The Benefits of Tourism

Attending the Visit Lake County annual meeting on September 6th: Village Clerk Amy Gayton (L), State Representative Nick Sauer (Center), and Historical Society President Angie Underwood (R).

Attending the Visit Lake County annual meeting on September 6th: Village Clerk Amy Gayton (L), State Representative Nick Sauer (Center), and Historical Society President Angie Underwood (R).

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Those of us who are lucky enough to get away from time to time on vacation realize how much it does to improve our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It helps our productivity when back on the job if we can carve out even a few days of relaxation from the daily grind of work responsibilities. It’s amazing what a simple change of scenery can do!

An additional benefit of taking some time off is the financial boost that tourism can provide for our local economies. In 2016, the economic impact of tourism here in Lake County was a staggering $1.29 billion in visitor spending, which ranks third in the state of Illinois behind Cook and DuPage counties. Our county does have the good fortune of being the home of Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, which is a huge draw. Additionally, Lake County offers a variety of other smaller attractions such as charming downtown Long Grove to tempt visitors to come experience our shops, restaurants and beautiful open spaces. County-wide, over 10,750 jobs are due to tourism and $29.6 million in local tax receipts are generated annually. Clearly, tourism plays an important role locally in job creation, business growth and economic development.

This week three board members of the Historical Society represented Long Grove at the Visit Lake County annual meeting held at the Lake County Fairgrounds. Going with a county fair “blue ribbon” year for tourism theme, we gathered with other chamber of commerce representatives, business leaders, restaurant owners, hotel and entertainment industry leaders, community partners and elected officials to celebrate our local success. Visit Lake County is our official marketing organization and champion of tourism in Lake County. Using promotions, advertising, video and social media, they keep the public informed of all the great reasons to come for a visit. Some of the events sponsored include Lake County Restaurant Week in March featuring 50 participating establishments, and the Lake County Libation Trail highlighting locally-made spirits, wines and brews. Our keynote speaker for the annual meeting was Cory Jobe, Director of the Illinois Office of Tourism. One of the topics that Cory touched on is the Project: Time Off initiative. Studies have shown that in the fast paced world we now live in, workers are not taking all of their allowed vacation days, resulting in days of rest and leisure and local economic impact being “left on the table.” We should all make use of the time we are given, to improve our lives, our health, and our communities.

Twenty five years ago tourism was a big business in Long Grove, with tour buses arriving weekly full of visitors ready to enjoy a day of small town ambiance and boutique shopping. We still welcome shoppers from all over the country and overseas at our downtown Visitors’ Center, but the tour buses have certainly slowed as the number of “Mom & Pop” stores have dwindled over the years. Long Grove continues to offer plenty of charm with our vintage buildings and iconic covered bridge, but today it is the history that also creates the draw. Our Long Grove Historical Society has a great working relationship with Visit Lake County staff, and we have been pleased to partner with them as a destination in group tours they are featuring of the area. As a historical society our mission is to preserve, celebrate, and share our local history, and if we can help the community with tourism benefits in doing so, all the better.

Girls about Town

When I need to meet with the Mayor of Kildeer, Nandia Black, we do it in style--over high tea!

When I need to meet with the Mayor of Kildeer, Nandia Black, we do it in style–over high tea!

At a recent municipal gathering, I spent some time talking with my friend Nandia Black, the Mayor of our neighboring village of Kildeer. Nandia mentioned that she had not visited some of the newer shops and restaurants in Long Grove, so I offered to personally introduce her to some of my favorite places. Last week, we spent a delightful afternoon together as only two female “heads of state” can do; politics peppered with earl grey and scones, issues amid antiques, strong women supporting each other while simultaneously shopping. Our meeting started with a lovely lunch at High Tea with Gerri, complete with hats and a glass of champagne. In my book, it never hurts to extend a little genteel diplomacy!

Join us on our joyful journey, as chronicled in the following photos:

After lunch we worked off the calories shopping at some of our newer stores. We are pictured here at Epilogue, checking out the beautiful artistic gifts and jewelry.

After lunch we worked off the calories shopping at some of our newer stores. We are pictured here at Epilogue, checking out the beautiful artistic gifts and jewelry.

In between shopping for unique vintage treasures at Two Fancie Gals and Scout and Forge, we stopped to visit with Randy Towner at Mel's and lent some support to his local sentiments.

In between shopping for unique vintage treasures at Two Fancie Gals and Scout and Forge, we stopped to visit with Randy Towner at Mel’s and lent some support to his local sentiments.

After introducing Nandia to the staff at the Information Center, we could not resist a photo op with the cute Valentine teddy bear currently residing at our crossroads.

After introducing Nandia to the staff at the Information Center, we could not resist a photo op with the cute Valentine teddy bear currently residing at our crossroads. Our next stop was at How Impressive, where we were dazzled by the array of personalized gifts available.

What better way to cap off our day than by relaxing and enjoying the friendly ambiance at the Chatterbox.

What better way to cap off our day than by relaxing and enjoying the friendly ambiance at The Chatterbox. Next up, Nandia promises to take me on a tour of her favorite new places in Kildeer. I’ve had so much fun today, I’m even reconsidering building that wall….

Celebrating Small Business

Award nominees at the Lake Zurich Chamber of Commerce "Evening of Excellence" (L to R): John Kopecky of Country House of Long Grove, Jenny Wierzchen, Sarah Simon, and Rich Wierzchen of Primrose School of Long Grove.

Award nominees at the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce “Evening of Excellence” (L to R): John Kopecky of Country House of Long Grove, Jenny Wierzchen, Sarah Simon, and Rich Wierzchen of Primrose School of Long Grove.

I feel it is important in my role as Village President, and also as a member of my community, to do what I can to recognize, promote, and shop at our locally owned small businesses. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to put those words into action in a couple of different ways.

The Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors an annual “Evening of Excellence” awards dinner, in which individuals and businesses are honored for their successes and contributions to the community. I sponsored a table of Long Grove business owners to attend, especially to cheer for our home town nominees: Primrose School of Long Grove for the New Business of the Year award and owner John Kopecky of The Country House of Long Grove for Citizen of the Year. Even though our Long Grove honorees were not chosen as the overall winners this year, we all enjoyed celebrating many other excellent small businesses in the area. In fact, our group capped off the evening by sampling the food and beverages at Consume of Lake Zurich, the newly-minted best new business. When we mutually support one another, everyone wins!

This event also motivated me to do a little bit of last minute shopping in downtown Long Grove on Saturday afternoon. As I was mentally reviewing what I planned to wear that evening, I realized I did not have an appropriate evening purse to match my gown and shoes. Lynne Jankovec of Olivia’s Past was very helpful with stylish tips but did not have exactly what I needed on hand (however I did end up with a cute new blouse!) and suggested I check out fellow merchant Cleo Jewelry and Accessories. And there I found a beautiful cocktail purse that perfectly coordinated and was reasonably priced! That evening, I received several compliments on my new purse and I made sure to spread the word about the great local store where I found it.

We all have the ability to help our home town economies rebuild and thrive. Think outside of the (big) box and endless online options available. Sometimes, what you really need is right in your own backyard.

Congratulating my friend Lisa Warren of Kildeer (on the left), winner of the Citizen of the Year award.  Lisa and I go way back--volunteering together on the board of the Neighbors and Newcomers Club of Long Grove & Kildeer, almost 20 years ago!

Congratulating my friend Lisa Warren of Kildeer (on the left), winner of the Citizen of the Year award. Lisa and I go way back–volunteering together on the board of the Neighbors and Newcomers Club of Long Grove & Kildeer, almost 20 years ago. Way to go Lisa!

Coffee + Cooperation = Community Success

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I would like to share with you something that I learned today, something that warmed my heart. First a little background:

Ethel and Tim Berger are Long Grove residents and the owners of our independent, “mom & pop” coffee spot, Beans & Leaves. For many of us here in town, this is our local place to hang out or meet up with friends, and I often joke that it serves as my unofficial “office” since I don’t have a dedicated space at Village Hall and I regularly use Beans & Leaves as a place to meet with residents or others who request a one-on-one with me. Besides serving great coffee and tea drinks, Ethel and Tim host free music nights for the residents every month, featuring local talent. Another way I know that they serve the community is by supporting and sponsoring activities at the Montessori School of Long Grove.

Arboria is a newly constructed residence and business here in our Village. Expected to open early in 2017, it will provide assisted living and memory care to new and existing members of our community. As with any new development that presents change, particularly in a community that values native trees and open space, this sparked lively discussions. Our Village Staff, plan commissioners, and elected officials worked together with the property owners and developers and after several public hearings the project was granted approval. I feel that when a new neighbor comes in, it is always in the best interest of the entire community to welcome them graciously and partner together to make as many benefits and good relationships come forward as possible.

Recently, Ethel was invited by the executive staff and owners of Arboria to present a “coffee tasting seminar,” in an effort by the new development to engage with the Long Grove business community. According to representative Jordan Glazov, Arboria has already partnered with Joanie’s Pizza and the Grove Country Club to host and cater events leading up to the grand opening. When I stopped in for my latte this morning, Ethel was beaming as she shared her excitement at being recently asked to supply Arboria with custom “Arboria Blend” coffee beans, created especially for their residents to be featured during meals and available at their in-house bistro-patisserie. This is a welcome new opportunity to grow her business, and a great example of a collaborative relationship that benefits everybody in the community–merchants and residents alike. It’s a win-win-win in my book:  Arboria gets high-quality custom coffee, a downtown Long Grove business flourishes, and the residents are gifted with a merchant who serves and supports the community. Seeing positive efforts like these, by those willing to work together in a spirit of mutual support, shows me that things are moving in the right direction. It is possible that by cooperating, we will ALL succeed. Today, Long Grove, you made me smile!

Tapping into the Future–Part 2

The expansion of our municipal water system has enabled two new things to come to our downtown--water hydrants and Buffalo Creek Brewing!

The expansion of our municipal water system has enabled two new things to come to our downtown–water hydrants and Buffalo Creek Brewing!

In July of 2015 I wrote a blog post about the expansion of our Long Grove water system, entitled Tapping into the Future. Fifteen months after our Village Board approved the preliminary engineering contract, we now have fire hydrants in the historic downtown! The construction crews have been busy working all summer and fall to extend access to public water, and the new infrastructure is now in place. In the next 30 days the system is expected to be pressurized.

Bringing quality water from the deep well at Sunset Foods into the downtown has been a long-term goal and priority of many individuals who have served on the Village Board. The Trustees who came before me had the initial vision, and through the years numerous Boards have been diligently working towards opportunities to make this a reality. The sale earlier this year of the four lots on Archer Road and the development of the Harbor Chase assisted living community at Routes 53 and 83 have helped fund this capital project, with tap in fees and future water usage charges to fund the system going forward. The additional water supply will now provide better fire safety for our historic buildings, and help retain and attract new businesses to Long Grove.

And we are already starting to see some results! The former Red Oaks property is under new ownership and being converted into a Fred Astaire dance studio and grand ballroom. Just behind on Historical Lane, in the home of the former Studio of Long Grove art gallery, Buffalo Creek Brewing is finalizing plans for a craft brewing operation, taproom, beer garden, and eventual banquet facility. The Village Board recently approved zoning, special use permits, and liquor licenses to put this in motion. The brewery will obviously be a heavy water consumer, and both new businesses have made a financial commitment to connect to the new water system.

Doing large scale infrastructure improvements in Long Grove is a particular challenge; we levy no municipal property tax so borrowing money to fund the improvements up front is difficult. But now that the downtown revitalization ball has started to roll, I have every expectation that it will gain more and more momentum in the months and years ahead. We are continuing to make progress towards the future, and by “tapping” into our resources….who knows how many more opportunities will start to flow?

Democracy and Difficult Decisions

 

(L to R) Resident Carolyn Denaro and merchants Rachel Perkal and Jenny Weizerchon help envision Long Grove’s future at a recent workshop.

It’s no surprise that the job of Village President involves making some weighty decisions. I have previously blogged about this topic, for example, in my post Just Call Me, “The Tie Breaker.” Today I have been trying to make peace with another difficult choice that will result in some number of residents on the disappointed/unhappy/outraged spectrum, no matter how the decision comes down. Certainly politics is not a job for someone first and foremost concerned with pleasing everyone.

David Brooks is a political op-ed columnist for The New York Times, and his articles often resonate with me. On February 26, 2016 he said this about democracy and decisions:

“We live in a big, diverse society. There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society–politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.

Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.

The downside of politics is that people never really get everything they want. It’s messy, limited and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.

But that’s sort of the beauty of politics, too. It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way.”

The article, “The Governing Cancer of Our Time,” goes on to talk about Donald Trump’s current campaign, which I am NOT going to comment on!

But on this subject of learning from other people and seeing from their vantage point, the Village is currently in the middle of doing just that with our Comprehensive Plan Update project. Earlier this winter we held a series of stakeholder interviews, and have been gathering resident opinions via surveys and other online engagement. On April 11th an “EnVision Long Grove” public workshop was held with well over 100 residents attending to participate in shaping the future development of our Village. It was a great turnout and wonderful to see so many citizens working together to help preserve our community character with an eye to our needs going forward.

Updating the Comprehensive Plan will involve a series of decisions by the Plan Commission and Village Board in the coming months. Some may be difficult and generate some passionate discussions and differing opinions. On with Democracy!

The Art of Communicating

Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood speaking at the BACC Economic Summit on February 10, 2016. Photo credit: Daily Herald

Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood speaking at the BACC Economic Summit on February 10, 2016. Photo credit: Daily Herald

In my previous blog entry I talked about my views as an audience member attending last Saturday’s Legislative Breakfast, listening to a panel of our State elected officials present and answer questions. This week, the roles were reversed as I took a turn at the podium participating in the Economic Summit sponsored by the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce. Mayors and Village Presidents from eight towns were invited to speak about current events in our municipalities, and the state of affairs in our local retail and business districts. I always enjoy these opportunities to interact with my peers and find out what is new and in the works with our neighboring communities.

When speaking publicly for the Village, I take into careful consideration the message that I want to convey and how it will influence the listener’s perception of Long Grove. But I have learned from experience that you cannot control how that message is in turn going to be passed on by others. When I communicate I strive to be positive and genuine and I believe that honesty is the best policy. My recent presentation mentioned the successful changes to our festivals in the past year; the increase in attendance and profits with additions of family activities and bands to attract a young adult demographic. I highlighted the fact that we currently have 54 businesses in our historic downtown, with new additions such as Village Pizza & Ribs, Bell’s Apple Orchard & Bakery, and Finch’s Beer. I kept my remarks focused on projects being undertaken by the Village Board that relate to economic development such as the update of our comprehensive plan and the downtown expansion of our public water system and anticipated connection to Lake Michigan water.

After the individual speeches, the audience submitted questions to the panel. One to be answered by all was our thoughts on the State of Illinois withholding funds to municipalities. I was specifically asked to comment on what the Village of Long Grove is doing to support the extension of IL Rt. 53. The newspaper today chose to write about my responses to the question on new residential housing and the possibility of multi-family housing in Long Grove.

Controversial issues are what we want to hear about, what we want to read about, and then pass judgement on. This dynamic is clearly evident in our local political climate too. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a sign of the times.

Grace under pressure is a skill that improves with practice, and I am grateful for events such as this which allow me to rise to the challenge. Maintaining composure and sounding articulate while answering tough questions is something many of us can benefit from, not just those in the political arena. As I continue to represent Long Grove I will keep singing the praises of this Village that I care so deeply for, regardless of the spin or slant others choose to hear. I aim to perfect the art of communicating my message–encouraging others to experience our unique atmosphere and visit the charming shops, restaurants, and open spaces which make our town a special place to live and raise a family.

The Apple House is coming back!

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I am happy to share some good news to start your weekend off! Recently, a lease was signed and the former Apple House property will soon be back in business in Long Grove. Members of the Forsythe family (owners of the buildings surrounding Fountain Square) have been working diligently to bring a great tenant to this business, and preliminary plans are set for a May of 2016 opening. Today the Village received an application for a business license from Bell’s Apple Orchard and Bakery, to be located in the building that was once the beloved home of apple cider donuts and brown bag apple pies. I spoke recently with John Bell, the new tenant and proud member of the Bell family who owned and operated Bell’s Apple Orchard for generations in neighboring Lake Zurich. He is very pleased to be bringing the legacy of the family business to our historic downtown, and looking forward to offering apples and apple inspired bakery items to residents and visitors alike. Chocolate Fest is slated for the weekend of May 20-22, and the new business hopes to be up and running by then to take part in the festivities. Speaking for myself, I can’t wait to cut the ribbon and welcome the Bell family to Long Grove. I know that I’m not alone in my wish for this to be a real turning point in a year full of revitalization in our downtown.

Looking Ahead for Long Grove

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Last week the Daily Herald asked all the Lake County Mayors to answer this question, “What are you most looking forward to your suburb accomplishing/doing/changing in 2016?” Here is how I answered:

In 2016, I am most looking forward to accomplishing an update to our Village’s Comprehensive Plan, which has not been done since 2000. This process will take the better part of the year and will engage the community in a series of open houses and stakeholder sessions to gather residents opinions on how Long Grove should best plan for the years ahead.  We will be reviewing residential zoning, commercial and economic development opportunities, and the potential changes that controversial issues such as multi-family housing, covered bridge replacement, and the Route 53 extension may bring to our community. We have taken the first step in this process by conducting a Village-wide survey this past summer, and have hired a consulting firm to guide us through this major update.

This and so much more is ahead for Long Grove in the new year–stay tuned to this blog for regular updates!

Breaking Ground and Broken Earth

At the ground breaking ceremony this past Saturday for the new Primrose School in Long Grove.

At the ground breaking ceremony this past Saturday for the new Primrose School in Long Grove.

This weekend I was excited to take part in two celebrations of new beginnings. A ground breaking ceremony was held for the new Primrose School of Long Grove, to be built at the corner of Rt. 22 and Old McHenry Road, just north of Smokin T’s BBQ. Business owner Jennifer Wierzchon and her family were on hand to mark the occasion and I can testify that the kids had a blast digging and ground truly was broken! Some worms were even unearthed to join the festivities. Primrose School will be a welcome addition to our community and it will offer high-quality early childhood education, overlooking a beautiful natural setting. In our recent community-wide survey residents responded that the quality of education in Long Grove was the feature that most attracted them to our community, followed by the abundance of open space. Primrose School is poised to offer both of these attributes to our young families who have already chosen Long Grove as a great place to raise their children, and to those yet to come in the future. I wish them the best of success!

Following this happy event, I attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at Broken Earth Winery on Robert Parker Coffin Road at the upper level of the Mill Pond Shoppes. Owned by the Forsythe family, this beautiful wine bar offers a California wine tasting experience featuring their own wines originating from the family-owned vineyards in Paso Robles, California. Broken Earth is actually celebrating their one year anniversary, having opened last October but continuing to expand over the past year to add more seating both indoors and out. I can admit to being a regular “taster” of their wines, and this local gathering spot has become a favorite place to relax at the end of a long week. After the ceremonial ribbon was cut, we all raised our glasses in a toast to another year of prosperity and growth in our historic downtown!

 

At the ribbon cutting celebrating the one year anniversary of Broken Earth Winery.

At the ribbon cutting celebrating the one year anniversary of Broken Earth Winery.