Looking at the need for more retail in Rochelle

“I agree 1,000 percent that we need more retail and I do think that if we had more retail options and opportunities, more people would come and visit and stay,” City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said. “But you have to have somebody who is willing to make that investment."

‘You have to have somebody who is willing to make that investment’

ROCHELLE — When seeing that 10 percent of Rochelle Municipal Utilities’ revenue comes from commercial businesses, Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh expressed the desire to raise that number. 

Because that would mean more retail businesses in town. Fiegenschuh said more retail is what the city hears most from residents when it comes to what Rochelle needs. 

“I agree 1,000 percent that we need more retail and I do think that if we had more retail options and opportunities, more people would come and visit and stay,” Fiegenschuh said. “But you have to have somebody who is willing to make that investment. And sometimes there's just not somebody there to do it."

Along with wanting to see more of it, Fiegenschuh said he believes the community has been successful with retail and mentioned newer businesses like Midwestern Clothing Company downtown and the Starbucks slated to open this spring. He stressed the importance of continuing to celebrate the retail businesses Rochelle has already. 

The city manager believes if residents want more retail in town, they have to shop locally. That especially applies to national chains, which Fiegenschuh said don’t go into communities unless they see that there’s enough support. 

“They don't even look at the town, they look at what's called the retail trade area and if there's enough income and support there,” Fiegenschuh said. “Part of that is shopping local. It's like the chicken before the egg, it's shopping local, but it's also getting more business in so more people come in to shop to show other retailers that there's a market for their business. Retail is important and we're going to continue to focus on it.”

Fiegenschuh said the mayor and city council are committed to seeing more retail and economic growth, which is why they lowered RMU’s commercial electric rates last year. 

One of the most heard-of retail desires from residents is a third grocery store in town after the recent closure of Sullivan’s, Fiegenschuh said. 

“I know everybody wants a third grocery store in town and I'd love one too, but we had a third grocery store and for whatever reason, it closed,” Fiegenschuh said. “Part of the reason was that it wasn't being supported as much as it probably should've been. Again, I'm not being critical of anybody, but I'm just saying if we want a third grocery store and things like that, you have to shop local and spend your money locally.” 

Fiegenschuh said he’s observed a shift in how retail grows. When he was in college, retail growth was seen in strip malls. Now, he thinks there’s been a resurgence of shop local and farm to table-type businesses. 

“If people come to a place like Acres Bistro and Artist's Garden, they're coming here to eat and then maybe they're going across the street,” Fiegenschuh said. “We need to grow our downtown and our small businesses on our corridor sections, because they're the ones that are actually bringing people, and they're staying here."

The city’s community development department does “cold calls” on bringing more retail to town and has worked with current retailers to see if they’re interested in expanding, Fiegenschuh said. But, it can only do so much in situations like the old Sullivan’s building, which is up to the current building owner to fill and a possible future business owner to buy, lease or rent.  

“We do the best we can with what we have and I also don't think it's necessarily our job to go out and sell people's buildings either,” Fiegenschuh said. “We can partner, we can provide an environment that's conducive to good economic growth and incentives, but there's only so much we can do."

When the city manager was hired four years ago, he said the mayor and council wanted to focus on improving retail downtown. He believes the city has done just that. 

“We're going to start focusing more on the other corridors of the community and we'll support our local businesses to the best of our ability and continue to promote programs that help bring people to our community,” Fiegenschuh said. “But again, if people want businesses to grow and thrive here, they have to shop here."

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