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Column: How do you get people to park and shop?

ROCK FALLS – Almost 2 years ago, I wrote an article on plans for development in downtown Rock Falls.

I was reflecting on the piece when a reader recently brought up the state of the area in conversation.

Today, if you stand in the middle of First Avenue and West Second Street, you would see that only one of the four storefronts is occupied.

Only Wheelock Furniture, 101 W. Second St., remains open. Innovations 4 You closed in November. Happy Joe’s Pizza has been closed for a while now, and the business across from Wheelock has been closed for years.

What a visual. Three out of four street corners empty.

When I wrote the story in April 2011, I interviewed Wheelock manager Jeff Klocke. I asked him if empty storefronts downtown affected his business.

“I don’t think it hurts an individual store; people are going to shop for furniture,” Klocke said. “It would be nice to have all the buildings full, [but] I don’t think people come downtown to shop Rock Falls. More like they come to Wheelock [to shop for furniture].”

That’s where the problem lies. A successful downtown needs people who walk around and shop.

Sandy Henrekin, executive director of Rock Falls Community Development Corp., told me that the goal is to get people to stop and get out of their cars and spend time downtown.

One of the visible indicators of a healthy downtown is pedestrian traffic. People roaming about means more people stopping in businesses, spending money and helping the local economy.

But in order for people to stop and roam, there needs to be stores and businesses to visit.

We know that intersection is busy. In fact, it’s the most highly trafficked intersection in Whiteside County, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

But the city has yet to find the key to making it more than that.

When I did a recent update on the area, I learned from officials that the goal remains the same: make the area a destination. While it certainly is a lofty goal, success begins with businesses people want to visit, stop in and spend money at.

Perhaps the key lies in strengthening downtown, building an audience and then channeling that to riverfront development.

Sauk Valley Media reporter Kiran Sood covers government and happenings in Sterling and Rock Falls. She can be reached at or at 800-798-4085, ext. 529.

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