Jennifer Russell, community and economic development educator for the University of Illinois Extension office in Greene County recently hosted a Downtown Walking Tour in Carrollton on Thursday, Sept. 13.
Valerie Belusko, executive director for the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, attended the event to learn more about the new businesses occupying the square and interest has been stirred up because of these new developments.
The tour started where the development started at Copper Stills and Mash with owner Karen Leesman. Her story is simple. She wanted to help revitalize the community of Carrollton. She purchased an old, rundown building off the historic town square, gutted it and eventually turned it into a coffee house, bar and restaurant. Her eye for design and desire for a comfortable community gathering place has become central to the revitalization efforts on the square. Great music can always be found on the weekends, along with community regulars and visitors from all over.
Leesman inspired Dr. Justin Hamel to take on a redevelopment project of his own. Dr. Hamel had dreamed of opening a practice in a beautiful downtown community across from a capital building. The Greene County Courthouse sits at the center of the Carrollton Square, and less than a block away from Copper Stills and Mash.
Dr. Hamel and his wife started restoring an old building that was known as a speakeasy and bar in the Roaring 20s. While tearing out second story walls they came across a treasure trove of poker chips, liquor bottles and tobacco cans. Now the old building is home to his practice, a gym, two apartments and his home.
The tour also included a building where restorations have just started; a photography studio and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, which is recreating a classic feel of simpler times.
Belusko said the last stop was most surprising, as it was a loft Airbnb rental on the second floor of a downtown building, which has been rented by several executive Facebook employees and bands.
"This tour was an insight into what one community member with one project can do to motivate other downtown revitalization efforts," Belusko said.
Montgomery County is seeing similar developments within its communities. The greatest take away or piece of advice that was given from the Carrollton Square Initiative was "work together and support one another," which Belusko believes will be the key to success in Montgomery County communities as well.