The old downtown, can we recreate it?

Opinion: Kosey Corner

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By Joanne Kosey


Remember when there were no vacant stores in our area? I write not just about Carson's and Toys R Us, but all those little stores that meant so much to the community, where people could get a variety of items. Here are some, which many of you may not know about or remember, that have come and gone.

We had a dime store in Riverside where everything was not a dime but reasonably priced. It was located on Burlington along with lots of other small businesses, including a women's hat shop and a ladies boutique.

The boutique carried lovely clothes, but only one of each design so the ladies would not find themselves showing up at an event with the same item on. Unfortunately the owner retired, and I was always sorry she did not sell the business, because it was doing well. 

I loved the bakery where The Chew Chew is now located. At 3 a.m. there was a baker in the back of the store baking those delicious sweet rolls for the early morning crowd.  

There was always a grocery store of some kind. The electric store, as we called it, sold appliances. It then became a gift shop and now it is Riverside Bank. 

Macramé is back, so maybe we will have another macramé store in town. Yes, there was one and I can't tell you how many family members received plant hangars half-hitched with love. They also carried jewelry and other items that today may be referred to as BoHo style.

The Art Stop, which sold framed art and also would frame art for you, left Riverside for LaGrange and now is closed due to retirement. The Arcade Building housed Uncle Frankie's Donuts, which replaced the Tobacco Store, a popular spot with commuters.

On Quincy Street there was a furrier, at a time when it was fashionable to wear fur. It was also nice to have the shoemaker in town and a hardware store. 

How many trips to Bednarz Ace Hardware on East Burlington did people make on the weekend? It was convenient and they knew their stock -- that included the knowledgeable Mrs. Bednarz and her mother, Jennie Doman, who always had a quip. Both ladies were always very dressed as if they were going somewhere special. I also miss the drug stores -- two downtown and one on Harlem Avenue.

My point is we need to search out some of those homespun businesses and fill those vacant store fronts and not just with more service oriented businesses. I mean no offense to anyone, but I like to shop locally. 

We have choices for good eating, Riverside Foods, unique shops such as Higgins Glass and Aunt Diana's, but let's get more. Wouldn't it be nice if people from the city could hop on the Burlington and come to Riverside to spend the day?

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Patricia Dragisic from Plainfield, IL  

Posted: September 17th, 2018 1:36 PM

We moved from Riverside to Plainfield in 2015. The downtown here is very busy with lots of well-patronized small shops and restaurants. We have a butcher shop, bakery, ice cream and treat shop, and a coffee shop. What is the difference? They are not snooty, self-important, and want to hang on to the old way of doing things. It it a great place! We lived in Riverside for 34 years, and the downtown has been "planned to revitalize" at least 4 times that I can name. It never worked. Why? Well, Mr. Henniger spent most of his last years complaining to anyone who came in that WE were jerks because we shopped elsewhere. The card shop complained about having to stock all kinds of new cards. But they complained to the customers who came in to buy them. I don't want to go somewhere where I am berated while I shop. Economic Development Commission said the main reason our downtown is dying is because the backs of buildings face the railroad tracks. Really? Plainfield does not have a railroad. People come here because they like the downtown area. Maybe if the economic development group contacted Plainfield and listened -- really listened -- they might head in the right direction.

Jim Mann  

Posted: September 13th, 2018 5:24 PM

Joanne, if you are looking to recreate the Riverside downtown of decades ago- my answer is probably not. There a number of reasons to support my conclusion. There is the lack of many small businesses to be profitable and to meet customers demands. A negative influence was that of the large city department store. Those facilities were usually developed by individuals in the dry goods business. To attract more customers to view their goods they often sought to rent space to symbiotic businesses, i.g. jewelry, cosmetics, furriers, booksellers, etc. to join them in one building. Modern day mall developers used the same principle to entice small shops to their malls where the department store became the anchor. Another factor was the decline in eastern and central immigration. Butchers, bakers, tailors who were trained in their trades in europe brought those skills and the small service store ethic to the US. Long gone is the time of the owner living behind his business. A change in the business pattern for grocery stores and pharmacies evolved into selling goods such as liquor, cards, flowers, bakery goods, etc. The days of the grocery stores having a 50 foot frontage were limited to a growth in new and various products, as well a desire to increase income to maintain added costs, especially with the advent of 7-day a week hours. What to do? Brookfield and Riverside face a similar problem. LaGrange has been more fortunate. They had a large theater, banking, Montgomery Wards and Sears in their downtown which provided for the symbiotic attractions of a variety of shops, restaurants, etc. Even with the loss of Wards and Sears, they had a well anchored business district. A wide variety of ething restaurants, arts and crafts, antiques, yes-and even theme bars or a microbrewery could be a stimulus. Look at Galena, history, architecture and symbiotic businesses. Ricerside revitalization potential YES! But, can Riverside overcome the desire to remain a Hidden Gem.

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