Local officials try to attract new businesses to vacant buildings

Local elected officials vow to fight for area businesses

The former location of Gander Mountain remains empty in Algonquin.
The former location of Gander Mountain remains empty in Algonquin.

Sears. Toys R Us. Best Buy. Kmart. Gander Mountain.

Those are some of McHenry County’s big-box retailers that have closed in recent years.

As online shopping swells, brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling.

Many legacy stores can’t compete with the prices and convenience of eBay, Overstock and most notably Amazon, which offered it’s massively popular Prime Day discounts earlier this week. When stores close, they often leave behind vacant buildings that local municipalities strive to fill.

“Shoppers are moving away from shopping centers,” said Mary Margaret Maule, president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce. “People don’t have a lot of time, and that’s one of the attractions of shopping online. I can be in my PJs at nine o’clock and cruise the net.”

However, Maule said she believes Crystal Lake is faring far better than other cities and towns across the nation because of its bustling downtown and number of locally owned businesses.

“Crystal Lake is unique because there are so many independently owned brick-and-mortar storefronts, service providers and retailers. Their decisions are made on the local level, and they’re committed to the community,” Maule said. “You’re seeing that replicated in other communities around our county.”

Maule hopes more people shop locally.

“I would challenge the community to remember that 68 cents of every dollar that you spend in a brick-and-mortar store stays in your community,” Maule said.

Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley said the city’s had “some good success” with attracting retailers “to our town to occupy space that had previously been occupied by other entities.”

Shepley highlighted the new Mariano’s grocery store. The popular market at 105 Route 14 was built in the former Sears building.

“Over the last two or three years, we’ve been ahead of the curve,” Shepley said, adding that Crystal Point Shopping Center, 6000 Route 14, soon will have an Ulta and a Steinhafels. Both will occupy vacant space.

“When a big-box retailer like Sears or Kmart closes a store, it’s really not that much of a sign about the economic health of that local community. It’s more of a sign of the economic health, or lack thereof, of the retailer itself,” Shepley said.

Algonquin Village President John Schmitt said businesses change and municipalities must modernize.

“We have to adapt,” Schmitt said, adding that he’s excited about the proposed CarMax that would be at 2401 N. Huntington Drive. “CarMax is probably going to be coming to Algonquin. It’s a great thing for Algonquin. It brings great tax revenue. It’s a business that isn’t likely to subside in the next 25 years.”

He said the village also is working to “repurpose” the vacant building at 826 S. Randall Road that housed a Toys R Us until last month.

McHenry Mayor Wayne Jett said he’s close to getting a new business in the former Best Buy building, 3200 Shoppers Drive.

Shepley, Schmitt and Jett all vowed to make their respective municipalities easy to work with.

“We work pretty close with the owners of properties, how their leases stand, how they’re doing in sales,” Jett said. “We really focus on business retention and expansion. It’s very important to me. I’m in very close connection to the companies here.”

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