Geneva Town Focus
Old world charm meets chic city vibe – and a river runs through it
In a town as pretty as a picture postcard, it’s the smiles and laughter you notice first. It’s no stretch to say that people in Geneva always seem to be having a good time, whether they’re walking along the Third Street shopping corridor, sitting in groups at alfresco dining tables along State Street, kayaking on the Fox River, picnicking at Island Park, or cheering from the bleachers at a Kane County Cougars game. Scenically located by the riverside, Geneva seems to be a hub of happiness, a fact that isn’t lost on those who live in or visit this suburb of nearly 22,000 residents, just over 40 miles west of Chicago, which also serves as the county seat for Kane County.
“One of the most enjoyable things is to spend a weekend here as a tourist — leave the car at home and walk or bike downtown,” says longtime Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns. “When you walk the streets you’ve called home for a half a century, as I have, you discover new experiences.”
Indeed, Geneva’s many amenities and distinctive attractions have long made it a popular daytrip or weekend destination. “Since the day I moved here in 1974 to today,” says Burns “what still strikes me as impressive and authentic is that Geneva continues to beckon those near and far to experience the entire community, whether it’s our neighborhoods, our natural settings, or our dining, shopping and entertainment opportunities.”
A Charming Yet Energized Downtown District
Happy faces mill the streets in Geneva’s historic downtown, including the bustling Rt. 38/State Street and the quaint and quieter Third Street. On any given day this area is busy, but summer really brings out the crowds. (It helps that there is ample downtown parking.)
The downtown has benefited from a new vitality in recent years, according to Sherie McGowan, owner of Cocoon, a two-level shop on Third Street specializing in distinctive home décor and gifts (see Shops & Stops on page 14). “I feel we’ve gotten more vibrant lately, with all of the new restaurants and the types of shops that are coming in. It’s a little hipper, and it’s so fun,” says McGowan, adding that there are a lot of young people with families moving into Geneva and they are discovering downtown.
That spirit is underscored by Jean Gaines, executive director of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. “We are healthy and vibrant. These days, you need to provide an experience for people, and I think that is what Geneva does well,” she explains.
Enhancing the sense of fun and exploration, the Chamber of Commerce and city leaders have worked to make the downtown area as user-friendly as possible. Back in 2000, they created the Pedal Geneva project, aimed at encouraging people to bike around town. This year, Pedal Geneva is back, with 40 painted and decorated bicycles scattered through the downtown district. “They are beautiful art pieces that give a bit of whimsy when you come to town,” Gaines says.
As they walk — or bike, push a stroller, roller blade or, for that matter, drive — up and down the streets of downtown Geneva, people pass all kinds of businesses, from iconic stores to hip new spots, and from high-end to homespun. According to the Chamber of Commerce, there are more than 100 specialty shops, most of them independently owned and operated, many by Geneva residents.
Third Street retail icons include The Little Traveler, based in a historic home that’s been converted into 36 “rooms” and an in-house café; Cocoon, which has been in town for 21 years; Circa, offering a fun mix of antiques and collectibles; Artemisia, featuring art and interior decor; and the Berry House, which houses several smaller merchants that sell everything from antiques and artwork to religious items.
State Street is home to many longtime merchants as well, including State Street Jewelers, the Strawflower Shop, Proud Fox Gallery and Scentimental Gardens. Nearby thoroughfares feature additional distinctive retailers like 610 Home and bb interiors, both known for their furniture and home décor; and Gallery 28, which features a mix of fine and functional art.
In addition to venerable businesses that are attractions in their own right, Geneva has drawn a number of newer retailers to town in recent years, such as Jori & June, Flair on Third, and Haven Interiors, which just opened last month.
There are a plethora of restaurants in downtown Geneva as well, from hometown pubs to upscale, five-star restaurants, with a wide range of dining and take-out spots in between. During the summer, many restaurants on Third Street set up outdoor tables, which add to the lively vibe of this area of town.
Diners have their choice of inventive cuisine at places like All Chocolate Kitchen’s Primo (see review on page 78), Fiora’s, Bien Trucha, Niche and Atwater’s, located inside the historic Herrington Inn & Spa.
Other popular restaurants include Patten House, Chianti, Stockholm’s, Nobel House, Little Owl and the newer Gia Mia, Barrel + Rye and The Burger Local. Breakfast and lunch are big here, too, at places like Nosh, Deane’s Market and Deli, Egg Harbor, A Moveable Feast and Buttermilk.
Those with a hankering for sweets can certainly find something that hits the spot in downtown Geneva. Indeed, even desserts are elevated here, thanks to gourmet places like All Chocolate Kitchen, Graham’s Fine Chocolates and Ice Cream, The Latest Crave and The Sugar Path.
With its Metra link to Chicago, “Geneva is really a working downtown, with a drugstore and library,” says Gaines. The imposing Kane County Courthhouse building is also smack dab in the middle of town on Third Street.
Let the Festivities Begin
While almost every town in the western suburbs hosts a festival of some kind, Geneva’s events take things up a notch, both in what they offer and how they are run, say longtime community leaders and residents.
Gaines points to the involvement from the business community, city leadership, residents and others who make community events happen. “When I see how many people come together to put on something like Swedish Days, it makes me so proud,” she says of the annual six-day event in late June.
Coming up this month, a calendar highlight is the Geneva Arts Fair on July 22 and 23, held along the 100 block of south Third Street. More than 140 artists will showcase their original works across a variety of media at this juried outdoor event.
Another favorite among locals and visitors alike is the Festival of the Vine, slated for September 8 to 10 at State and Fourth streets. As its name suggests, this event is a harvest-time celebration that centers on wine and food, with wine tastings, artisan fare, entertainment and other goings-on, such as an arts and crafts show, flower market, and a live demonstration stage.
The festival line-up in Geneva offers something for everyone. “Each of our festivals has a certain flavor,” says Gaines. “Swedish Days, for example, is family oriented, the Geneva Arts show is a very fine art show that attracts an older audience, and the Festival of the Vine draws couples and groups. During the holidays, we are back to a family event with the Christmas Walk in December.”
Beyond the Chamber’s offerings, there’s a French market on Sundays through mid-November in the parking lot of the Metra station. It’s a spot to buy fresh flowers, farm produce and baked goods, along with some craft and gift items. Thursday evenings bring people to the Courthouse parking lot at Fourth and James streets for classic car shows. Then there’s the Geneva Concourse d’Elegance on August 17, which features a collection of antique, classic and modern cars from enthusiasts all over the country.
Arts lovers, meantime, can enjoy concerts at RiverPark Amphitheater on select Sundays in summer, Shakespeare in the Park at Island Park on July 15, and the Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival on September 3 and 4 at Island Park.
There are new events to meet other interests as well. “Art Affair, Geneva’s newest event, offers an evening of live music, live painting, hors d’oeuvres and a fine silent auction,” says Jamie Heflin, business development specialist in the city’s economic development office. The November 10 event will raise funds to support Geneva Cultural Arts Commission events held throughout the year, including the RiverPark Summer Concert Series, Shakespeare in the Park, Steeple Walk and the Geneva Film Festival.
The festivals in Geneva are not standalone events — merchants and restaurateurs are often integrated in some way, too. “Festival of the Vine is one of our favorites,” says McGowan, explaining that business owners benefit from staying open late and taking advantage of crowds drawn to town.
For a full list of events throughout the year, including the annual Wedding Walk in the spring, visit the events page on the city website at www.geneva.il.us.
A Window to the Past
Geneva History Museum has a front-and-center location on a popular stretch of Third Street, helping visitors engage with the history of the area.
“Before, we were out in Wheeler Park and not many people knew we were there,” says Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum and a third generation resident of Geneva. “Now, being in the heart of downtown, I’d say about 80 percent of our visitors are tourists from out of town who are walking and enjoying Geneva. Seeing us makes them curious about the history of the town.”
The museum boasts a variety of displays including a feature gallery that’s rotated twice a year, as well as a permanent main gallery with the popular Geneva’s Story exhibition. Through the end of August, the museum has a special hands-on children’s exhibit, Building Geneva, which showcases architectural concepts to kids ages 3 to 8. The feature gallery, running through early November, is called Geneva’s Faces, Places and Spaces.
There is an on-site gift shop at the museum, too. “Some of our most popular items are Geneva sweatshirts and t-shirts. We also sell wine glasses, Moscow mule mugs and pottery. It’s a souvenir shop as well as a place for people to pick up gifts for those moving into or out of town,” explains Emma.
Like other attractions, the museum is especially busy in the summer. Taking advantage of the warm weather, the museum offers tours of historic sites by trolley or bike and on foot. Geneva on Wheels is a half-hour bike tour, with occasional stops for show-and-tell at points of interest. Groups meet at Mill Race Cyclery, where bikes are available to rent.
Reflecting residents’ pride in their town, the Geneva History Museum flourishes in large part because of its volunteer base. “We are a very small staff and we have a great corps of volunteers,” says Emma. “We started volunteer appreciation months this year, and so far, we’ve had 75 volunteers account for more than 3,000 hours.”
A Windmill, a Viking Ship and a Prairie Home
Soaring 68 feet high, Fabyan Windmill, inside the Fabyan Forest Preserve, is a vintage Dutch-style windmill built in the 1850s by a German craftsman. It’s been called the best example of an authentic Dutch windmill in this country. Visitors can check out how it operates by taking a tour on weekends from May through mid-October, between 1 and 4 p.m.
Another unique attraction is the Viking Ship Exhibit, a large circa 1893 replica of a Viking sea vessel called the Gokstad, displayed at Good Templar Park in Geneva. Tours are available between 1 and 4 p.m. on July 8 and 15, August 19, September 16, October 21 and November 11 and 12.
Elsewhere in town, step back in time at a prairie homestead built in 1843. The Durant-Peterson House is run by the Forest Preserve and is sponsored by the Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley. Live demonstrations and re-enactments of prairie life are held on Sunday afternoons in the summer.
Peck Farm Park and Other Green Spaces
The Geneva Park District offers more than 3,000 programs a year for all ages, maintains 50 parks and 69 miles of scenic trails, and runs recreation centers including the Sunset Racquetball & Fitness Center and Stephen D. Persinger Recreation Center.
The park district also oversees Peck Farm Park, “a definite gem of Geneva and the Tri-City area,” maintains Traci Wicks, director of marketing and public relations for the park district. The 385-acre park includes trails for hiking and biking, a 19-acre lake and unique features such as a sensory garden and a butterfly house open during the summer months.
It’s a spot for both doing and learning, adds Wicks. “Peck Farm Park is a leader in providing environmental education, offering a wide variety of events such as camps, field trips, and family and adult
programs to increase awareness of conservation and the importance of protecting our green space.”
The Peck House, on the grounds of the park, is also open to the public and includes a history gallery with interactive exhibits and an observation tower.
Between parks run by the Geneva Park District and the Kane County Forest Preserve, there is a lot of natural green space to enjoy in Geneva. The Fox River Trail, stretching 43 miles from Algonquin to Aurora, cuts through Geneva along the Fox River and is regularly used by bikers, runners and walkers. Other popular trails winding through town include the Great Western Trail and Illinois Prairie Path.
Garden lovers can also find a beautiful respite at the Japanese tea garden on the grounds of the Fabyan Villa Museum in the Fabyan West Forest Preserve. Installed in 1910 on the estate of Colonel George Fabyan and his wife Nelle, the garden is open on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons through mid-October and on Thursday afternoons until August.
If Geneva is an all-American kind of town, it completes that image with its own baseball field. The minor league Kane County Cougars baseball team plays at Northwestern Medicine Field, a venue that has a capacity of nearly 11,000.
Beyond the game of baseball, Cougars games are entertaining for other reasons. There are three party decks or picnic events and a “Leinenkugel’s Leinie Lodge” in right field. Kids can take part in a
variety of pre-game activities and run the bases after the game.
Special events are part of the fun at the ballpark. In July, the Kane County Cougars are holding a Professional Wrestling Night at the field, with appearances by WWE wrestler “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.
For a game schedule and list of special activities, visit www.kccougars.com.
While downtown Geneva gets a lot of focus for its picturesque location and historical charm, there are other busy commercial areas in town which add to the community’s amenities.
A large section of Randall Road along the western edge of Geneva is a prime example. “Randall Road is a dynamic route. It’s all of three miles long and serves not just residents but people from throughout the area, including our friends in areas to our west,” says Mayor Burns. “The success of Randall Road supports the success of downtown Geneva — they don’t compete with one another, but complement each other.”
To illustrate his point, Burns notes that Geneva Commons generates about $100 million in sales a year, while downtown Geneva generates about $98 million.
While some national “big box” stores have taken a hit from online sales and closed in recent years, Burns says that new stores are already going into vacant spots along the Randall Road corridor.
The Geneva Commons Shopping Center, along Randall Road at Bricher Road, includes dozens of shops with a national brand presence, such as American Eagle Outfitters, Banana Republic, Claire’s, DSW, Gap and many others. In addition to shopping, Geneva Commons has become a destination for entertainment, hosting a concert series in June as well as sidewalk sales and other special mini-events.
Other Highlights in Geneva
• If you’re into craft brews, check out Fox River Distilling Company, Penrose Brewing Company or Windmill Ginger Brew. The breweries offer tours to the public, in addition to selling products on-site.
• Geneva’s population has grown over the past two decades, and new developments are expected to bring others to town or provide options for people looking to downsize or get into home ownership. A new 40-unit townhome development, Riverbank of Geneva, is being planned for nearly six acres surrounding the Riverbank Laboratories property.
• The Fox Valley Ice Arena includes two ice rinks and a fitness center, along with an on-premises restaurant and pub. The facility is home to the Chicago Steel junior hockey team. The arena is open to the public for skating, as well as for watching hockey games during the season.Edit Module