shuttles from their South Gate to Grand Boulevard. The program netted the area hundreds of visitors, said Weber.
“I don’t think I got business out of it, but I did get exposure,” she said. “We did have people who’d stop by, and it had a generally positive effect.”
But by early December, the writing was on the wall.
“It was not enough. The numbers were just not playing out,” said Weber.
Brennan said the village could do more to promote local businesses. While she realizes finances are tight, Brennan said an investment in marketing Brookfield would pay off in the long run.
“I know it’s the same old complaint, but some money should be put into the business district, because that’s where you get your money back,” Brennan said. “There has to be a way to market the downtown business district to get more people interested in shopping there.”