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Downtown delights

New shops spur a Central Business District resurgence

BY ANDREA L. BROWN
STAFF WRITER

After seeing too many vacant storefronts, downtown Arlington Heights is starting to fill its nooks and crannies.

New and unusual retail businesses have recently taken up residence in the more visible downtown storefronts.

Downtown Arlington Heights, the Central Business District, continues to attract restaurants. A longtime Arlington Heights favorite, Bangkok Cafe is planning to move from the south end of the village to a storefront on Vail Avenue later this year. Wild Fish, a new sushi restaurant, has joined Fitness Cafe, Cold Stone Creamery and Noodles & Co. along a previously unsuccessful corridor in the Arlington Town Square shopping center.

Not all of the new downtown businesses are retailers. Two exercise and weight-loss companies have set up shop. They are Curves in Dunton Plaza and Slender Lady on Evergreen north of Northwest Highway.

Arlington Heights village officials have been tracking sales-tax figures of about 30 businesses, both restaurant and retail, in the central business district. Without revealing specific information, citing confidentiality reasons, Deputy Director of the Planning and Community Development Department William Enright said village officials have reason to be optimistic.

"Sales of retail goods have increased this year over last year," Enright said. "The downtown retail sales and restaurant sales are doing very well."

Three of the newest business to open this spring in the central business district are specialty shops, that cater to a cost-conscious, and quality-conscious, consumer.

Shabby and chic

As customers wend through a pastel maze of antiques and lush fabrics, unusual furniture and decorator items, handmade purses and jewelry, the Wild Rose proprietor Nance Ludkowski doesn't need to see their reaction when they enter the store for the first time. She has heard them gasp in surprise often enough.

"It's a very European cottage store," Ludkowski said. "It's kind of like a Paris flea market.

"I always tell people it's so not ordinary," she added. "If you want something different, this is the store you should go to."

Business has been brisk since she opened the Wild Rose last April at 15 N. Vail Ave., for many reasons, Ludkowski said.

"I have great prices; I think that's why it's going well," she said. "In this economy people are looking for something different and affordable."

With its "shabby chic" theme, the Wild Rose is attracting attention from customers who live nearby, as well as outside the immediate area. Two men who own retail businesses in Chicago drove to Arlington Heights just to see the shop, Ludkowski said.

After looking in towns such as Long Grove and Hinsdale, Ludkowski said she decided to move to the central business district.

"Arlington Heights is kind of the new, up-and-coming Chicago," Ludkowski said. "I think this place is starting to happen."

Ludkowski has been preparing to open a store like the Wild Rose for 15 years, she said. The Barrington Hills resident said she has long held an interest in decorating, as well as acquiring the unusual and eclectic.

In addition to the merchandise in her store, Ludkowski represents three different furniture lines, including a custom line called Eminence.

The store is a perfect fit for what's happening in Arlington Heights, Ludkowski said.

"They're all redoing their homes," Ludkowski said. "I cannot believe how many people are adding on to their homes. If it continues like this, I'm a happy camper."

Past for sale

Old but not necessarily antique, the merchandise at Island Girl Salvage bears a familiar fascination for customers who happen by.

"A lot of people come in and say, 'This reminds me of my grandmother's house,' " said Elizabeth Ross, who opened the store May 1 with co-owner Tabitha Long.

The store mixes large architectural pieces, such as fireplace mantles, 1930s sinks and fixtures, with smaller items such as lamps and pictures. Throw in a few choice pieces of vintage designer pottery and fabrics for an eclectic mix of items seen in American homes starting sometime after the Victorian era though the early 1960s.

Both Arlington Heights residents, Ross and Long began plotting to open a store in the village about a year ago. Since October, the partners have had a booth in the Colonial Antique Mall in Woodstock, which they will continue to operate. The pair originally met while working together at a local telephone company in Arlington Heights.

"The idea formed probably last summer this was the direction we were going to go," Ross said. "We didn't know how. We didn't know when. Then we got laid off."

The layoffs, rather than deterring them from risks, spurred them to plunge into their new business.

"You can always find a reason not to do anything," Ross said. Looking for pieces to put in her 1926 house, Long had difficulty finding items within her price range. And with so many great old homes in Arlington Heights, the partners suspected others had similar experiences, Ross said.

"The reception in the neighborhood has gone well," Ross said. "People seem really excited. We've been just tickled."

The store fills a need that few other antique stores in the area offer, Ross said.

"You don't have to 'schlep' downtown," Ross said. "It's just like shopping on Halsted Street without the trip."

Leave with food

Just try to leave the Tuscan Market & Wine Shop without tasting of something, whether it's a sip of wine or a freshly baked cookie.

Perhaps owner Mirhell Dulin is operating under the influence of his Italian great aunt. When he would visit her home kitchen, she would alternate showing him how to cook and popping food in his mouth.

"You brought food if you went somewhere, and you would leave with food," Dulin said. "It's a sign of love and respect."

Or maybe Dulin just wants to share the unusual finds and good values his years in the food and wine business have helped him seek out.

"If I won't serve it at home or drink it, I won't sell it," Dulin said.

Tuscan Market has a separate room set up for wine tastings, which private parties may book. The same room also has specials on different types of wines that regularly turn over.

"I believe in volume and value," Dulin said. "My wine prices are cheaper than the chains are. I know how to buy wine."

Dulin opened his wine shop and deli in late May at 141 W. Wing St. He said he is thrilled with the response he has received and is four or five months ahead of where his business plan anticipated.

"Our business is up 20 percent a week," Dulin said. "It's well beyond my expectations."

After working in Chicago for the company that now operates a major discount liquor chain, Dulin moved to Europe, becoming one of the first to import high-end California wines. He spent several years in Europe and organized he first international wine fair in England.

Dulin gradually worked into the restaurant business while in Europe.

Returning to the United States, Dulin opened the Chardonnay on Halsted Street, which he ran for five years. More recently, he owned Venice Cafe on Wacker Drive, where he presided over a brisk lunch business.

Realizing he had hadn't had a vacation in nine years, Dulin sold the restaurant and contemplated his next move.

"I wanted to do something low-key with my wine and food background," Dulin said.

After nearly opening another restaurant in Evanston, Dulin found the space in Arlington Heights, which he proceeded to decorate to recreate the ambiance of an Italian market, complete with freshly baked bread.

"I met Mayor (Arlene) Mulder," Dulin said. "She sold me on her and sold me on the town."

Finding the right space in the newest building in the Village Green development sealed his decision to locate to Arlington Heights, he said.

"It's a beautiful, very European building," Dulin said. "Putting this in a strip mall wouldn't have the same feeling."


 

 

 


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