ELBURN—Ream’s Elburn Market, one of the cornerstones of Elburn’s historic downtown, is planning to move out of its current location and into a new building—one that Randy Ream plans to build just across the street, on what is now the Community Congregational Church’s (CCC) parking lot.
Randy and Janelle Ream are currently in the process of purchasing the lot from the church, which has accepted their offer, and expect to close on the property soon. They aren’t sure when they’ll build the new store yet, but until they do, they plan to use the 40-space lot on the corner of Shannon and Main streets as parking for Ream’s customers.
Neither the Reams nor the church disclosed the sale price, but Randy said it was “a good offer.” The CCC had reduced the asking price on the property, which sat on the market for nearly two years, from $250,000 to $199,900.
Sharon Lackey, CCC treasurer, said that the church was happy to have found a good buyer for the property.
“We’re very happy that it’s the Ream family,” Lackey said. “They’re a local business, and we don’t want them to go anywhere else. And when you put up a property for sale, you never know. It could have been something you didn’t really want to bring to the neighborhood. So we’re just happy it’s a family business and a local business, and hopefully that will be good for the community. We’re a community church, and we’re all for what’s good for the community.”
The purchase ends the long-simmering debate over what to do with the parking lot, which the CCC closed in April 2012 after allowing the public to park there for over 15 years. The closure created a parking shortage that plagued many downtown businesses, which lost customers because of a lack of convenient parking, and sparked fierce discussion among business owners and residents over whose responsibility it is—the village’s or the businesses’—to provide public parking for downtown Elburn.
Though Ream’s has several parking spots alongside its current store, Randy said the parking shortage had been affecting his customers, as well, which is why he plans to use the lot as parking for Ream’s Elburn Market customers only Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“I’ve been watching customers walk two to three blocks to get to us on Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays,” he said. “I just hope that it’ll be a little more convenient for our customers to just have to walk across the street.”
Randy said he is considering whether to leave the lot open to the general public after 6 p.m., joking that he isn’t going to hire a “parking lot troll” to verify whether every car parked in the lot is a Ream’s customer. But because the windows of Ream’s Elburn Market look out directly at the lot, Randy said it was easy for him to tell whether cars there belonged to his customers—most of whom are in and out within 15 minutes.
“I’ll know if someone’s parking there all day. I’ve been staring at that lot outside our windows for over 50 years now,” he said.
Some of the parking pressures downtown may be alleviated by Ream’s customers parking in the lot instead of competing for spots on the street or in other downtown lots. Parking may become an issue for his customers again once the new store is built, Randy said, and though he hasn’t decided what to do with the current location yet, he might tear down the building and turn it into a new parking lot.
“We’ll see what happens there,” he said.
Randy has been considering purchasing the property for nearly a year. He made an offer last fall, which the church accepted, but then withdrew it after he realized that there were a number of zoning issues to be worked out, something he said increased the potential cost of the property to him and that he didn’t have time to deal with during the busy holiday shopping season.
“In the holidays, there’s a lot going on for us, and I think I just gave up,” Randy said. “I’m seeing it a little differently now. I think I might put in a store. It’s zoned B1, and it would be easier than doing a parking lot. We’re kind of bursting at the seams here.”
The purchase is also good news for the CCC, which has been trying to sell the property to raise funds to install an ADA-compliant elevator. The church has several parishioners who cannot climb the stairs to the sanctuary, but it was forced to stop using its current elevator because of changes in Illinois regulations. Dave Royer, a CCC member who investigated the issue last year, estimated that a new elevator would cost the church about $100,000.
Lackey said the church is currently seeking elevator estimates, which vary widely based on the elevator’s capabilities. The CCC wants to set aside some of the money raised from the sale in an endowment fund, she said, as well as use some of it to deal with other issues like the building’s crumbling concrete facade.
“We have multiple things that need to be done for the building, and we’re trying to do some investigations so we don’t fritter all that money away,” Lackey said. “We want to be good stewards with the money. We want to save some of the money from the parking lot for unexpected things down the road. It’s just like someone who wins the lottery. They don’t generally go out and blow it all.”