McHenry County sees signs of economic rebound

SPRING GROVE – McHenry County is showing fresh signs that it continues to shake off the post-recession blues, even in some of its more rural areas.

Spring Grove residents can look forward to new restaurants in the coming months, as economic activity picks up in the village. Bricks and Ivy Sports Tavern opened this week at 2508 Route 12 in Spring Grove, in a building that had sat empty for a year after the closure of the Village Tavern.

Bricks and Ivy is one of three restaurants projected to open in Spring Grove in the coming months, village officials said – and Spring Grove isn’t the only municipality seeing a bump in business.

Crystal Lake and Woodstock have experienced an uptick in interest from businesses in the past year, too.

Although the signs of economic activity are hard to miss, there still are some soft spots in McHenry County’s commercial real estate markets, said Bruce Kaplan, senior broker associate with Lake in the Hills-based Premier Commercial Realty. But the type of speculative building that has returned to some suburban areas in recent years isn’t happening in McHenry County.

“Overall, there’s a lot of positive signs. Consumer confidence is up, and lending rates are still low,” Kaplan said. “However, there’s still weakness out there.”

Retail and industrial sectors have rebounded more than office, where supply still outpaces demand, Kaplan said.

There even are signs that rental rates for industrial property are creeping up, he said.

Retail rates aren’t going up, but owners aren’t offering the concessions they did a few years ago. After the recession, a five-year lease with a year of free rent wasn’t unheard of. That type of deal is falling away as the market improves, Kaplan said.

“There’s not as much discounting,” he said. “Things are tightening up.”

Spring Grove is seeing more activity than it has in a decade.

“We had a lot of inquires in 2017 about potential businesses moving in,” Spring Grove Trustee Patrick Mazzanti said. “We are hoping to fill up the remaining vacancies in town and spur development. This has been a real positive.”

Mazzanti said economic development has been on the upswing across different types of businesses in the village, including industrial, retail and restaurants.

“This is the most activity we’ve had in probably 10 years,” Mazzanti said.

Tommy’s Pizza and Sports Bar, 2020 Route 12, also is projected to reopen soon, and a seafood restaurant is in the process of building out at its location, also on Route 12, Mazzanti said.

“This will give us some variety, which we haven’t had a lot of,” he said.

Bricks and Ivy Sports Tavern owner Mark Weishaar of Algonquin said people can expect good food,
atmosphere and service at his restaurant, which is open at 11 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday and opens for dinner at 3 p.m. during the week.

“It’s a sports bar with a family atmosphere and a casual menu,” Weishaar said. “We serve everything from burgers to appetizers to pizza. … It’s going to be a great atmosphere. My business philosophy in three points – great atmosphere, great food, great service.”

Crystal Lake is another McHenry County city that has seen business interest in the past year. The city has attracted grocery giant Mariano’s, major makeup retailer Ulta Beauty and Wisconsin’s largest furniture seller, Steinhafels.

In Woodstock, several new businesses have announced plans to open, including a Casey’s General Store and storage facility on the former Blain’s Farm and Fleet property at Woodstock’s main south entryway to the city.

The Casey’s project will consist of new construction, following a trend that Economic Development Director Garrett Anderson recently has seen.

Vacancy is low in Woodstock, particularly in its downtown area, which is at a little more than 90 percent occupied. This means many projects coming down the 2018 pipeline will include new construction, Anderson said.

“That is a very exciting turn to make, where we see local demand being enough and we are really running low on supply of vacant buildings,” Anderson said. “We have a good mix of projects, not just retail. We also have some in the restaurant and manufacturing fields.”

Some municipalities in the area also have made a concentrated effort to focus on economic development.

In Algonquin, officials plan to launch a marketing campaign to attract businesses to its corporate campus, a 1,000-acre business park development on Corporate Parkway off Randall Road. Retail and other companies came to Algonquin last year, including OrthoIllinois and Stein Mart.

It’s not only chains and corporations that have been attracted to McHenry County, some officials said.

McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce President Kay Rial Bates said she recently has noticed a lot of smaller businesses coming into the city’s downtown area.

“I have seen more interest in our historic downtown areas, with changeovers and different types of businesses moving in,” she said. “You see more of the smaller entrepreneur-type businesses coming to the downtown area. Another thing I have seen since the recession is people that have left corporate positions, taken those skills and started their own businesses.”

Illinois overall has been slow to recover from the recession, but it keeps inching ahead in terms of its economic climate, said Brian Harger, a research associate with Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies.

Northeast Illinois is considered the growth engine for the state, not only in terms of jobs but also population, he said.

Harger said that although counties around Chicago have seen the biggest growth, many McHenry County workers commute to those jobs in growing industries such as health care, professional services and education, which can help stimulate the economy.

“Obviously, when you have employment growing in the basic sectors, that stimulates more consumer spending,” Harger said. “Wages in general have been sluggish in moving up, but consumer spending has been healthy, both nationally and in the area. … Retail demand has been holding up pretty well, and that takes people working in factories and offices to do that.”

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