Genoa businesses SOAR under new initiative

GENOA – The Genoa business community is booming, and the city and chamber of commerce want to see it stay that way.

The downtown district in this city of 5,200 is lined with restaurants and shops, including many new and expanding businesses.

“It’s a really exciting time for Genoa,” said Cortney Strohacker, the executive director of the Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce. “With the number of new businesses and ribbon cuttings these past six months, things have been a little crazy.”

Due to customer demand, the Corner Grill has started selling pizzas and is expanding to include outdoor seating, owner Ted Aretos said. The 25-seat restaurant will have room to seat 145 after the expansion.

The Genoa Public Library and Prairie State Winery are also expanding. Lloyd Landscaping recently moved downtown from a location on the edge of town, and new businesses are popping up, including Latsis Bakery and Cademon Brewing Co.

To continue the city’s business boom, Genoa is starting a city-wide project, The Genoa Soaring Project. The project is named from the acronym SOAR – Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Responses.

“It all started during one of our quarterly meetings in December 2013,” Kevin McArtor, the chairman of Genoa’s economic development commission, said. “We decided that we wanted to take a more proactive approach to the city’s economy. We wanted to know what businesses we can bring here that will be successful.”

With grant funds from the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation and DeKalb County Community Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University will identify what new businesses the people of Genoa want to see in their city by conducting surveys, focus groups, and public meetings .

“The Genoa Soaring Project’s goal is economic development,” McArtor said. “The project will be identifying what types of businesses people want to see, and we will look into how to bring those businesses to the city.”

The project began with two preliminary focus groups – one of college-aged residents, the other of retirees – and a business owner survey. The next step is expanding the focus groups in October and November to include 35 community leaders. The project is also looking for input from Genoa residents, business owners, and organizations.

“We are currently identifying opportunities to create action plans and projects in Genoa,” McArtor said. “Then we’ll have several different initiatives and groups take action to see them come to life. It all starts with us taking a proactive approach.”

One unique aspect of the project is that it is about the entire community coming together to better itself, Strohacker said.

“People are truly thinking about the community, not one specific business,” she said. “The project is all about how Genoa will benefit. People love Genoa and want it to be successful.”

The response from the public seems to be positive so far, organizers said.

“I think that this initiative is a good thing,” said Autumn Kilgus, a library associate at the Genoa Public Library. “It will let the city grow and attract more people. ...People usually go to Sycamore or DeKalb for attractions, especially young adults and kids. There’s nothing here like a skate park, roller rink, or a bowling alley. Having those things, including a winery and brewery, will definitely promote people to stop and shop in Genoa.”

Adding restaurants and nightlife attractions seems to be a common interest among Genoa shoppers and business owners alike.

“The area has the potential to transform to have more of a nightlife, with more exposure, more of a crowd, and more of a younger audience,” Andrew Nordman, a co-owner of Cademon Brewing Co., said. “With a lot of support and diligence, the city can grow. We can make it more than just the town you go through to get to Rockford.”

Even visitors from out of town notice Genoa’s bustling business district. Irene Moore and her daughter Felicia Moore traveled from Woodridge last week to do some shopping and to visit Prairie State Winery.

“It doesn’t surprise me to hear that Genoa wants to grow,” Irene Moore said. “All small towns want to grow. When they don’t grow, they usually die out.”

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