A “coming soon” sign takes on a whole new meaning in the midst of a pandemic.
In downtown Wheaton, those signs are appearing on what had been vacant storefronts, teasing the arrival of new businesses that have overcome unique challenges to open their doors.
“We have a lot of people who are interested because our downtown’s hopping right now,” Elle Withall said.
The executive director of the Downtown Wheaton Association has led recruitment of new retailers and restaurants opening in the coming days and months. Here’s a look at some of those developments.
Where: The juice bar will debut in a former coffeehouse space at 114 N. Main St. Five & Hoek Coffee Co. moved to the back of the brick building.
Menu: Extract has a selection of green juices and smoothies, a convenient way to drink your vegetables, especially if you don’t have a pricey juicer in your kitchen.
“There’s at least a pound and a half of vegetables in each juice, and to sit down and eat that would be extremely difficult to do,” owner Kevin Walker said.
He recommends the “Quench Me,” a refreshing mix of pineapple, cucumber, celery, kale and mint, and the vibrant “Beet-iful,” a beetroot juice with carrot, apple and ginger. All the juices are made with organic fruits and veggies.
“We have some cool technology that allows us to do cold-pressed juices made to order,” Walker said.
Chocolate lovers can try “Choco-Nuts,” a smoothie with almond milk, peanut butter, cacao and banana. The rest of the menu features Acai bowls, salads and gluten-free toasts. You also can request the addition of anti-inflammatory ginger or turmeric to juices.
“To get all those nutrients into your body is amazing, and it tastes great,” Walker said.
Origin story: About six years ago, Walker started a juice cleanse that planted the seed for his new business.
“I felt great. I had more energy, and my skin was clear.”
But Walker understands people lead busy lives, that juicing is a process, that it takes imagination to come up with flavors, not to mention ambition. In the middle of the week, who wants to pull out the blender, find all the parts, prep the ingredients and clean it all up?
So Walker set out to develop a health-focused business for mornings or a pick-me-up on the go. Extract also will offer weekly juice deliveries to subscribers in neighboring towns.
Opening date: Walker is planning a soft opening Feb. 4, with a grand opening in mid-March. And he’s looking to run a booth at the French market downtown.
Why now: Support from the city, his downtown neighbors and the Downtown Wheaton Association made it easier to move forward, Walker said.
“I’ve always thought if you wait for the perfect time it will never come,” said Walker, who lives with his family in Lombard and owns El Famous Burrito restaurants around DuPage County. “We believed in the concept. We believe that it’s going to help people.”
Where: For her online store, Samantha Raftery curates a collection of home and lifestyle goods made by women artisans in India and Vietnam. She’s opening her first brick-and-mortar boutique at 102 N. Hale St., bringing new retail to a restaurant row that pivoted to outdoor dining this summer.
“People want to have purpose in their lives, and so when they know that they’re purchasing goods from us, they know that there’s a story behind it, and that it’s meaningful,” said Samantha Raftery, who’s opening a downtown Wheaton boutique with fair trade, artisan-made goods.
– Courtesy of Samantha Raftery
Vibe: A long, communal table will anchor the space, display merchandise and provide seating for community events after the COVID-19 crisis recedes. It’s also a symbol of the store’s name, Latin for “one who loves” or “loving.”
“Just like our purpose, we want as soon as you walk into our doors for people to feel at home, just love through the product that we source from around the world,” Raftery said.
A movable store register will allow Raftery to open up the space for bridal showers, wine tastings or fundraisers.
Offerings: Artisan-made textiles such as rugs, blankets and pillows, plus kitchenware, a line of skin care and some plants and vessels.
“Most of our goods are fair trade,” Raftery said, adding she wants to be sure they are ethically made.
Her first trip sourcing goods directly from artisans came three years ago, when Raftery and her husband traveled to Jaipur, India, known as the “Pink City.”
“The artisans that we partner with all have beautiful stories to tell, and I’m just really inspired by that,” she said. “I hope that I live my life that way, too, and that I use my gifts for purpose.”
Origin story: Raftery decided to use her flair for hospitality and interior design in founding her company in 2016. Inspiration struck when Raftery and her husband visited downtown for an Easter celebration that year.
“It was just put on my heart just walking around and thinking, ‘Wow this is where we live. We live in this amazing community. This is where I want to see my dream come alive.'”
She branched out from French markets to an online marketplace, and then started branding Amante’s products. “Now we’re in 100 retailers nationwide,” Raftery said.
Opening date: The goal is the first week of April.
Why now: Withall, the Downtown Wheaton Association leader, messaged Raftery on social media more than a year ago to encourage her to open a storefront. When the Hale Street spot became available, Raftery took the leap of faith.
“It really feels like it’s the right time for us, despite the circumstances,” Raftery said. “And I think Wheaton itself has been thriving during this time, and so much of that in my opinion is really from the leadership of the DWA.”
Where: The electric bike dealership will take over the shuttered Wheaton driver’s license office at 128 W. Liberty Drive. Wheaton couple Jeff and Andrea Alvis will join the manufacturer’s dealer network with their business partners, Bill and Karen Budicin of Lisle.
Customer base: The shop will focus on the sale and rental of Pedego bikes. Equipped with a batter-powered motor, e-bikes give bicyclists a boost for longer rides and take some of the legwork out of pedaling.
Which is why the bikes hold appeal with baby boomers, Jeff Alvis said. Indeed, Martha Stewart and William Shatner have endorsed Pedego bikes.
Last summer, Alvis’ wife — they were high school sweethearts at Wheaton Central — began using an electric bike and “absolutely loves it,” he said.
“She had some back surgery a while ago, and so it’s difficult for her to ride a normal bike very far,” Alvis said. “So this has given her the opportunity to enjoy riding again, and we can ride together.”
A Pedego dealership opening in downtown Wheaton will offer electric bike sales and rentals in a storefront near the Prairie Path.
– Courtesy of Pedego
Pedego has a broad product line, Alvis said. A fold-up model allows commuters to bike to the train station without a sweat. Mountain bikers use electric bikes to do more reps, Alvis said.
Reaching regulated speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, e-bikes also are an earth-friendly alternative to short car trips.
An entry-level bike retails for about $1,500.
Opening date: Planned for April 1. The store website is PedegoWheaton.com.
Why now: Alvis is coming out of retirement from management consulting to launch the store and help reinvigorate the south side of the train tracks downtown.
It will be the only Pedego dealership in the Western suburbs, making the store a destination that can take advantage of its proximity to the Prairie Path and e-bike demand, driven by the pandemic-weary rediscovering the outdoors.
“Their business exploded last year,” Alvis said.