O'Fallon Progress

Small business owners eager to make downtown O’Fallon a destination spot

A group of dedicated small business owners have banded together and are making a concerted effort to promote and market O’Fallon’s downtown as a place to be.

Through their vision and enthusiasm, the Downtown District is being rebranded with a fresh approach, hoping the O’Fallon Station’s location will boost traffic for shops, restaurants and services. They are currently planning events to attract customers to the area and let people know where they are and what O’Fallon offers.

Jon Greenstreet, who moved his Bike Surgeon business downtown, is excited about how the group is working together and the sharing ideas at regular meetings.

“We have 25 people come to almost every meeting — we have very good attendance. We have lots of cool stuff going on. A couple people haven’t been able to make the meetings, but they want to support it. They’re starting to see things happen. We want to capitalize on any reason to come downtown,” he said. “The meetings have been good sounding boards.”

He noted other cities with destination downtowns, such as Belleville and Edwardsville, are the county seats and have courthouses, which are a reason to go there. O’Fallon does not, but there are an eclectic mix of shops and services that would like foot traffic

“We thought together we could engage more visitors. We need to let people know we’re here. We get ‘Where is that?’ Even folks who live in O’Fallon don’t know,” he said.

Greenstreet noted hundreds of people attend activities in Family Sports Park, and it’s necessary to attract them to shop and dine local.

“We have Shooter’s that’s a very good barbecue restaurant. I send people there and they are happy they went. We have Peel, Hemingway’s, The Depot, Wood Bakery, Fezziwig’s, all different,” Greenstreet said.

Offering customers services they can’t get at corporate stores is key.

“We can’t compete with Amazon, so we have to give people a whole lot more in service. I think people are really looking for that and miss it,” he said. “Local is real. You can touch and feel.”

Another organizer, Whitney Leidner of The Refinery Salon, said they want to encourage walking around.

“We’re really pumped about what the Downtown District can offer. More businesses are getting involved as they start to see what we’re about,” she said. “Our goal is to get all the businesses involved. We want to get our different events united. We want more walkable events. We want to tell people ‘We want you here.’”

With their can-do spirit and much enthusiasm, next month will feature their first big promotional push — Christmas in July — which promises to be a very merry series of events, with Santa, food and drink specials, and fun activities. Additionally, the VFW will have an inaugural Grub Crawl Saturday, July 13. The farmer’s market at the O’Fallon Station, Vine Street Market continues to be a popular summer attraction.

Vine Street bustling in downtown O’Fallon

Leidner, who opened The Refinery Salon five years ago, said they have been doing a Christmas in July event the past five years, so she enlisted downtown businesses to coordinate an effort and is the sponsor.

“A lot of us have been doing their own thing, something like this, so we thought if we got together, it could be a bigger thing,” Leidner said. “Each event has a specific sponsor to head it up, set the tone, and then go big with it.”

Future events

For instance, Furchild will sponsor a Mutt Strutt, VFW will sponsor Bacon Fest Saturday, Sept. 14, and Halloween activities will take place Saturday, Oct. 19 and 26 with a variety of businesses involved. The O’Fallon Historical Society will help with Ghost Tours, Fezziwig’s with Witches on First Street, and the Rotary Club with the Pumpkin Patch and Halloween. Then Christmas season will feature a full array of events.

But first, Christmas in July, which will kick off the first Saturday in July, is a way to say “Hey, we’re here, we’re happy to be here,” Leidner said.

“We asked the restaurants instead of having discounts to have specialty food and drink items,” Leidner said. “We’re really excited.”

Some of the specials featured are: Fezziwig’s will serve Maui Christmas iced tea, Shooter’s plans to offer a jack frosty drink, Peel will have a Santa summer sipper and The Depot will serve an amaretto cranberry kiss. Peel will make ice cream sandwiches with Christmas cookies and Gia’s will have a Mele Kalikimaka specialty pizza. Retail shops will have sidewalk sales and special promotions.

Special activities, such as making holiday wall decorations, will be offered at Courage and Grace, and Unity Yoga and Three Sisters will have events too.

Festivities Saturday, July 6, include Summer Santa visiting the Vine Street Market, along with Mrs. Claus and a summer elf. He will be handing out calendars with all the fun things happening in the district in July — and there will be photo opportunities.

The following weekend, Saturday, July 13, will feature shopping and sidewalk sales, and while people shop, their kids can get their Christmas list in early with Summer Santa. He will be at the Refinery Salon from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Saturday, July 27, is the VFW’s drink special and themed party — wear Luau or Christmas attire. That is also the evening of Bike Surgeon’s Lit Bike Ride.

Grub crawl

The O’Fallon VFW Post 805’s first annual “Grub Crawl” is new this year at the VFW. It is set for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 13.

“I wanted to do a spin off the old pub crawl, a lot of people love them, but people also love food!” said Marcia Crawford of the VFW. “So far, we have seven restaurants/bars that have said they are going to participate.”

It is a fundraiser, with proceeds helping the post provide services to veterans.

People must preregister, and participants can come to the VFW between 9-11 a.m. that day to pick up a T-shirt and passport. The participants will then go to each restaurant on the passport.

“Whatever order they want. When they get there, they will get a stamp showing they were there. They will also get appetizers that the restaurant decides to have available specifically for the event,” Crawford said.

“We are encouraging participants to buy a drink — even if just soda — since the restaurants are not getting money for the appetizers,” she said.

Participants will return a fully stamped passport to the VFW either at or before 5 p.m.

“They will put the passport in a container. We will pull one main winner at 5:30 p.m. We will also have door prizes,” she said.

She said the VFW is seeking donations for both the door prizes and the main winner. The VFW will also sponsor a Christmas in July party Saturday, July 27.

More information is available at Downtown District’s and the O’Fallon VFW Post 805 Facebook pages.

Marketing efforts

A website, www.ofallondowntowndistrict.com, provides information: “Meet Us in the Downtown District,” while interactive signage marks the area. Seven big boxes welcome visitors with a simple “Hello” and new banners adorn light poles encouraging people to visit restaurants and shops.

The website statement is welcoming: “There’s always something happening in Downtown O’Fallon, Illinois. An amazing mix of local and national businesses are bringing retail, dining and entertainment to this historic area. You’re invited to meet us here and be a part of it all.”

Greenstreet said the yellow boxes are a conversation starter — and people are encouraged to take selfies and post them on social media.

“People can see downtown in a different way and think ‘what else is going on?’” he said.

Bike Surgeon first opened its doors in Carbondale in 1974. Greenstreet worked there while getting his bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University, then bought it in 2004. He relocated the shop to Shiloh in July 2009 in the Green Mount shopping complex.

In February 2017, he moved the shop to downtown O’Fallon. They have evolved from a college town repair shop to one of the premiere cycle shops in the Midwest. It has been selected as one of America’s Top 100 Bike Shops multiple times.

This summer, as has been the custom in recent years, they offer several weekly group rides for riders of all skill levels as well as a number of annual races and bike events including The Southern Illinois Fat Tire Festival, O’Fallon Grand Prix, Tour de Surgeon, O’Town Hustle, The Fourth of July Ride, and the Cannonball Race Series. Their Lit Bike Ride will take place in O’Fallon on Saturday, July 27.

Greenstreet’s shop is located at 205 E. State St. near the new O’Fallon Station, and he recognizes what an opportunity the farmer’s market is to drawing people in, as it’s all grown locally.

“They can experience a little bit of what we have locally. It’s great for us. The value of a vibrant downtown is significant. We hope to have a rebirth,” Greenstreet said.

Horticulturist Sarah Burton, who is the Vine Street Market coordinator, said the city is very pleased by the response.

“It has become a Saturday morning gathering place and we love to see that,” Burton said.

“The atmosphere at the market has been energetic and enthusiastic. We notice people meeting up with friends and family to hang out and enjoy the live music. It is quite the community atmosphere. We see a lot of people every week who are making shopping at the market and downtown area a new part of their Saturday morning routine,” she said.

Burton said in July, they will have three new produce vendors that will be at the market along with our staple meat, flowers, baked goods and artisan vendors.”

City lends hand with marketing

The city is helping assist in marketing efforts, as is the Greater O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce.

More directional signage will be put in place as marking the 4-5 block area will help, Greenstreet said. Further “branding” efforts will continue.

“Grant (Litteken, assistant city administrator) and Walter (Denton, city administrator) have been just awesome,” he said.

“It’s nice to be able to work making the community better for everyone. The networking has been good for everyone. Nothing happens overnight. It all takes time. The little things will lead to bigger things next year. We have had great help so far,” Greenstreet said.

Leidner said they hope to start new traditions.

“We also want to promote O’Fallon to be more dog-friendly,” she said.

Later this summer, they will have special events with water and treats available for the pet pooches. In August, a Pampered Pet Day will take place, and a pet health fair is planned for September, and a contest in October.

“We’re still working out our events,” Leidner said. “We want to figure out how to market to pet owners.”

For a detailed list of events as they become available, visit the group’s Facebook page and website.

“We’re going to have lots of fun this summer and fall but wait until next year — we’ll have even more planned!” Leidner said.

“This can really come together,” Greenstreet said.