McHenry Riverwalk Shoppes select vendors for summer 2023

Workshops set to to help small businesses build their brands

People walk along McHenry's Riverwalk by Boone Creek from Miller Point on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.

Ten small business entrepreneurs will get one of the tiny shops planned for the McHenry Riverwalk, starting in June 2023, a panel working with the McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce decided.

In total, 17 businesses applied to rent one of the 10 planned shops set for Miller Point Park, chamber president Molly Ostap said. A jury – including chamber members, representatives from the city of McHenry, a McHenry High School teacher and student, and McHenry residents – whittled the list down to just 12.

Those dozen finalists presented their pitch to the selection committee which then picked the 10 who will get one of the spaces through December.

“The main thing we were looking at was, is it viable?” Ostap said. “Do we think it would do well not just at the shops but in the community and beyond?”

Organizers hope that if the tiny shop vendors are successful, they would then open brick-and-mortar stores in or near McHenry, Ostap said.

Those who won a Riverwalk shop include those who make bread, candles, coffee, hair extensions, gifts and handmade goods, and skateboards.

The winning vendors are Bright Nest, Flextensions, Little Bean Books, Lumber and Twine Store, Mad Soyentist Candle Company, Rustic and Reclaimed Market, SubUrban Design, The Bumble Bread Co., Trend Cellar Skateshop and Vintage Mercantile.

“We were keeping in mind things like: how many different applicants we got that did the same thing? We did want variety, something for multiple demographics and not all of the same thing,” Ostap said.

When it came time for the vendors to make their pitches, the passion business owners showed for their work was a part of the decision-making process, she added.

McHenry Parks and Recreation Director Bill Hobson, left, and John Smith, president of the Riverwalk Foundation board, give a tour of Miller Point on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.

Danny Springer, 29, of McHenry, received one of the tiny shops for his business, The Bumble Bread Co.

His father, Randy, started the company in 2004 and baked bread and cinnamon rolls in a commercial kitchen he build it the family’s basement before stepping away in 2010, Springer said. Now with occasional help from his dad and wife, Krystal, Danny Springer started the business up again in fall 2021.

He has been selling the yeasted breads and cinnamon rolls at the McHenry Pearl Street and Grayslake farmers markets. Many of his regular customers asked if he had a permanent location, something the Riverwalk shop will give him, Springer said.

“The Riverwalk is an opportunity to get some practice in a store setting without being in one one brick-and-mortar location,” Springer said.

He went to school for a music degree, not business, and is looking forward to the educational workshops being offered to the tiny shop vendors, Springer said.

“I haven’t had business training,” he said. “There is a lot of stuff I don’t know about the ins and outs of running a business.”

Attending the workshops is part of the agreement the vendors signed to get the locations.

“Basically it is free additional education. It will range from marketing to finances to finding your target market,” Ostap said.

Julie Skaggs, her husband, Derek Amendt, and his daughter, Erin Amendt, have been making candles at home as the Mad Soyentist Candle Company and selling at craft shows for 10 years, Skaggs said.

“I have been dying for a storefront for years. Eventually we want a place big enough to get production out of our house. It has taken over everything,” Skaggs said.

Their tiny shop would be “an opportunity to try things out to see if brick-and-motor is even feasible” for them, she said.

Dan Rohman teaches his construction trades students how to measure out a board to build a stud wall on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, during class at McHenry High School. The students in the class will build the tiny shops that will house incubator retail businesses on McHenry's Riverwalk at Miller Point.

Some of the vendors chosen have a successful business in a different town, but are looking to expand, Ostap added.

Debbie Winkler runs Vintage Mercantile and Rustic and Reclaimed Market in Antioch – and received two of the tiny shop stalls.

“I have McHenry customers that drive to my shop. In my case, it wil help me enter a new market in McHenry,” Winkler said. “If all goes well in 2023, I will be opening a permanent shop in McHenry.”

One factor in the selection process was the “business readiness” portion of the application, Ostap said.

“We didn’t want to disqualify (vendors) in the concept phase, but we wanted people to hit the ground running,” she said.

All of the winning vendors have active social media sites and up-to-date websites. “They are using social media in a positive way” to show they are ready for the next step of their businesses, Ostap said.

Jule Vahos, of Crystal Lake, is working with a patent lawyer for her product, Flextensions. A full-time art teacher, Vahos began making her hair extensions at home and sold them at farmers markets and craft fairs.

She was attracted to the McHenry tiny shops because of the chance to work with the chamber, do the workshops, and to have a smaller space “to get my foot in the door and learn what I needed to do to move to a bigger location,” Vahos said.

The city of McHenry approved site work for the Miller Point Park improvements at its Dec. 5 meeting. If all goes according to plan, the site should be ready in early May, Parks and Recreation Director Bill Hobson said.

Students at McHenry High School are building the tiny shops, but city employees will do the final assembly and wire them with electricity.

Ostap hopes the shops will open in mid-May or early June. This group of vendors will keep their locations through December to allow them a full six months on site, and a new batch of vendors will be picked each season, she said.