In spite of the recession and its sluggish aftermath, new businesses are still moving into New Trier Township communities.
With the exception of Glencoe, the communities all have vacancy rates below the 9.5 percent average for the Chicago area. Many of the communities have vacancy rates more in line with the boom days of 2004 to 2007, when the area's rate was less than 8 percent for all but one quarter.
Patch surveyed the communities to get business development and municipal officials' takes on the business climate in each one.
While officials and residents wait to see if the big catch — Walgreen’s — eventually moves into the sub-divided former Borders store in Edens Plaza, other businesses have steadily set up shop since the start of 2011.
“In 2011, we had 25 new storefront or traditional commercial businesses move in,” said Lucas Sivertsen, business development planner for the Village of Wilmette. “An additional 20 home occupations got licenses. For the first half of 2012, we have another 15 traditional businesses get licenses.”
Wilmette has three large business centers: downtown, Edens Plaza and Plaza De Lago, plus smaller areas like the Linden L terminal area.
“It’s been a pretty even distribution,” said Sivertsen. “In 2011, we got four restaurants, six retail outlets, five offices and mix of personal services uses. Yoga studios, salons. We get a lot of phone calls from restaurant owners looking for space, but it is difficult to find a restaurant space that works."
A new Thai-fusion restaurant Dowize, 1107 A Central Ave., has re-converted a former optometrist’s space downtown. “And we had an architect come in to submit construction plans for a new restaurant on the corner of Wilmette and Central where Crystal Cave once was.”
Wilmette’s business vacancy rate is 5.6 percent.
“The effects of the recession were a little delayed,” Sivertsen said. “We had a pretty good 2010, an average 5 percent vacancy rate. We did see an increase in 2011. At one point it was 6.4 percent. You see the vacancy rate rise at the beginning of year as people hang on til the end of the year.”
Wilmette works closely to promote business through its Chamber of Commerce, ads in publications and on-line, and through its Facebook account and village newsletter.
Kenilworth vacancy rate is zero.
“We’re fully occupied,” said Susan Criezis, Kenilworth’s community development director, counting a medical office, two exercise facilities and an eye care store that have moved into the community in the past year. Only one vacant building, in the process of being sold, exists on Green Bay Road.
The smallest of New Trier’s communities is employing a $75,000 RTA grant to lay the groundwork to re-do downtown with the goal of a mixed-used business distrct with multi-family housing upstairs, Criezis said.
“We want to have a walkable district,” she said. “We just have a small number of rental apartments. But people want housing options [to downsize as empty nesters]. Residents would like to have casual dining. What we could have would be similar to Central Street in Evanston.”
The first meeting to talk about the planning grant is scheduled for July 11. This is the first significant planning effort since 1922, Criezis said.
Winnetka's vacancy rate is 7 percent, down from a peak of 9 percent, said Terry Dason, executive director of the Winnetka-Northfield Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve had high-end women’s clothing, furniture stores and hair salons move in,” she added. “We have businesses moving out of Chicago and into Winnetka. They say most of the retail in city is becoming corporate retail. We like our locally-owned businesses, but we do also have Panera Bread, Gap, Starbucks and Caribou Coffee.”
The Village of Winnetka has a difficult task tracking the total number of incoming businesses. The village issues licenses only to businesses that sell food – restaurants, grocery stores and service stations.
Dason said she's seen interest from fitness centers wanting to locate in downtown storefronts.
However, downtown zoning restricts storefronts to retail-oriented businesses.
“You lose that retail sense of business if you start putting in doctor’s offices and real-estate firms,” Dason said.
Glencoe has 17 vacant spaces and 125 businesses for a 12 percent vacancy rate.
The village has begun a $10,000 Small Business Improvement Program this fiscal year, said Will Jones, assistant village manager.
“Businesses can apply for a matching grant to improve their appearances — windows, doors, awnings, painting or tuckpointing,” Jones said. “It’s the first year, so we thought $10,000 was a good starting point. We have had a number of applicants.
Another spur to incoming business is developing a municipal “aggregation” with the MC Squared firm to lower electricity costs. “That should achieve savings on 35 percent on monthly costs,” Jones said.
New 2012 business licenses were granted to Eclectic Gorgeous Goods (vintage home goods), Goldmax (jewelry), Oly Oily (indoor play and restaurant) and Richard Shay’s photo studio. In 2011, licenses were granted to retail clothing outlets Bella Gypsy, Boutique Reform and Three Twelve Tudor, Madden Home (gifts), Madra Asset Management (financial services), North Shore Natural Medicine (a chiropractor) and Park Avenue Media (publishing).
The countrified look still exists in Northbrook with its small business district just west of the Edens Expressway around Willow Road. Yet Steve Gutierrez, the village’s community development director, said new developments are showing interest in vacant spaces, with the vacancy rate less than 5 percent.
“One storefront that went empty is 5,000 square feet,” said Gutierrez. “The landlord is submitting a special use application for a new take-out Mexican concept at 1735 Orchard."
The large on-line retailer PC Nation wants to develop a small showroom at 500 Central, Gutierrez said. A dialysis center is moving in across the street at 480 Central. And a shopping center is being proposed for the old BP gas station at 1900 Willow Road.
"In our light industrial area, the village is talking to an electronics recycling company, which is close to purchasing the old Pioneer Press production building at 275 Northfield Road,” he said.
“A developer is doing a small commercial center of about 7,000 square feet,” Gutierrez said. “They’ll go through the special-use process. They’re talking about Dunkin Donuts as a potential tenant.”