Downtown Belleville continues to evolve as more new businesses move in and some longtime establishments leave the historic thoroughfare.
At least 10 storefronts on Main Street will see change in the next year. Wendy Pfeil, executive director of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce, said the city is committed to filling old storefronts. The chamber works with new businesses, too.
But lately its effort to keep some stores downtown have come up short.
Several businesses on Main Street have relocated or closed in the last year with one business owner citing the absence of St. Elizabeth's Hospital, which relocated to O'Fallon, as the reason for their move. Another points to a lack of support from the city, even though some community leaders see things differently.
"While it is hard to say goodbye to some businesses," Pfeil said in a statement. "Belleville Main Street remains strong with generational businesses such as Liese Lumber, Lincoln Theatre and Blanquart Jewelers and is encouraged by the new businesses that have opened up, Collector's Corner, Simply the Craft and soon Copper Fire, Escape 618 and Crafty Sugar Co. "
Here's a look at what's coming and going on Main Street:
Five years after making a deal with the city to improve the property, Ben’s — the largest retailer in downtown Belleville — wants to sell a portion of its storefront.
Listed for $450,000, 116 and 120 E. Main St. are for sale, according to Barber Murphy Group, the real estate company hired by Ben’s to handle the deal. In a statement, the 41-year-old store said selling a portion of the property was “in the best interest of Ben’s as well as the future of the downtown community.”
“We bought this property with the intention to do this development ourselves,” the company wrote, “but have decided that our time is better spent doing what we know best and leaving this project for someone with more experience in downtown development.”
The store, which carries crafts, floral, gift items, toys, home decor and clothing, decided to have a liquidation sale to prepare for the change. Ben’s will not lose departments within the store as a result of the sale, according to store manager Beth Wamble.
Peace by Piece
After nearly a decade on West Main Street, the retail store and gift shop Peace by Piece will relocate from Belleville to Swansea later this year.
Owners Jason and Christina Keck, said the store will move into a former mattress store, located at 2427 N. Illinois St., sometime between May and mid-June.
The couple said the flow of traffic decreased downtown when St. Louis Bread Co. relocated in 2016. Traffic dwindled even more, the couple said, when St. Elizabeth's Hospital moved from Belleville to O'Fallon in November.
"We received a lot of business from that hospital," Christina Keck said. "We had doctors, we had nurses, we had people visiting patients there. To lose that number of people, has definitely impacted our business."
Hamilton Gallerie d'Art
After a tough year downtown, Hamilton Gallerie d'Art, at 8 S. Church St., will close right before its one-year anniversary.
Owners Mark and Lisa Hamilton said the gallery will close April 30. The couple blames a lack of support from community leaders. Lisa Hamilton had hoped more community leaders and chamber members would have stopped by to visit the gallery, she said.
“It seemed like when we first came we were treated like a king and queen and a red carpet was rolled out," Lisa Hamilton said of their start. “Then it just seemed like it slowly disappeared.”
The couple said they did everything they could to keep the gallery going, but in the end it felt like Belleville didn’t support their efforts.
The couple does not plan to reopen in another city at this time.
Sips ’n Splatters
Local artist David Brandt and his wife, Chris, have relocated their downtown Belleville business to O’Fallon.
After seven years on South High Street, the couple decided that it was time to move Sips ’n Splatters to a more central location. Their experience in Belleville was positive, but moving felt like a smart business move for them, Chris Brandt said.
The business features a venue for people to come together, sip wine and create art, painting pictures and the like. Chris Brandt said the hospital did bring nurses and employees into their business, but that loss wasn’t the reason for their move.
The business needed a bigger space after making a decision to consolidate and focus on one studio, she said. Their new location, 1405 North Green Mount Road Suite 110, is larger and offers more parking.
Bennie's Pizza Pub
The former home of Righteous Pig barbecue restaurant at 124 E. Main St. is about to get a makeover.
Parr estimates he will have the renovations done by June. He will offer pizza by the slice, salads and a signature bloody mary during a “Sunday Funday” brunch with breakfast-style pizzas on Sundays.
“I want it to be much more than just a pizza place. I want it to be a fun, cool place that you want to hang out,” Parr said.
He hopes to book bands and keep the kitchen open until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays because other downtown restaurants usually close their kitchens much earlier in the evening.
Crafty Sugar Co.
Over 50 flavors of craft sodas and Clementine’s ice cream for cones are expected to be offered by the Crafty Sugar Co. planned for a storefront at 104 E. Main St.
Crafty Sugar Co. is now expected to open in late March or the first week of April, which is a later than first estimated.
“We’re inching closer,” said co-owner Mike Thouvenot.
Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery is based in St. Louis and bills itself as a “small batch, scratch made” premium ice cream company that offers unique flavors such as gooey butter cake made with “tangy cream cheese, butter and chunks of Park Avenue’s gooey butter cake.”
Thouvenot said the Crafty Sugar Co. will only offer Clementine’s “nice” flavors that don’t include alcohol.
Along with the craft sodas and ice cream, the Crafty Sugar Co. also will sell candy.
Copper Fire Bar and Eatery at 200 E. Main St. was open for one day on St. Patrick’s Day for drinks only.
But the restaurant is expected to offer full service soon.
“We will be closed for a bit to complete the finishing touches,” Copper Fire said in a Facebook post. “Announcement soon on when we will open again!”
The developers had initially planned to open last year but crews were back on track this winter to complete the renovation of the cavernous building that dates to the 1930s.
Tyler Renner announced plans last year to open Escape 618 at 102 E. Main St. in the Grant Building his great-grandfather constructed in the 1920s.
Renner hoped to have his business open in January but now estimates it will be open this summer.
While the renovation will take longer than expected, Renner said he is still committed to opening Escape 618 and he looks forward to joining the downtown business scene.
“There’s lot of good things happening in downtown,” Renner said.
In an escape room, customers pay to enter a themed room and then use team-building skills to figure their way out within a time limit. Renner notes that customers are not “locked” in the room, they can leave at any time if they want and a “game master” will accompany and monitor the players.
Jim Miller is bullish on downtown’s future.
He opened Collector’s Corner at 125 E. Main St. late last year and has been happy with the business climate in downtown Belleville and the response he’s had from customers.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Miller said. “We do have some empty businesses but everybody I talk to down here really works well together and that’s exciting. Everybody here wants to help you.”
Collector’s Corner offers sports memorabilia and it also hosts autograph shows with sports stars. Miller wishes a new business would open on his side of the street but he looks forward to Crafty Sugar Co., Copper Fire, Bennie's Pizza Pub and Escape 618 opening on the south side of Main Street.
The I Had That! vintage toy and record store operated by Luke Naliborski is located inside Collector’s Corner and Miller said the store is selling “tons” of vintage records. Miller had considered moving into an apartment above the Collector’s Corner but he said the estimated renovation costs would be too high so he had to drop that plan.
Two historic buildings may be converted into apartments in an effort to bring more residents downtown.
Developers have proposed senior apartments in the former Hotel Belleville/Meredith Home on the Public Square and “high-end” apartments in a building at 300 E. Main St.
The Southwestern Illinois Development Authority and St. Louis-based Bywater Development Group have proposed a $12.8 million plan to save the vacant Meredith Home by renovating it and opening 47 apartments. But funding for the project dubbed Lofts on the Square hinges on whether the Illinois Housing Development Authority will finance $9 million of the costs.
The developers expect to get an answer by May or June from the state agency, which already has rejected one request to support the project.
Mike Lundy, executive director of the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority, said roadwork improvements on Illinois Street and the streetscape project on East and West Main streets have paid off dividends in recent years.
“I think that was a big part of turning downtown around, there’s more businesses and eateries and restaurants and things downtown,” Lundy said. “On the weekend at 7 or 8 o’clock, there’s a lot of life, a lot of activity.”
In the building at 300 E. Main St., Tygracon Properties Inc. of Columbia plans to spend $1.5 million to buy the building and develop 12 “high-end” apartments.
Tygracon leaders have said the first floor of the three-story building would remain commercial, and they expect the current tenant, Hospice of Southern Illinois, to stay there.
Karl Gilpin, president of Tygracon Properties, said he hopes other developers see what’s happening in downtown Belleville and then decide to invest there.
“I think our project is going to be pretty crucial ... in bringing attention to that downtown corridor,” Gilpin said.