Why Shop Local?

The big cry right now for lots of people is "shop local!" ...but why? If Big Business donates thousands of dollars to a local charity and a small business barely squeaks by but does nothing to contribute to their community, why shop with them over big business? Shopping local is great but it's better when it means something.  I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you the story of my business and the businesses around me and what it means for us when you shop local.

This is The Gaslight, a tavern my husband and I bought 4 years ago. 

It used to be run by drug dealers and murderers until the FBI and the DEA came in and threw everyone in prison. 

It was closed for 8 years after that, until new people came in and tried to start over. It didn't work. The bad element never went away. Drug dealers still wanted to hang out and after a year, it closed. Then somebody else came in and tried it. It didn't work. They kicked out the bad element and there was no one left to buy anything. They closed after 3 months.

My husband and I are apparently crazy, so we thought we'd give it a try.

We decided if it had even a chance of success, we had to change everything and we had to do it with almost no money. Because we're crazy.

We used a lot of blue paint...so we called our bar "Blue."

This is Blue.

Blue has been here for 4 years. My husband and I work almost every night and we don't let drug dealers hang out. Not even in the parking lot.

These are a couple of our customers.  They work for the local public television station.  The guys behind them are from a local church. They just finished a community clean-up because...

If you're going to locate your business in a struggling neighborhood, you should sponsor clean-ups. So we do. Every month, April through October.

We were incredibly excited when the guys from Excel and Urban Artifacts decided to take an old boarded up building down the street...

And convert it into retail shops, artist studios and two art galleries...

I liked this idea so much, that later on I decided to locate my own store right here!

My husband liked it so much that he decided to locate James McGhee Photography here:

Urban Artifacts and Excel decided to give us money to help with the neighborhood clean-ups. With more neighbors and more financial support we decided to take an empty lot...

And start a community garden.

When a business that had been here forever decided to close, we were disheartened.  Until somebody came in and opened the amazing Broken Tree Coffee in it's place! 

This is a mural in progress on Broken Tree's outside wall...The owner works on this in between running his shop, being a father and husband and helping out with the community garden and neighborhood clean-ups.

Meanwhile, across the street, we were looking at this...

Which was pretty depressing...


The Main Statement opened! Owned by a young couple with a brand new baby, they carry work from a large variety of local artists and help out with neighborhood clean-ups and the community garden.

Do you know what would be really great next to The Main Statement? An artist studio and gallery....so Russ Joseph opened one...

He keeps late hours and is helping us form a neighborhood watch program. His gallery compliments the already existing Backspace Collective, a "space for contemporary art and ideas."

In the meantime, the local karaoke bar shut down, leaving an empty storefront in the middle of all of our hard work....


Pitch Karaoke opened! The guys from Pitch not only help out with the clean-ups and the garden, but they also raise money for cystic fibrosis and the local humane society!

With more and more businesses coming into the area, we took on a couple more projects...

 This corner needed some work...

So we're working on it...a little bit at a time...

These planters always end up neglected...

So we clean them up...

The more we all do, the more people seem to want to be a part of it...

Like Jessica Ball, from The Art Garage!
(photo via Peoria Life)

Jessica Ball and her family help with the clean-ups, the garden, the landscaping and recently adopted a dog  through Foster Pet Outreach.

With all of this activity, we decided to start The Renaissance Park Community Association - a group of all of the volunteers, neighbors and businesses that are working so hard not only to build their own projects but to build this neighborhood into a community we can all be proud of. Other businesses in the area that have contributed to all of this hard work include the amazing neighborhood staple, The Costume Trunk and Mr.G's (now owned by the same people who brought you One World Cafe!).  We've even attracted help from businesses outside of the neighborhood, like Heading Om Yoga and Top Hat Productions!

And me? I volunteer for the local humane society, Foster Pet Outreach, Crittenton Centers and am one of the founders of The Renaissance Park Community Association. Don't be surprised to find me picking up trash and pulling weeds at midnight around here - surprisingly, it relaxes me.

So this year, when you think about shopping local, think about why...and hopefully you'll think about us!




Anonymous November 13, 2013 at 4:44 PM  

Blue is rapidly turning into my favorite color. Great story.

Aaron Carlisle November 13, 2013 at 7:00 PM  

Love these stores and love seeing what is going on in that neighborhood. Thanks for sharing the story behind all the hard work to make this part of the city beautiful again.

Daryl K,  November 14, 2013 at 7:53 AM  

I have long believed that one of the MOST important areas in our city is Main Street between the hospitals and Bradley. You and your visionaries are doing a remarkable job up there. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous,  November 14, 2013 at 10:08 AM  

I remember when you were working three jobs, none of them your own business, and would organize people to just walk down the street and pick up cigarette butts. Very cool to see the cumulative effects of many years of simply caring about the place you live. You guys are awesome.

Anonymous,  November 30, 2013 at 2:09 PM  

I never tire of hearing the happenings around Renaissance Park. Growing up near Peoria and living in the West Bluff for many years makes this neighborhood feel as much like home as my parents own house. I remember as a teenager driving down Main Street and knowing that there was great potential in each of those store fronts.

Jess and James and all the other business owners near Sheridan and Main are my heroes. They show us that when you fight for your neighborhood you can make a real difference rather quickly. Keep up the good work and someday I'll barely recognize what were once abandoned store fronts and empty lots.

Jessica December 28, 2013 at 10:29 AM  

You guys are amazing! I had almost forgotten about the cigarette butt clean-ups! We pulled weeds, too...and swept dirt and gravel. It was surprisingly exhausting...but the pay off was totally worth it.

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