MATTOON — Downtown Mattoon weathered a major fire, welcomed new businesses and special events, and underwent infrastructure improvements in 2019.
Fire and recovery
A March 21 fire destroyed the Shores Jewelry Store building, 1614 Broadway Ave., and damaged adjacent buildings.
Store owner Harold Shores Jr. reopened his shop at a temporary leased location, 1821 Broadway Ave., in early June. Shores said he broke ground on Sept. 16 on a new building at the northeast corner of Broadway and 14th Street.
"It's a great location. It's a great corner. That corner has been sitting vacant for 30 years. It's time to put a new business there," Shores said. He plans to open there in April and already has signed up three business tenants for the four other available spaces there.
In addition, Luigi's Italian Restaurant co-owner Massimo Elezi reopened his eatery, 1610 Broadway Ave., in late November after completing repairs and renovations there following the Shores fire.
"(Elezi) is really excited to be back in business and we are glad to have him back," said Evan Drummond, property manager for building owner Jasper Holdings of Mattoon. He added that Jasper plans to renovate and reopen the two apartments upstairs in 2020.
Growing business community
Lifetime Eye Care, which Dr. Mark Esarey has operated since 1990 in Charleston, opened a Mattoon location on Aug. 1 in a former laundromat building that Jasper renovated at 1821 Charleston Ave.
Esarey said his Charleston office only has room for two of the growing practice's three optometrists to work at once, so he decided to open a second site. He said he picked downtown Mattoon because it's a good fit for his medical service-oriented small business.
Dr. Derek Hennig and Esarey take turns staffing the Mattoon office, while Dr. Darcy Duzan focuses on the Charleston site. Esarey said they joined the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce in 2018 and have felt welcomed by the downtown business community.
"There is a real sense of community. I love that. I am proud to be part of that," Esarey said.
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In March, that community welcomed Tanner Kroening opening his Broadway Appliance & Home Center at 1601 Broadway Ave., where he previously had a Sears Hometown Store. In July, Tina Prior moved her Mattoon-based Vitality Skin Care to 1630 Broadway Ave.
In August, the city began installing new brick-lined sidewalks and decorative streetlight poles along Broadway from 19th Street to Veterans Memorial Bridge. Fuller-Wente, Inc. and Bartels Construction Inc. worked on this project.
Public Works Director Dean Barber said the concrete work has been completed and the last of the new lights was activated on Monday. He said the city plans to continue this street-scaping work on Broadway from 17th to 16th Streets in 2020.
Barber said the city also plans next year to purchase the former Checker Top Cab building, which sits on city owned land at 1904 Broadway Ave. He said this small building will be demolished and incorporated into adjacent Wolf Park.
At the city's train depot, Barber said Amtrak's contractors have begun relocating sanitary and storm sewer lines along the tracks. He said Amtrak plans to start installing a longer, more accessible platform in the spring and complete this project by the fall.
"They are going to make it so you can just walk up into the trains without the help of step stools," said Mattoon Chamber Director Ed Dowd, adding that this will help passengers with physical challenges.
New special events
The first Mattoon High School homecoming parade in approximately 20 years drew many alumni entries and a big crowd of spectators downtown in September.
Dowd noted that the parade was preceded by a "Broadway Bolt" community three-mile run, and by a boys and girls cross country meet hosted by the Mattoon teams.
In addition, Dowd said the Mattoon Arts Council has been growing its downtown event lineup. This included expanding Artworks to two days, with a wine/beer tasting and art exhibit in the depot's Lone Elm Room the night before the main festivities.
"I think a lot of good things have been happening downtown," Dowd said.