Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fresh Look for the City of Elgin Website

The city's website has a new look. Same basic features and content with a different menu structure and layout. Go for test ride at

Friday, November 21, 2008

Walking in a Window Wonderland

In my former life I was a dancing snowflake. And a mechanical doll. And an Arabian dancer. And a waltzing flower.

Who knew that all those years of dancing roles in The Nutcracker would help me in my role as director of the Downtown Neighborhood Association?

This year’s theme for the DNA’s annual holiday event, Window Wonderland, is The Nutcracker Suite.

Visions of sugarplum fairies and other Nutcracker characters will be painted and displayed on downtown storefront windows beginning this week, just as the construction workers start to settle down for a long winter’s nap.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year to come to downtown Elgin. No flying dust, no deafening jackhammering, no traffic backups . . . just lots of holiday cheer and fun for the whole family.

Yeah, it’s cold, but I’ll take that over a mouthful of dust any day.

Window Wonderland was one of the first events that the DNA hosted when the organization was established back in 1998. The goal of the event was to bring people downtown to look at the decorated windows and get them into the businesses with enticing treats and specials. This year’s theme, The Nutcracker Suite, is a throw-back to the very first Window Wonderland in 1998.

Ten years later, the goal remains the same, though the event has grown tremendously in scope. More than 40 storefronts will be decorated by community groups, individuals and businesses competing for great prize packages. The public is invited to view the windows and vote for their favorites on December 6, while enjoying a flurry of other fun holiday activities, such as lunch and pictures with Santa, live reindeer, a live nativity, free ice skating, roaming carolers, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the City’s tree lighting ceremony and much, much more.

So, mark your calendars to go walking through a “Window Wonderland” in Downtown Elgin on December 6. Visit for details.

NEW Downtown Elgin Gift Certificates

The Perfect Holiday Gift for friends, family and employees!

NEW! Downtown Elgin Gift Certiifcates are redeemable at more than 45 participating downtown merchants through the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

You can order these gift certificates in denominations of $5, $10 and $20 by calling the DNA at (847) 488-1456 or emailing Certificates will be available for pick-up the week of December 8.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

GPA Merchant's Night

Tuesday, November 18 6:00pm - 9:00pm

Join your GPA neighbors for a free evening of fun and friendship as we visit the businesses in Downtown Elgin. Local merchants have agreed to stay open late on Tuesday night so we can visit the shops, meet the owners, chat, learn what they have to offer, see what's new, socialize, and let them get to know us. It's a first step in building a relationship between the Gifford Park Association and the entrepreneurs who are choosing Elgin as the spot for their new endeavors.

Tuesday, November 18
Begin gathering at Ravenheart Coffee between 6:00 - 6:15pm
A bit of socializing at the coffee shop 6:15 - 6:40pm; depart Ravenheart at 6:40
Visit Lily Falls between 6:40 - 7:00pm
Visit Elgin Books from 7:00 - 7:20pm
End the evening at Elgin Public House 7:20 - ???

Use the Downtown Directory to find your way.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Downtown Elgin Top 10 List - November 12, 2008

Top 10 List

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Click here to have the Top 10 List delivered to you every week. All those who sign up in November will be placed in a drawing to win a $10 gift card for Mad Maggie's.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Time to Plan Your Holiday Parties in Downtown Elgin

‘Tis the season. Yes, already.

I wouldn’t believe it myself if I hadn’t seen the city workers putting up holiday decorations around Downtown this week.

Though the holidays seem to come earlier every year, to tell you the truth, we could use a little holiday cheer about now in Downtown Elgin.

This phase of construction has been especially tough for our downtown businesses. The flying dust, barricades and slow moving traffic are deterring people from coming Downtown. The economic detours certainly aren’t helping either.

But, in a couple of weeks, the construction workers will go into hibernation and Downtown will be quiet for the winter.

So start planning your Downtown holiday adventures now. Whether you are throwing a big holiday shindig or a small holiday get together, our downtown restaurants and shops are great places to host a party.

Here are a couple of ideas to help you plan the perfect holiday party in Downtown:

(1) The Girls’ Night Out Holiday Party
How does a night of manis, pedis, lattes and shopping sound? Get the girls together and make a night of it with Jeri, Nell and Vicki, the owners of Salon Couture and Ravenheart Coffee on E. Chicago St. and Lily Falls Gift Boutique on Douglas Ave. These ladies are a riot, so you are sure to have a great time.

(2) The Book Club Holiday Party
Invite your book club to curl up with a good book and a warm coffee drink at Elgin Books on E. Chicago St. Gloria and Herminda will make you feel right at home in their quaint little shop. They often bring in local authors for talks and book signings, which would make for a cozy and memorable holiday gathering.

(3) The Big Game Holiday Party
Ok guys, now I know party planning is not really in your genetic make-up, so I’m going to make it easy on you. Step 1: Call your buddies and tell them to meet you at Mad Maggie’s on S. Grove Ave. Step 2: Arrive before your buddies and order a bucket of beers. Having cold beers ready to go when they arrive is good party host etiquette. That’s it. Though I haven’t formally counted, I think there’s something like 103 big screen TVs in that place. Elgin Public House on E. Chicago St. and Gasthaus Zur Linde are also great places to catch the game and awkwardly exchange gifts, as you guys tend to do.

(4) The Club Scene Holiday PartyWho wants to schlock through the Downtown Chicago sleet and snow to go to a club? Not to mention you’ve spent a hundred bucks for parking and cabs before you’ve even stepped foot on the dance floor. Medusa’s (formerly The Mission) has a really cool airplane-themed floor of its club on E. Chicago St. And despite what you may have heard, Medusa’s has much to offer than its teen club reputation implies.

(5) The Big Family Holiday Party
I’m Italian. My husband is Mexican. Needless to say, we have a big family. If you’re like us and need a place with a lot of space and comfort food “like Momma used to make” try La Quebrada Restaurant and Banquets on Highland Ave. They serve authentic Mexican food and have all the amenities of a banquet facility.

These are just a few ideas to get the wheels turning on your holiday planning. There are lots of other restaurants and shops in Downtown that offer unique experiences that people won’t soon forget. We at the DNA are pretty good at throwing parties, so if you need some ideas, give us a call.

The Reality of Downtown Elgin

Perception is reality, right?

Well, that's the topic for today, ladies and gentlemen.

The fact that people believe perception is reality is the reason why marketing works.

Does Brand X detergent really do a better job than Brand Yat getting your clothes that heavenly shade of white?

Probably not. But the point is, marketing changes perceptions. Therefore, marketing changes people's views of reality.

All you conspiracy theorists out there might see this as evil -- that marketing makes people believe things that aren't actually true. Some marketing does. Just look at all the negative campaign ads out there right now.

Fortunately, we all have brains. Unfortunately, not all of us choose to use this gift to its full capacity.

But here's the great thing about marketing: Its power also can be wielded for good. A solid marketing campaign can clear up misconceptions and bring the truth of reality into the light.

What the heck does this have to do with downtown Elgin, you ask?


You may have read in the papers that the Elgin City Council recently approved an expenditure of $75,000 for a marketing firm called Moveo. This firm will work with the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce's Enhancing Elgin committee -- a group of volunteer community leaders with diverse backgrounds in communications, marketing, sales and public relations -- on a results-driven marketing campaign to change people's perceptions about Elgin.

You also may have read the anonymous outcries from the peanut galleries that throwing money at another marketing firm will not "fix Elgin's image."

The reality is, today Elgin has more to celebrate and market than it did 10 years ago. But the majority of perceptions hanging around out there are based on Elgin circa 1998. And I'd guess that the state of downtown Elgin in 1998 has some effect on this perception issue.

Think back to 1998 for a minute. Was The Centre of Elgin bringing in more than 1 million visitors per year? Oh yeah, The Centre wasn't even built yet.

Were acts such as blues legend B.B. King performing at the Hemmens? After the show, were audiences able to wine and dine at establishments such as Elgin Public House, Villa Verone and Mad Maggie's?

Were more than 500 people living in upscale condos and townhomes in the downtown area? Did downtown have the lowest crime rate of any neighborhood in the city? Was the Gail Borden Public Library bringing in colossal exhibits about dinosaurs and space exploration? Were thousands of people coming from throughout the Chicago area to enjoy summer events in Festival Park?

These are just a few of today's realities in downtown Elgin that our lagging perceptions from Elgin circa 1998 often cloud over. These are the types of things that a successful image campaign can bring to light.

Do you want to know what is even more powerful at changing perceptions than all the flashy print ads, bus billboards and TV commercials money can buy?


You have the power to change how people perceive Elgin. You can perpetuate the Elgin of 1998, 1988, 1978 or whatever decade in which those people who comment from the peanut galleries are stuck.

Or, you can help us market Elgin 2008, and bring some truth to the statement "perception is reality."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Experience the “Downtown Difference”

Long time, no read.

My apologies to all my rabid readers (all three of you…thanks Mom, Dad and Grandma) but life in Downtown Elgin has been crazy for the past few weeks. Crazy good, that is.

On October 2, the DNA celebrated our 10th Anniversary with a gala that was off the heezy. (Grandma, that means it was really great.) The Fox River Room at the Grand Victoria Casino was packed with people and a common purpose – to celebrate the remarkable changes that have happened in downtown Elgin over the past decade.

And because it was a black-tie affair, there were some remarkable changes in the appearance of our attendees, as well.

We hardly recognized Shelley Costello of TranSystems, the construction supervisor on the downtown streetscape project, without her dusty jeans, concrete-caked work boots and orange vest. Shelley was absolutely fabulous in a sparkling black dress and a well-quaffed hairdo. Lou Gramm, owner of the Elgin Public House, presented Shelley with a special award from the downtown businesses for her excellent customer service throughout the construction process.

Other awards included Extraordinary Volunteer – Janet Schmoyer; Excellence in Business – Ziegler’s Ace Hardware; Outstanding Member – Bill Jones of Kirkpatrick, Jones and Herzog Insurance Agency; Remarkable Renovation – Ravenheart Coffee/Salon Couture; and the President’s Award presented to Steve Munson.

The DNA also paid a special tribute to Mayor Ed Schock for a decade of dedicated partnership and support for downtown revitalization.

Thanks to all of our wonderful sponsors for making the gala a night to remember.

You can view Gala photos taken by awesome photographer Marina Makropoulos here >>

So, I went from the gala – decked out in a gorgeous navy blue organza cocktail dress and four inch heels – to Tom’s Auto Clinic a few days later in a t-shirt, ripped up jeans and gym shoes.

Who says there isn’t something for everyone in Downtown Elgin?

My “Day in the Life of a Downtown Business” project continued at Tom’s Auto Clinic on Prairie Street on October 10.

My first customer of the day told me he had read about my project in the paper and said to himself, “With my luck, she’ll be at Tom’s the day I have to take my car in.” And there I was. With that kind of luck he should have walked up the street and pulled a handle on a slot machine.

I didn’t learn to change oil or a tire, but I did learn what it is that makes places like Tom’s and all of our “mom and pop” shops so special – sincere and personal customer service.

Tom and his wife Jan don’t know their customers by their VIN number or the make and model of their car. They know them by their names. And they know their children’s names and grandchildren’s names. And when they ask their customers how they are doing, they really want to know.

Let’s call it “the downtown difference.”

I invite you to experience “the downtown difference” at our restaurants, shops and service providers. You’ll be glad that you did.

Top Picture: From left to right: Rick Floyd, Councilman John Steffen and Charles Burnidge enjoy themselves at the DNA's 10th Anniversary Gala on October 2. Photo by Marina Makropoulos.

Bottom Picture: Tom Brockner of Tom's Auto Clinic shows me around the undercarriage of a car. Photo courtesy of the Daily Herald.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Downtown Elgin Top 10 List - October 8, 2008

Top 10 List

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Click here to have the Top 10 List delivered to you every week. All those who sign up in October will be placed in a drawing to win a gift card for a Holy Cow Pie from Elgin Public House.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Downtown Elgin Top 10 List - September 24, 2008

Top 10 List
1 - DNA Gala
2 - Hemmens Season
3 - Tonya the Mechanic
4 - Showcase is Open
5 - "Y" Walk Weekend
6 - Music at Restaurants
7 - Cemetery Walk
8 - Last day at Market
9 - Midori in Elgin
10 - E-mail Marketing
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Click here to have the Top 10 List delivered to you every week. All those who sign up in September will be placed in a drawing to win a $10 gift card from Quiznos.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Downtown Elgin Top 10 List - September 19, 2008

Top 10 List
1 - Out to Lunch
2 - Munching & Music
3 - ESO Gala Celebration
4 - DNA Awards & Gala
5 - Yoga Classes
6 - Harvest Market
7 - Hemmens Season
8 - Showcase is Open
9 - Y" Walk Weekend
10 - Cemetery Walk
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Click here to have the Top 10 List delivered to you every week. All those who sign up in September will be placed in a drawing to win a $10 gift card from Quiznos.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Downtown Elgin Top 10 List - September 12, 2008

Top 10 List
1 - Yoga Classes
2 - Events of Interest
3 - Fiesta Salsa
4 - The One-Watt House
5 - Calling All Artists
6 - Harvest Market
7 - September Discount
8 - Mad Maggies is Open
9 - ESO Gala Celebration
10 - DNA Awards & Gala
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Click here to have the Top 10 List delivered to you every week. All those who sign up in September will be placed in a drawing to win a $10 gift card from Quiznos.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Los Hermanos Rosarios at The Centre

Fiesta Salsa was canceled but the main act, Los Hermanos Rosarios, will perform on Saturday, September 13th at The Centre of Elgin, 100 Symphony Way. Admission is $15. Food will be available for purchase. Doors open at 7 pm.

Fiesta Salsa and Parade Cancelled

Fiesta Salsa and the Hispanic Heritage Parade have been cancelled. See for more information. Organizers and trying to find an indoor venue for the main act to perform tonight. Check this blog for updates.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Celebrating Ten Years of Downtown Revitalization

Justin Timberlake may have brought sexy back. But the Downtown Neighborhood Association is bringing classy back.

On Thursday, October 2 the DNA will celebrate 10 years of downtown revitalization at our 10th Anniversary Gala at the Grand Victoria Casino.

Let me assure you, this is not just another awards dinner. I think I have been to 113 of those dinners this year alone. This is a gala. It’s long dresses and high heels, bow ties and cuff links, champagne and caviar. Okay, there’s no caviar – that would be a little too showy. This is still Elgin – we make fun of people who eat caviar.

If you care about downtown Elgin, you should be there. Tickets are only $55 per person and include the Grand Victoria’s renowned buffet. You will enjoy a performance by a string ensemble of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra during the complimentary hour of cocktails and hors devours. Local attorney and jazz pianist Loren Golden will also take to the keys through the evening.

Of course, there will be honors and accolades bestowed on our most devoted DNA friends who have given countless hours of time and effort to the cause of downtown revitalization. Visual aids will be in full effect to showcase the dramatic changes and improvements to the downtown area over the past decade.

Though the gala is for a great cause, it is also a great excuse to grab a date, get dressed up to the nines and enjoy your downtown.

Ladies, make your appointments now at a downtown salon for manis, pedis, hair and makeup. Many of our salons are putting together special packages for the occasion.

Guys, don’t worry – this is a black-tie optional event, so tuxedos are not necessary. A nice black suit will do just fine.

We hope you will join us in celebrating ten years of downtown revitalization at the DNA’s 10th Anniversary Gala. To reserve your tickets, please call us at (847) 488-1456 or email

Downtown Elgin Top 10 List - September 4, 2008

Top 10 List

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Click here to have the Top 10 List delivered to you every week. All those who sign up in September will be placed in a drawing to win a $10 gift card from Quiznos.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Day in the Life of Downtown Elgin

They say you can’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.

This fall, I’ll be stepping out of my signature three-inch heels and stepping into the shoes of the downtown business owner.

I’m not looking to judge, but rather to understand what life is really like for our downtown businesses. During the months of September and October, I’ll be working one day a week at a downtown shop or restaurant – serving food, selling jewelry, mixing cocktails . . . whatever the job calls for.

My goal here is to help our organization better serve our businesses. I want to experience their struggles and their successes first hand. And I want to tell all of you about it in my column, so you can experience them, too. I hope this insider’s perspective will give us all a better understanding and appreciation for what it takes to be a downtown in the midst of revitalization.

My first crack at this will be serving lunch at the Elgin Public House the week of September 15. I’ll let you know the exact day soon so you can come and harass me. I have never worked in a restaurant before, so if I mess up your order, I sincerely apologize ahead of time.

More to come on this exciting project in next week’s column. Stay tuned.

The kids are back in school (Did I just hear a collective “whoo hoo!” from some exhausted parents?) and the summer is coming to a close. But there are still a handful of great family friendly events in downtown for you to make the summer last just a little longer.

September 5-7 is the annual end of summer carnival on the former Gail Borden Library parking lot at the corner of Kimball St. and N. Grove. There are unlimited ride specials on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., so kids can ride the Zipper until they puke. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

On September 6, more than 200 show cars will take over the City Hall parking lot on Douglas Ave. for the Downtown Elgin “Back to the Future” Car & AFV Show. Everything from old Model T’s to new electric cars will be on display. The event goes from 9am to 3pm and it’s free.

Also on September 6 the Boys & Girls Club will host its 10th annual Duckapolooza in Festival Park where thousands of rubber duckies will compete to win the grand prize of one million dollars, and thousands of dollars in other prizes. Yes, I did say one million. There’s an awesome lineup of bands this year too, including Drop, Bagshot Row, The Lenny's, Kashmir, Blue Truth and Nick Moss and the Flip Tops. This event starts at noon and ends around 11 p.m.

Closing out the summer is the 10th annual Fiesta Salsa on September 13 in Festival Park. This event is jam-packed with food, dancing, music, a jalapeno eating contest, a salsa making contest, a parade through downtown and more. The parade begins at noon and the event runs until 11 p.m.

For more information on these events, or other fun ways to spend your time and money in downtown Elgin, call the Downtown Neighborhood Association at 847-488-1456.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Downtown Elgin Top 10 List - August 28, 2008

Top 10 List

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Click here to have the Top 10 List delivered to you every week. All those who sign up in August will be placed in a drawing to win a $10 gift card from Ravenheart Coffee.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Downtown Blog in a Cloud

Want to visualize text or RSS feeds in a "Word Cloud"? Use this tool from Wordle. Here are some examples using the Downtown Elgin blog RSS feed.

Try it for yourself.