Undaunted by the Economy, Entrepreneurs Start New Glenview Businesses
New local business start-ups since the depths of the Great Recession have been common and fearlessness seems to be a unifying trait among owners.
Even in the depths of the Great Depression new businesses had the brass and boldness — or foolhardiness — to start up. Some of those companies, including local electronic giant Abt, are still going strong to this day.
The trench into which the economy tumbled four years ago was not quite as deep. Now, as recovery comes in fits and starts across the country, the familiar cycle starts anew. Old businesses fade, new ones begin. Some falter soon after opening, others plow ahead and succeed.
Since late 2008, dozens of new businesses, many operated by local residents, have intrepidly opened their doors in Glenview. And despite the recession, 2009 showed a rise in entrepanurial activity across the country, reaching its highest rate in 14 years, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation.
"It’s a good market, but you have to be creative and thinking outside the box. You have to start leveraging the Internet."
“People who open new businesses (amid economic woes) aren’t the type of people who scare easily — and they work hard,” said Phil Apostle, who began his Academy Elite Baseball indoor facility in Glenview in December 2008 — just as everything seemed to be falling apart.
Apostle’s description of the entrepreneur who is most concerned about the micro — his or her own corner of the consumer market — instead of being obsessed with the macro — the economy around the business — is apt.
Here, Patch shares snapshots of why business owners set up shop when they did, amid seemingly poor timing, and how they have managed to move forward, snaring a share of the marketplace.
Winsol Power Company, 1951 Johns Drive, 847.961.4440
“If you’re waiting for the press to tell you it’s a good time to start a business, you’ll die,” said 24-year Glenview resident Ron Cowgill, who started his rooftop solar array and wind turbine company in September 2010. Adding state-of-the-art “green” energy generators at a time of foreclosures and plummeting home values would seem beyond reach for many citizens.
But Cowgill, who began a re-modeling company in 1992 and wanted to diversify, hopes to be ahead of the game. The Mother Nature-powered turbines generate about 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year — about 25 percent of an average home’s needs. “To be on the ground floor, get your name out, and when the time comes (for widespread array/turbine use), we have the experience,” he said.
Wax On Wax Off, 1822 Pickwick, 847.657.7500
Founders Ryan Devine and Imran Kahn saw the lack of car washes in Glenview, so they opened in February 2011. “Same speed bumps as any business,” Devine said. “It’s been decent. It’s a good market, but you have to be creative and thinking outside the box. You have to start leveraging the Internet. Lucky we didn’t have to go through financing.”
The two recent moderate snowstorms that were preceded by a mild winter have helped. “Guys with sports cars, guys with nicer cars who usually store them away in October, were still driving them (in the decent weather),” Devine said. “They need their cars washed.”
Academy Elite Baseball, 1832 Pickwick, 224.944.8534
Founder Phil Apostle had to strike out on his own after a fallout with another baseball facility he managed. He offered his first lesson in December 2008. “I had the clientele allowing me to do it,” Apostle said. “It was very, very hard, but I had to do it. I took the risk of a lifetime with four children.”
Academy Elite features four full-length, 70-foot batting cages in which his youth players work out and take lessons. Apostle has been flexible with client payments — spacing out payment plans and team fees, and taking credit cards. “You have to offer a lot for your money,” he said. He also deals with what he calls, “tremendous political pressure at (local) high schools and from my old facility.” In the end, however, “I love what I do and have the best clients around.”
When he opened the restaurant in September 2009, co-owner Chuck Choi, who lives in The Glen Town Center, “knew the economy was bad and it would be challenging.” Counterbalancing that daunting thought was the reality of getting a good deal on a lease in a buyer’s market. “We believed in our product and knew we could do a good job,” he said.
Choi, who had sushi-prep experience of his own, partnered with a 30-year sushi expert and another who was good at kitchen food such as steaks. “It sounds kind of cliché-ish, but we focus on customer service,” he said. “Our product is better than the other guy’s. We have the customer’s-always-right mentality.” Choi’s other house specialty: The Ocean Drive roll, packed with a variety of seafood. Choi also co-owner a second location in Park Ridge.
Vintage Nest, 1891 Tower Drive, 847.834.0287
Opening late September 2011 in The Glen Town Center, Vintage Nest features retro home furnishings, one-of-a-kind decor and unique women's clothing. “There wasn’t anything like this in the Glenview area,” said owner Mindy Schloss. “That definitely gave me the motivation. Timing was a factor. My kids were a little older, so I can do this for more hours per week.
“I went out on a limb and think things were getting better. I’m still hearing about people losing jobs. Business-wise we’re doing OK, but have nothing to compare it with. I have to focus on the day-to-day (business), not focus on what everyone is saying.”
Schloss is wary of the fact that two neighboring businesses she classified as traffic generators for her have recently closed. One, the specialty children’s store Wishes…Toy Wonderland, seemed to be doing well, she said. Schloss is also learning the business cycle for Vintage Nest, selling women’s accessories for gifts during the holidays, then selling “a lot” of vintage furniture in January.
Mathnasium, 2650 Valor, 847.998.0900
Chains of children’s after-hours learning centers have existed for decades, but Mathnasium is the first devoted to a daunting subject — math. Owner Steve Santacruz opened his franchise outlet in The Glen Town Center in September 2011 “because it was the right piece of real estate and right demos,” he said. “I understood economic situation. But nothing else was like this in the area.”
Mathnasium, part of a 280-outlet national chain with nearby centers in Skokie and Highland Park, serves students in second through eighth grade. “What we see here is every child gets individually assessed,” Santacruz said. “We teach math appropriate to where they are. It’s not just a learning center helping with homework.”
Since opening, the Glenview center has served 120 students with 7,000 hours of instruction. Santacruz said he is planning a second Mathnasium opening in Winnetka this spring.
Lyzart, 1047 Waukegan Road, 847.729.5051
Elizabeth Bauer, a Glenview resident since 1989, opened her arts and crafts store in October 2010 “based on following through on my vision and dream,” she said. “It’s something I always wanted to do. I don’t know any different. I haven’t been in business when the economy was good. I’m just being patient. You learn a certain amount of fortitude.”
Bauer has set up specific standards for the products she carries — namely, made in the U.S.A. “I’m completely weeding them out,” she said of vendors who import from elsewhere, including China. “The challenge is finding hand-made stuff with reasonable prices. The more I’ve been open, I get local people.”
From the start Bauer said she was motivated to support friends and family who were artists. “I wanted to represent them, and from there I branched out.”
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.
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