21 Aug 2014
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Jeff Ward: Some Geneva Aldermen Need an Imagination Infusion

A grocery store would fit just fine in our downtown.

Jeff Ward: Some Geneva Aldermen Need an Imagination Infusion

Before we start tackling another fascinating pronouncement from Craig Maladra, my favorite Geneva alderman, please allow me to offer a hearty pat on the back to downtown landlord Mike Simon who did his darndest to bring an Apple Store to the corner of Third and State streets.

Despite those efforts, it would appear that regularly observing a herd of Apple “geniuses” wandering the streets of Geneva will not come to pass. Though I think they’re making a huge mistake, those buttoned-down corporate folks have specific algorithms to which they unerringly adhere before placing a store.

And we didn’t make the cut!

Though the credit for this Apple Store concept frequently comes my way, let me once again remind you all that it was owner Marty Kane who had this kind of vision. We simply covered his concept here.

But back to Alderman Maladra and his ongoing thoughts on downtown Geneva, which apparently do not include a grocery store. Of course, that’s also something Marty and I have been harping on for years. It’s all part of our regular “give Genevans a reason to come downtown” theme.

“The question is where?” “That doesn’t belong downtown,” and “There’s got to be a place for parking,” were among Maladra’s many objections. Then 1st Ward Alderman Chuck Brown chimed in with his theory that grocery stores are an endangered species because Wal-Mart was “ … trying to create a downtown under one roof.”

Upon reading all that, I immediately started singing a Paul Simon tune to myself:

And after it rains there’s a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It’s not that the colors aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack
And everything’s the same back, in my little town

If you take that contention at face value, then our central business district’s fate is already assured at the hands of Wal-Mart, Target and Meijer. So why bother having these downtown roundtable discussions to begin with?

If price was the only consideration then, trust me, Abercrombie and Fitch would’ve already been history and so would downtown Geneva.

Yes! If you want to see exactly how to run a grocery store chain into the ground, then simply stop by the Geneva Dominick’s. But despite its proximity to Meijer, that Route 38 and Randall Road Jewel is always packed on weekends.

I guess nobody’s told St. Charles’ Blue Goose the jig is up! St. Charles was smart enough to help that business relocate as a major part of their revitalized downtown plan. Like much of downtown Geneva, the Blue Goose survives because some folks actually prefer good service.

The thing is, Marty and I aren’t even talking about a full-fledged grocery store! If you want to talk about packed food-purveyors, Batavia’s Trader Joe’s and our own Fresh Market, across the street from Wal-Mart and Meijer respectively, always seem to be bursting at the seams.

On Sunday morning, the herd of shoppers at the TJ’s checkout is something to behold. And if an olive-oil store can make it in downtown Geneva, then an independent semi-specialty grocery store can make it, too.

And I’ll be happy to tell Alderman Maladra exactly where it could go. Right in the vacant U.S. Bank building on Third and Hamilton (next to Great Harvest Bread.) The former drive-through would provide reasonable parking, and you have a municipal lot right across the street.

After 37 years, I finally understand just what Simon and Garfunkel meant when they sang “Nothing but the dead of night, back in my little town.”

C’mon guys! Where’s the imagination? Between the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce, there’s more than enough Mayberry-itis to go around at a time when time is running out. Although we do have time to spend weeks talking about tearing down a landmark building on State Street.

On the plus side, Alderman Brown rightly noted that our downtown’s survival does not rest solely upon the City Council's shoulders. But when he added, “What we want to do is create fertile ground,” I had no idea they’d be spreading quite as much manure as they have.

Ah! But while the aldermen aren’t solely responsible, we do have two in-house economic development staff. Perhaps it’s time for the council to provide a little bit more direction in that regard.

It may not have worked out this time, but at least Mike Simon had the good sense to run with a reasonable idea. Give it a shot, guys. You might surprise yourselves.

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