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Lake Geneva retail community no place for shy, stagnant

September 15, 2010 | 08:00 AM
The current retail committee of the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce is not your grandfather's retail group. It's lively and progressive and occasionally controversial.

Spearheaded by a combination of new and more experienced blood, it has come alive over the last year.

Last week's meeting was a good example. Congregating on a Gage Marine boat as it has all summer, the group filled the meeting room almost to overflowing.

Philip Sassano, who owns Refined Rustic, has been a marketing dynamo working with the Regional News, Chicago Magazine and other outlets both new and old. He explained how his group has been trying to create a cohesive approach to marketing so retailers can better deal with the advertising onslaught that descends on Lake Geneva.

He wants people to know that besides the beautiful lakefront, Lake Geneva has great shopping. From that discussion, several mentioned the need to promote the fact that Lake Geneva is open during the winter as too many visitors assume it's only a warm weather venue. If that model can ever evolve, it would be a huge shot in the arm to the city's shop owners as well as its hotels.

There was a lively discussion about police presence in the downtown area. Some people thought it discouraged shoppers because it created the image that the downtown is a place where crime occurs. Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce head George Hennerley countered by saying that security was something merchants had wanted. Others said that while security was nice they felt that the police needed to show discretion in how they used their power and that they could be friendlier to merchants and visitors alike as they walked their beats.

Spyro "Speedo" Condos, a longtime Lake Geneva politico, talked about concerns he and others have over the reconstruction of the Wrigley Bridge. The reconstruction will close the area from three to six months starting in October. He said there ought to be a walkway so that people can cross from the hotels and restaurants to the south into the main business area without going the long way around via Center Street. There was special concern about how that could affect Winterfest and other events at the Riviera. Members were urged to call their city councilmen to put the issue on the next agenda.

Pam Ellis from Global Hands made a plea for people to support the Food Pantry housed in the basement of the First Congregational Church. The pantry has somewhat been overshadowed by the better known WC food pantry on Highway H. Donations come in well during the holidays but too few people support it during the summer even though the need is year-round. "The shelves are empty," Ellis said. She said one of the challenges is that the pantry is open limited hours. Call the pantry at (262) 248-2337 for more information.

There was also concern expressed about the inconsistency in keeping sidewalks and storefronts clean and presentable, about snow removal methods that left storefronts nearly inaccessible at times during the winter, about the possible value of downtown bike racks, and how some Broad Street Merchants wished that visitors understood there was more to Lake Geneva than the main drag.

Today, retail is more than just counting customers and deciding what merchandise to put on sale. While it's easy to become cynical of business sometimes, the success of our downtown is paramount to the city's future.

A classy, unique and unified merchant group can help make the city. Poor management, revolving door businesses, and an overly fractured presentation can hurt it.

It's refreshing to know so many voices are being heard, and too see progress being made.

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.

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