Coffee + Cooperation = Community Success

LILG-CoffeeCup

 

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?

The Cutest Town

Enjoying downtown Long Grove during Irish Days on September 4, 2016.

Enjoying downtown Long Grove during Irish Days on September 4, 2016.

Those of us who live in the village already know this, but this past week we received verification that indeed, Long Grove is the cutest town in Illinois.  PureWow.com, a popular lifestyle website, just dropped their list of “The Cutest Town in Every U.S. State” and…wait for it…Long Grove took top honors for Illinois! There are many reasons that we might rank high on the charm factor–historic buildings, beautiful open spaces, a century old church and village tavern in continuous operation, and of course, the covered bridge. According to the website, one of the attributes that set us apart from the rest is our tradition of festivals celebrating our agricultural roots, such as the upcoming Apple Festival to be held on September 23, 24 and 25. The vintage tractors (pictured above) currently displayed along Old McHenry Road remind us of our farming heritage, and help set the tone for the Octoberfest celebrations kicking off this month as harvest season approaches.

My personal love affair with Long Grove began in 1985 when as newlyweds, my husband Aaron and I decided to take a drive outside of Chicago and discovered the village on a Strawberry Fest weekend. It reminded us of the small Central Illinois farming community where we both grew up, and when we had children of our own this is where we chose to raise them, amid the nature, top-notch schools, and yes…cuteness. This Labor Day weekend featured Irish Days celebrations including such diverse pleasures as: bagpipes, Irish dancing, outdoor Mass in Fountain Square, Irish bands, Guinness, “Best Men’s Legs in a Kilt” contest, and an Irish dog competition. Serving as Village President these past several years has brought a whole new level of appreciation to me about what makes our village unique and special, and through it all I still have an affection for our town and our residents that will endure. In the past week I have attended two Grand Openings of new businesses–How Impressive (personalized stationary and gifts) and Primrose School (early childhood education). There is a positive momentum going on right now in this cute little town, so make it part of your fall season to delight in the character and ambiance that only Long Grove has to offer.

Shall We Dance?

Greeting one of our newest business owners in the historic downtown, Jesse DeSoto of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

Greeting one of our newest business owners in the historic downtown, Jesse DeSoto of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

In the year 1900, Long Grove’s first dance hall was built. Housed on a site next to what is now Kildeer Countryside School (and now serves as a parking lot for the old Zimmer Hotel building), this community building was erected at a cost of $2,500. Residents came together to help finance the construction of this social gathering spot, at a cost of $10 per share. According to local lore, dances were held upstairs on the weekends and refreshments were served downstairs, with a separate room to check coats and horse blankets in the winter. Known as Union Hall, dances continued to be held here into the 1940’s, after which it was sold to a turkey hatchery, then a manufacturing company that produced decorative wooden ducks. Years of accumulated sawdust and wood shavings helped fuel a spectacular fire in 1951 that burned the old Union Hall to the ground. Ironically, the fire department was located just down the street but the firefighters were away that evening attending a dance in a nearby town!

One century later, Long Grove’s popularity as a fun place to dance is about to come alive once again. I have recently had the opportunity to meet local resident Jesse DeSoto, a former “Pro” from Season 3 of the popular television show “Dancing With The Stars.” Jesse is in the process of purchasing the former Red Oaks property, and is currently working to relocate his Fred Astaire Dance Studio from Buffalo Grove to our historic downtown. In business for over the past 11 years, this franchise has been consistently ranked as one of the top Fred Astaire Dance Studios in the United States. The former big “barn” on the property is slated to be renovated and reconstructed into a Grand Ballroom, to be used for day to day lessons as well as accommodating social dance events. Future plans for the additional buildings on the site include possible retail and restaurant tenants. Jesse and some of his students recently appeared on ABC Channel 7 to help promote Chocolate Fest this past May. Click here to view a short clip of this.

I know that I speak for so many of the residents and merchants in Long Grove who are excited to welcome Jesse and his new business to our historic downtown. It is a great fit for our community, and truly a kick to see history repeating itself with a popular dance hall coming back to town. This time though, I say we skip the special cloak room for the horse blankets and opt for a disco ball instead!

Welcome Village Pizza & BBQ!

At the ribbon cutting ceremony on April 18th with new owners Rusty Gault (left) and Joanie Shunia-Gault (right).

At the ribbon cutting ceremony on April 18th with new owners Rusty Gault (left) and Joane Shunia-Gault (right).

If you are really hungry right now or trying to stick to a diet, you might not want to read any further on this post. Because just look at the deliciousness of this pizza…..

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Yes, we have a new pizza joint in town and the sauce is a family secret! This Monday marked the grand opening and ribbon-cutting of Village Pizza and BBQ, located by the Mill Pond in the former location of Long Grove Cafe. New owners Rusty and Joane Shunia-Gault have relocated from Michigan and brought along their family recipes for thin, hand-tossed, and Sicilian deep-dish pizza. I’ve had the pleasure of trying several different varieties and flavors so far, and each one is better than the next.

Since the first of the year, not a week has gone by without a resident asking me when the new pizza place was going to open. Over the past few months I’ve gotten to know Joane and Rusty and they are a wonderful new addition to our community. Already they have hosted weekly Rotary Club meetings, Chamber of Commerce Mixers, and a get-acquainted gathering for residents hosted by Long Grove Living magazine. The pizza is getting rave reviews and we all wish the best of success for our newest downtown business. Welcome!!

Joanie serves up a slice for an eager resident at a gathering Tuesday evening.

Joane serves up a slice for an eager resident at a gathering Tuesday evening.

A Tale of Two Meetings

Long Grove Business and Community Partners Board Members (L to R) Marian Ward, John Kopecky and David Gayton.

Long Grove Business and Community Partners Board Members (L to R) Marian Ward, John Kopecky and David Gayton.

I attend many meetings each week serving as Village President, and last night I had two of them back to back. Early in the evening I attended the annual meeting of the Long Grove Business and Community Partners, best described as our historic downtown chamber of commerce. This group of dedicated volunteers is made up of merchants, residents, and property owners, who are responsible for organizing the major festivals held in Long Grove each year. In addition, they sponsor community events such as Irish Days, Do-it-Yourself Scarecrows, holiday carriage rides & carolers, and (new this year!) Craft Beer Days and Vintage Days. I don’t make it to their meetings every month but when I do, I am always amazed and appreciative of the time and energy these volunteers give to make our downtown something special–the “Long Grove” most visitors know and love.

2015 showed a positive upward trend for our downtown restaurants and many shops; proceeds for the organization are up as well. Nine new businesses opened last year including a new wine bar and two shops specializing in vintage decor. Currently we have 54 businesses in our historic downtown: (7) dining, (29) retail, and (18) service, including fine art and performing art schools. Opening soon is the highly anticipated Village Pizza & Ribs, and the Apple House will be making a comeback later this spring to the delight of many. My previous blog post on this went viral with over 4,500 shares and likes! See the link below for an article by Ronnie Wachter of the Chicago Tribune including an interview with the new tenant, John Bell:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/buffalo-grove/news/ct-bgc-apple-haus-tl-0225-20160219-story.html

Mary Ann Ullrich, owner of the Village Tavern, was excited to tell me of the recent upgrades she has been able to make to her business, made possible with the proceeds of their video gaming machines. I plan to stop by soon to check out the beautiful new carpeting. In addition to the board members pictured above, I want to give a shout-out to newly elected board members Paul Neumann of Viking Treasures and Matthew Potempa of Scout & Forge. They join President Ryan Messner, Treasurer Marsha Forsythe, Barbara Dibble, and Pam Sintetas. I know this team has great plans for 2016 and we heard a few preliminary details last night. Our recent community survey showed that Long Grove residents are in agreement by a large majority in their desire to see our downtown revitalized. My spirits were lifted with hopes for the future after leaving the LGBCP Annual meeting.

From there, I headed to Village Hall to preside over the twice-monthly Village Board meeting. An acrimonious discussion ensued over an agenda item. Luckily, despite what was predicted on the internet, I did not have to break a tie when the vote came around. But by all accounts it was ugly. A Tale of Two Meetings.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”–Charles Dickens

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.

Happy New Year!

Relaxing with UnWined Partner Maggie Iverson (center) and Village Trustee Lori Lyman (right).

Relaxing with UnWined Partner Maggie Iverson (center) and Village Trustee Lori Lyman (right) earlier this Fall.

Where does the time go? Here we are ready to ring in a new year, and I’m realizing that I have actually managed to keep a resolution that I made at the start of 2015–to create and maintain a blog. Like most of us, my resolutions usually last a month or two at most before old habits win out or will power wanes. But I have enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with the blog posts and I greatly appreciate all the feedback from my readers. So I’m asking all of you to help me keep the momentum going. One of my goals for the new year is to grow the number of blog subscribers, so if you like to keep informed by reading these occasional stories about life in Long Grove, please pass the word along to friends and neighbors. Clicking the envelope button at the top of the post allows you to email it to one of your contacts. Also, I have not run out of ideas yet for blog topics, but if you have something in mind that you would like to see me write about, suggestions are welcomed!

Downtown Long Grove has several cozy spots to toast the new year including the wine bar “UnWined” which opened this past summer. The fire pits and outdoor seating on Towner Green are not as easily enjoyed in January, but the indoor bar, fireplace and chocolate & cheese boards are a warm enticement on a cold winter’s night. I’m looking forward to checking out our newest restaurant, Village Pizza and BBQ, which opens in early January, and the addition of Finch’s Beer Tap Room later this year. Wherever you choose to celebrate, I hope that this next year brings you peace, happiness, and prosperity.

Cheers to 2016!

Keeping the Odds in Our Favor

Another tie was broken this week to determine the fate of video gaming in Long Grove restaurants such as the Village Tavern, pictured above.

Another tie was broken this week to determine the fate of video gaming in Long Grove restaurants such as the Village Tavern, pictured above.

Nothing like a controversial issue to stir up the community! Tuesday night’s Village Board meeting featured a robust two-hour discussion on the future of video gambling in Long Grove, as the Trustees needed to make a decision on permanently allowing it or letting the 18 month trial period expire. Village Hall was packed with passionate supporters on both sides of the issue.

I was not in favor of this idea when it was first brought forth almost two years ago by the merchants. The Plan Commission ruled against allowing it, and residents who had spoken to me were overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of bringing video gambling into Long Grove. In February of 2014 the Board had a split vote on allowing it and I broke the tie to deny it. Subsequently, the Board supported an initiative to allow video gambling on a temporary trial basis, so I kept an open mind to see just how this issue would be handled by the businesses and the community. In the past year and a half, we have seen no ill effects, no increase in crime or complaints to the Lake County Sheriff, no inappropriate advertising. What we have seen is almost $20,000. of extra income into the Village revenues, and the four businesses who have gaming are reporting a material boost to the bottom line. The Village Tavern is profiting $8,000. per month as this form of entertainment has proven to be a good fit. By and large, residents that I have queried over the last couple of months seem ambivalent if not accepting of the practice in our Village. The sentiment that I have heard again and again is some sort of version of “I wouldn’t be upset if you take the machines away, but I also don’t mind if they stay. If it is helping our downtown businesses to survive, then it should be allowed.”

That is why I voted in favor of video gaming remaining this week, when I was called to (once again!) break a tie between a Board of Trustees split on this decision.  My thinking has evolved on this issue, along with many in our community, from the idea of video gaming two years ago, now taking into account the experience of having this form of entertainment available in Long Grove.  Is video gaming the savior of our historic downtown? No, but it is also not the devil leading it into the dark side of depravity. Our “Long Grove” brand is still alive and hanging strong through tough economic times. Anything our government can do to help the local, independent merchants survive the current retail climate is a help, as indicated by the majority of residents on a recent survey who identified “revitalize the downtown” as the most significant issue facing the Village in the next two years. Residents want to see our downtown business district thrive, and are becoming more open to new ideas on how to make this happen.

I have learned something through dealing with this particular issue. Preconceived notions are not always correct. Sometimes it is wise to put aside personal bias in order to be more receptive to the opinions and needs of others. It can lead to a better decision. I still have never wagered a bet on any of the video terminals here in town, and I really don’t plan on doing so in the months ahead. But for those who choose to take a chance on Long Grove’s future, I wish the best of luck for us all.