Village identity counts on local Businesses
by Mike Ellis
The middle of this month marks one year since the nation was turned upside down by the Coronavirus pandemic and its concomitant restrictions. While the state progresses through phase 1B of its vaccine deployment, and there is hope that normalcy may be restored sometime this year, businesses, particularly restaurants, salons, fitness studios and those in the retail sector, have already been forced to endure a great deal. Some have closed their doors permanently; others have temporarily ceased operations, hoping brighter days will soon permit them to resume their livelihoods.
HM recently approached Village of Hinsdale officials to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the local economy. “In Hinsdale and across DuPage County, everyone has been affected by the pandemic—especially the business community,” village manager Kathleen Gargano said. “With remote working a necessity, companies have had to retool how they conduct business and reassess their commercial business space. Restaurants have had to completely change how they operate, learn how to survive with limited dining space, and adjust to fewer customers wanting to dine-in.” Jill Sunderson, chair of the seven-member Hinsdale economic development commission, said in late March, she met with Gargano and other village officials on how to respond to the pandemic. “Businesses were changing overnight” Sunderson said, particularly alluding to restaurants, salons, fitness studios and local retail establishments. The officials developed a “shop local” campaign, which has continued to this day, while also creating a Hinsdale “to-go” page on Facebook on which restaurants could post menus, and retailers could promote curbside pickup options. “We were trying to be as creative as possible” Sunderson said. Sunderson particularly complimented Heather Bereckis, superintendent of parks and recreation for the village, and other staff members for adjusting resources in the early stages of the pandemic.
“Hopefully, over the past 12 months, people have developed stronger relationships at a somewhat personal level. We’re in it together, and I think people have learned to value what our local business owners provide for this town. … Without our local businesses, we lose a ton of the charm.”
HINSDALE AVENUE NEWCOMER – Hinsdale did welcome a new business during the pandemic in 2020 with Burdi’s Men’s Clothing which stands at the familiar location of the former Hartley’s Bikes. (photography supplied by Burdi Men’s Clothing)
“It’s that kind of creativity under the pressure of the pandemic that really shined through in the village” she said. When the region entered Phase 4 of the “Restore Illinois” plan in late June, the village marketing campaign shifted to “welcome back Hinsdale” and it has continued to evolve on a seasonal basis ever since. For instance, in January, the village adopted “new year, new me” as its slogan, which morphed into “Hinsdale loves you” ahead of Valentine’s Day in February. Because the pandemic forced people out of their daily routines and, oftentimes, destinations, Sunderson said they largely “became more narrowly focused on their communities in a good way.” “I applaud our local businesses and I applaud our residents over the past 12 months” she said… “It’s been a joint effort to maintain a robust local economy” Moreover, Sunderson shared examples of business owners directly contacting residents during the pandemic. “Hopefully, over the past 12 months, people have developed stronger relationships at a somewhat personal level” she said. “We’re in it together, and I think people have learned to value what our local business owners provide for this town. … Without our local businesses, we lose a ton of the charm” One of the strategies that aided the viability of the Hinsdale business community during the pandemic was the village’s early decision to promote outdoor dining by converting First and Washington Streets into one-way roads within the downtown business district. “Every business in the downtown was offered the opportunity to have outdoor dining” village president Tom Cauley said. Sunderson said director of public safety Bradley Bloom and the police department coordinated closing down streets, discussing how to best accommodate businesses and stakeholders. “It was a huge undertaking on their part” she said. … “I think the village was very conscious of minimizing the number of parking spaces that were taken up.” Sunderson said the long-anticipated Hinsdale Middle School parking deck opening in July proved extremely beneficial to the downtown environment. “That has been a huge asset to the village, and will be a huge asset moving forward” she said.
“Hinsdale like other communities has seen a slight uptick in its vacancy rates. But, in comparison to DuPage County, our numbers are lower. We attribute this minimal uptick in large part to the strong resident base that concentrated on ‘buying local’ and doing as much retail shopping and dining in Hinsdale as possible during the pandemic..”
Gargano said outdoor dining “provided a definite boost to our local economy by bringing patrons into the community.” Sunderson said outdoor dining has been “very wellreceived” in the community, and the village is exploring extending it through all of 2021. Throughout the pandemic, a robust outdoor dining program and local marketing campaign have helped the village maintain a relatively low vacancy rate. “Hinsdale like other communities has seen a slight uptick in its vacancy rates,” Gargano said. “But, in comparison to DuPage County, our numbers are lower. We attribute this minimal uptick in large part to the strong resident base that concentrated on ‘buying local,’ and doing as much retail shopping and dining in Hinsdale as possible during the pandemic. The village, the chamber of commerce and the economic development commission work collaboratively, and will continue to do so to support all Hinsdale businesses.” Last November, Sunderson said the village stood at a 96 percent retail occupancy rate, substantially outpacing Choose DuPage’s recommendation of 90 percent as a “healthy” rate.
FIRST STREET & VILLAGE PLACE Hinsdale’s ‘restaurant row’ on First Street benefited somewhat from the dining tents lined on west of Garfield Avenue during Illinois’ restaurant dine-in shutdown this winter. (Hinsdale Magazine staff photo)
A village survey further indicated that roughly three-quarters of business respondents were meeting or exceeding expected customer counts. “Compared with our neighbors, we’re in a great position,” Sunderson said. Both Sunderson and Gargano see hope on the horizon for the Hinsdale economy in 2021. “We’re getting through this, and things are looking bright,” Sunderson said. Sunderson said commercial real estate firms have been making more inquiries about Hinsdale than in the past. “A lot of the city businesses now want to follow their customers, who are moving to the suburbs,” she said. According to Gargano, in addition to Egg Harbor relocating to downtown Hinsdale, a new lighting store and a new clothier are planning to open on First Street. “The village is grateful for the ingenuity all the businesses have shown during the pandemic by adjusting their business models,” she said. “As [the] vaccine becomes more widely available and restrictions are lifted, we are hopeful that Hinsdale economy will return to the pre-pandemic levels.”