In Richmond, Ill., younger crowd brings new businesses, new life to small town

Chicago Tribune

Antique stores. Lots of them. That's what I remember about this McHenry County town tucked below the Wisconsin border.

When I was a kid growing up in suburban Chicago, my family spent many a summer weekend up north, near Lake Geneva, Wis. My sister, brother and I knew we were almost there when our station wagon would come to a crawl in traffic on U.S. Route 12, running right through the heart of Richmond.

The station wagon is long gone. I'm grown up and live in the city. But I continue to make that trip up north, routinely passing through this place with a population just shy of 1,900.


Much of downtown Richmond — billed as "The Village of Yesteryear" — looks the same as it did back then. Yet I'm struck by a feeling that change is in the air. The old guard seems to be giving way to the new, and the historic downtown — to borrow a term from the antiques world — is being repurposed into a different kind of destination.

"Some of the new things going on involve younger entrepreneurs, and a lot of them are women," Village President Peter Koenig said. "There's a coffee shop, a couple of new clothing stores, a place that does reconditioned furniture. An art gallery and body art business recently opened up. They're all younger people who've taken the plunge and opened businesses here."

One of these Richmond rookies is Stephanie Corlett, owner of Revived Creations ( The furniture and home decor store opened late last year on Main Street, a quainter name for Route 12.

"I refinish antiques and give things an updated, shabby-chic look; a lot of people call me a 'newtique,'" said Corlett, who holds classes, ornament decorating workshops and other events in her cozy establishment that used to be — you guessed it — an antique shop.

I ran into Corlett again — it's a small town, after all — as we stood in line at Main Street Coffee Co. A couple from Lake Geneva took over the space last year ( They serve Milwaukee-based Colectivo Coffee alongside a menu of baked goods, paninis, salads and ice cream. The inviting cafe has high ceilings, couches and wooden tables stocked with chess sets and checkerboards. The implicit message: Make yourself comfortable, and stay a while.

On the same block, you'll find a yoga studio and a well-curated clothing boutique, Finery & Finishes (, that's less than a year old. The owner is about to open another boutique around the corner, across the street from the popular Italian steak house, Paisano's on Broadway (

Koenig, the village president, calls Paisano's owner, Phil Gilardi, the Pied Piper of Richmond's restaurant scene.

Gilardi opened Paisano's in 2006 after selling his namesake eatery in the northern suburbs.

"A buddy of mine said they're giving away the buildings (in Richmond) and the place has no restaurants," said Gilardi. "I drove up and said, 'I'll take it.' Within six months, I was at a four-week wait for a table on a Tuesday. We'll do close to $3 million this year."

When Paisano's debuted a decade ago, it seated 30. After several expansions, it's at 140. The restaurant's colorful facade, peppered with overflowing flower boxes, commands a big chunk of the block once lined with weathered-looking antique shops. As the stores shuttered, Gilardi snapped them up to grow his business, which includes a new Italian sandwich shop and a crab shack called Panino's ( It's just a few doors down from Paisano's, right off the 26-mile long Prairie Trail path, making it an ideal spot for cyclists to refuel with a lobster roll or eggplant Parmesan sandwich.

Gilardi is already cooking up expansion plans for his latest venture.

"I'm looking at blueprints today," he said during a recent phone interview. "We're blowing out the back wall (of Panino's) and putting in a big bar with entertainment — TVs, live music, Frank Sinatra kind of stuff. And we'll have a little market if you want to buy some fish raw, take it home and cook it yourself."

Across from Paisano's and not far from a martini and wine bar, Fox and Finch Antiques ( is one of the few survivors of Richmond's bygone era.

"We used to have at least 22 antique stores, and now we have two," said owner Ginene Nagel, who lives above the shop that's housed in an old bank.

Nagel noted that a lot of her customers are younger folks from Chicago (about 55 miles southeast of Richmond), Milwaukee and Lake Geneva. She scours auctions in the Midwest to find dishes, collectibles and furniture for her intimate storefront.

"Anything from the 1950s and back," she said about her inventory. "It just has to be quality, and the quality went down after the '50s."

Nagel, a Northbrook native, moved to Richmond 15 years ago. She was drawn to its small-town charm.

"This is what Northbrook was like when I was a kid," she said, "a little, Midwestern town surrounded by cornfields."

Despite the exodus of antique shops and the rollout of more modern amenities (some of which, such as video gambling, aren't universally beloved), vestiges of the past are alive and well in the historic part of downtown Richmond.

Local theater groups perform at the 110-year-old Memorial Hall, which is in the midst of a face-lift. An upscale salon sits across the street from an old-school joint with a barber's pole out front.

Some of the Victorian homes on Broadway still sport hitching posts and carriage steps. Old horse rings flank Main Street, where the rumble of motorcycles long ago replaced hoofbeats.

Main Street used to be a humble dirt road in the early 20th century. When Leif Anderson's grandmother got wind that it was going to be built into a highway, the family ditched Chicago and moved its candy business to Richmond.

"Grandpa came out here and bought property right on Route 12; he almost starved to death because the Depression started, and Route 12 didn't get built for 10 years," said Anderson, whose dad grew up in the Richmond house that's doubled as Anderson's Candy Shop since 1926 (

Anderson's still cooks its caramels, creams and other fillings in copper kettles before hand-dipping the candies in chocolate in the back of the venerable sweet shop, now owned by third-generation candy-maker Leif and his brother, Lars. (The latter has a delicious chocolate bar named after him.)

"Route 12 traffic turned Richmond from a sleepy one-horse town to a boomtown in the '50s," Leif Anderson said. "All summer long, the streets were packed, and business boomed."

Then came the interstates. I-90. I-94.

"We got bypassed by the toll roads, and we saw a huge downturn," said Anderson, who learned to adapt. The candy store ships its treats all over the country and opened a second location in Barrington about five years ago.

Anderson has had a front-row seat to Richmond's metamorphoses. He remembers when the antique shops started migrating here in the late '60s and '70s.

"For 20 years, the antique boom kept the town going," he said. "But the antique craze has kind of run its course."

He laughs when people complain about traffic jams on Route 12.

"The backups that used to be 2.5 miles long are now 2.5 blocks long," he said.

I've been in plenty of those backups during my drives up to Wisconsin, and I expect I'll be in plenty more. But these days, I'm less inclined to just pass through Richmond. Change has given me more reason to stop, get out of the car and stay awhile.

Twitter @lorirackl


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