CRYSTAL LAKE – Inside of recently opened Kitchen Outfitters are spatulas hanging on the walls, along with whisks and nearly everything else a modern kitchen needs. On metal shelves are coffee makers, mixers, blenders and toasters ovens.
Kitchen Outfitters is the most recent business to open in downtown Crystal Lake, where, for the first time in many years, all of the retail space along Williams Street in the downtown area has been leased. And even more space is leased along Brink Street.
Businesses such as Blue Ridge Mountain Outfitters, Vapor Hut and Crystal Lake Natural Health Care are in the process of opening.
Kitchen Outfitters owners John and Mary Behrens, of Crystal Lake, had thought about opening a business for the last couple of years.
They always talked about something in the food industry, but they thought it would be too risky to open up a restaurant, bakery or coffee shop, Mary Behrens said.
“I honestly didn’t want to do that,” Mary Behrens said. “That thought scared me,”
The Behrens talked to city officials about some business ideas.
“One thing that has been missed most in downtown Crystal Lake is a kitchen store,” Mary Behrens said. “When I heard it was something that was needed in town, I definitely wanted to make a go of it.”
With the economy recovering, and other businesses opening, they wanted to start their business in a place that had that “Mayberry feeling,” Mary Behrens said.
The area has friendly store owners “who want to go out of their way to help customers and each other,” Mary Behrens said.
She added that many of the businesses are complementary of each other.
Diane Kenney, the executive director of the Downtown Crystal Lake/Main Street association said this is the first time in a long time that every retail space along Williams Street has been leased.
“There’s a neat enthusiasm among the new businesses,” Kenney said. “There’s a nice variety of businesses.”
Kenney said there were many challenges over the years, but for some people, it was just time to open.
“They did their research, checked out a town that was active, had a strong downtown district,” Kenney said. “This is a place where the community gathers. A place you think of when you think of your home.”
Mary Batson is owner of Out of the Box, which she opened in October 2008 at the beginning of the recession.
“When I started, it didn’t look like the bottom was going to drop out the way it did,” Batson said. “It started in October, but then I’m in. So you cross your fingers and try to go with it.”
Batson learned she had to adjust to the times.
“I learned people still wanted to give gifts, but needed them [to be] affordable,” Batson said. “They needed to have something that was very reasonably priced. So we sort of made sure our focus shifted pretty quickly to that.”
Over the years, Batson has seen three to four businesses close in the area, but each space would get filled again, she said. However, some spaces have been empty for more than the five years Batson has been in business.
“It says a lot that a newly open space is getting filled, but some of those spaces that have been empty for years are getting filled,” Batson said.
And businesses in the area try to each fill their own niche.
“We all try to be hard to be our own unique stores, and therefore have our own set of customers, while also drawing customers for and from everyone else,” Batson said.
Every spaced being leased along Williams Street shows the economy is improving.
“I think the economy is gradually shifting up,” Batson said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be where we were in the 1990s, but there’s definitely an up trend in the amount people who are willing to spend and the amount of shopping people are doing.”