Envisioned as a retail incubator for the city, McHenry broke ground for its Riverwalk Shoppes less than a year ago, on March 20, 2023.
Its plan – a collaboration with the McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce, McHenry Community High School District 156 and others – was to create tiny shops in the downtown area where small businesses could test the waters for their products in a retail environment.
That plan seems to have worked. In early March, three of the original 10 tiny shop occupants – Lumber & Twine, Mad Soyentist Candles, and Hair Flextensions – are set to open Shop 3430 elsewhere downtown, at 3430 Elm St.
And although she does not have a date yet, Carol Chrisman, with help from her grandsons Trevor, 17, and Finnley, 14, are set to open a new Trend Cellars at 1326 N. Riverside Drive.
Amy Humbracht, tiny shops manager for the McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce, called the first year’s results “fantastic.”
It won’t be identical, but it worked really well. It is basically nothing over the top, but still very welcoming.”— David Badgley, owner of Lumber & Twine, said of a new space he'll share with two others from the incubator
“We would have been happy if one opened” in a brick-and-mortar store after their five-month season at the McHenry location on Riverside Drive at Miller Point Park, Humbracht said.
Of the businesses who won spots in the 10 shops in the first year, three are getting one more season, from May 3 through Dec. 29. Three others are still seeking locations in or near downtown McHenry, Humbracht said.
Chrisman’s Trend Cellars is a return to form. She operated a skate shop by the same name from 1996 through 2011.
When the tiny shops became available, it was her grandson, Trevor, who wanted to see if the skate shop could return. He also worked weekends in the tiny shop to learn about the business.
The new Trend Cellar will continue to stock the skateboards and accessories they were known for, Chrisman said. They will also sell frisbee golf merchandise, men’s clothing and “stuff that is fun and trendy.”
“We will have a lot of the men’s clothes from California. There is not a place around there to get current fashion” for men, Chrisman said.
David Badgley, owner of Lumber & Twine, was preparing to work Monday afternoon at the storefront he’s going to run with two of the other tiny shop proprietors.
“We have had to remove some walls, new ceilings, electrical, flooring – everything to de-convert it from a dental office to retail,” Badgley said.
They decided the new location’s decor would be very similar to that at the tiny shops. “It won’t be identical, but it worked really well. It is basically nothing over-the-top but still very welcoming,” Badgley said.
As the space is built out for retail, they are also setting aside event a place for “paint and sip”-style classes where customers can learn to macramé, make candles or use the hair flextensions, he added.
They have yet to decide whether to go for a liquor license for the “sip” portion of the events, Badgley said.
As those vendors are winding down their time in the Riverwalk Shoppes, other small business owners are getting ready to move in.
AteaCo is owned by Neshwa Rajeh and Atik Altahif. The married couple have a home-based coffee and tea company and moved to McHenry six months ago. That is also when they discovered the tiny shops.
“We fell in love with the atmosphere,” Altahif said.
They’ve been selling single-country origin roasted coffees and specialty tea blends online for the past year. By moving into the tiny shops, they can see what they would need to become a full coffeeshop, Rajeh said.
“This is a steppingstone for us,” Rajeh said, as they have been focused on the roasting and the blending, but not on the serving of their drinks. “If we can perfect our product there, that is our goal.”
Jessica Stetson of The Pieceful Project has a goal with her shop, where she’s planning to sell and rent board games, puzzles and Lego building blocks.
As a woman into “geeky and dorky things” she wants to create a space where everyone feels welcome, Stetson said. “It is a space where people like me or other kid-adjacent adults can come in and not feel dumb if they don’t understand a game.”
They plan to “rent” the board games, older Lego sets, and puzzles to their clients in addition to sales. “It is like a movie rental – but we are going to stay in businesses,” Stetson said.
She wants to offer a spot – perhaps outside because of the tiny shops’ tiny floor space – for children and adults to work on projects, too.
There is a lot of work to get done before that May 3 opening day, Stetson said.
“I am really excited about it. Amy [Humbracht] has done a lot of work to make us feel we are all supported,” she said.