By Craig Hastings
In the midst of all the violence and unrest we see daily in the national news, here in Tuscola, Illinois I see the sun breaking through the clouds this week. I’m out and about for seven or eight hours a day five days a week driving around Tuscola. After three months of COVID-19 rules and regulations causing most retail businesses to shutter those businesses, life is returning to most of them. I was thrilled to watch employees of the stores located in the Outlet Mall return to work by 9:00 a.m. and open for business by 10:00 a.m. once again. This mall is special to me. Back in 1994 during its construction a handful of us at TPD were hired off duty to handle the evening security detail associated with such a large project. One can only imagine the amount of building supplies lying around in unsecured areas of the building site. We were hired to make sure those supplies didn’t mysteriously disappear between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. We worked just one at a time each evening so boredom was something we needed to manage.
Most nights we would just wonder through the construction to see how much progress had been made from the last time we were there. On occasion two of us were required to be on the site. On these nights into the early morning we would play hide and seek among the piles of construction materials and open buildings. Of course the project site was so large boundaries had to be established to shorten the find time. I can remember all of this vividly. I remember what is behind each wall and in the ceilings and what materials were required to put them all together. We watched this giant finally come to life in October of 1994 when a handful of stores were allowed to open for business. Over the past five years sadly I’ve had to watch this giant being brought to its knees with the closing of two thirds of the retail stores. The weapon used…the internet. Fewer employees, fewer utilities, fewer management requirements, and fewer headaches for the corporate headquarters. Zero retail theft loses due to order by mail shopping. How can you argue the reasoning?
Well we all were witness to a complete closure of the Outlet Mall these past months and it wasn’t pleasant. If you’ve been one of us that has been here from the beginning of the build, witnessed the flourishing of retail trade, were in awe of the number of vehicles and people from all of the country visiting our mall, and proud of the beauty of such an immense outdoor outlet mall, you have to be as thrilled as I am today to see the twenty stores left open for business amid the pandemic once again open for business. The end of the pandemic we hope. As disappointing as it was for me to see the low volume of traffic in February, it wasn’t nearly as bad, even scary, as it was for me to see zero traffic these past few months due to the pandemic. There were rumors going around that none of the stores would ever be opening again. This past Monday put that rumor to rest. What will happen over the next few months is anyone’s guess. So, while you’re out driving around to see what’s going on at the Outlet Mall; take a look across the highway at the Love’s Truck Stop project! Wow! Who would have ever believed? If you would like to take in an even better view of the enormity of this project, drive to Pesotum and travel south on I-57 back to Tuscola. You will get an elevated overhead view of all that’s in motion. It’s a site to see. I can’t wait for the completed project up and running so I can see it lit up and open for business at night from I-57! Our future is at the intersection of Route 36 and I-57.
However, don’t count our old town, downtown retail population out. Our Mayor and Councilmembers will work hard to develop a clever plan to lure those same consumers that jumped off of I-57 and Route 36 to venture downtown. How? By making our downtown a must see even if a person’s intention wasn’t to shop. East and West Sale Streets hundred year old buildings are mostly renovated and open for business. Our Community Building is second to none in the area. Festival Corner and Flesor’s Candy Kitchen are already landmarks getting much attention from travelers from all over this state and many others. We’ve all seen the tour busses stopped downtown. East and West North Central to North Main Street to West Pembroke Street to North Parke Street are the boundaries from which the interior of these boundaries must scream “You’ve Got To See This!” I personally think these are the boundaries in which our government needs to build and promote both an outdoor and indoor entertainment mecca. Any and all businesses located in and around would benefit.. Just look at the variety of restaurants already established downtown that could easily cater to large crowds. I also would like to see at least three more major motels here. Think about it; everyone staying all night in a motel wants to get out and do a little of something in the evening. Tuscola needs to be ready and able to provide that “little something”. We are a prime location for motels. Route 45, Route 36, and I-57 all intersect here and the University of Illinois just a short and direct drive up Route 45.
Remember how you get downtown. One must drive on an impressive five lane Route 36 to South Main Street, then straight north on South Main Street. Who could resist giving Ford of Tuscola and Tuscola Home Center a look as you travel by? How many towns this size even have their own new car dealership today? Tuscola Home Center is as large and well inventoried as any of the big city, big box lumber stores. Can anyone argue the fact that our South Main Street is beautiful and especially so at night. I’ve said many times before what a site to behold South Main Street is when all lit up at night. And yes I am well aware of the fact we have one corner on South Main Street that needs to be tended too but that can be worked out I’m sure. So what I’m saying in my column tonight is this: Tuscola is far from rolling over dead! Quite the contrary! Tuscola is a fire being stoked right now. Just look around you.