DEEPEN: What small businesses need for a long future in downtown Rockford | Community calendar


ROCKFORD (WREX) — Downtown Rockford has become a popular place to start a business. This is after the city invested millions of dollars to develop it. Entrepreneurs are now jumping at the chance to open their own brick and mortar business. But as one store opens another seems to close.

212 Grindhouse announced this week that it is closing its doors for good just after a few months of being open.

So what are some of the reasons businesses don’t settle long-term in downtown Rockford?

Various downtown business owners spoke to 13 News. They all agree that the City of Rockford is a great partner to get you started and on the right foot to success. But some owners say it can be difficult to maintain. They say the key is balance.

“It’s really intimidating when you’re like, ‘I’m going to open a store. What do I have to have online for that,” said Ryan Smiley, owner of Smiley.

Smiley has just taken over a new location on Madison Street for its retail store, Smiley’s. He says a big part of getting off to a good start was due to the city’s resources.

“BUSINESSFirst is a great opportunity for our entrepreneurs to come and get all the information they need to start a business,” said Francisca French, Economic Development, Diversity and Procurement Coordinator. “Where they can ask questions and get answers to anything they need regarding permits or zoning.”

Although Smiley is enjoying success now, he knows it was hard to bounce back from the pandemic.

“It’s definitely always sad to see something close like this. I always see it as an opportunity,” Smiley said. “How can we bring in something else new? Because that’s definitely what I took advantage of. Some things weren’t happening downtown and I knew, ‘Okay, it’s time my turn is coming. “”

When asked what Smiley needed for a long and bright future, he said a few things: informing customers of everything available downtown, staying innovative with social media and collaboration, and working with the city all year round, not just during the City Market Festival season.

Other store owners tell 13 News there should be a balance on both sides of the river, especially during the city market by keeping East State Street open for customer access.

“There are companies that have expressed that. City Market is one day a week, so we encourage that movement and traffic, even when City Market is over, for people to move along the line, move to other parts of the city, to explore,” the Frenchman said.

Traders hope to find common ground to prosper.

The city also offers tax increase funding and works with the River District Business Association, a community of business owners who share resources that have worked for them.


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