We have yet to meet anyone who is happy about the closure of the Jubilee food store. And there is good reason for being concerned. Jubilee was the “anchor store” for the Germantown Crossing shopping center. When the shopping center opened, the signing of Jubilee was an important milestone, and it was a catalyst for a burst of commercial growth in Germantown Hills. The closing of Jubilee represents a significant risk for the opposite to happen. That closure’s overall impact on the community cannot be understated. If you doubt that, just talk to any realtor.
Roger Mohn was the proprietor of Jubilee, and ran the store for over fifteen years. He became the largest employer in the Village. He was always cooperative with the Village Board, helping with issues like traffic problems in the parking area. He also worked with other commercial tenants helping to coordinate and maintain the shopping center lighting.
Roger was also highly supportive of the Germantown Hills Community overall. Nearly everyone remembers the pork chop sandwich fundraisers that many organizations used to their advantage. But not everyone knows that Roger contributed tens of thousands of dollars over the years to support the community. Roger also loaned the use of the truck to pull the equipment trailer for the Metamora High School band to events around the Midwest. He never made a show of his generosity. He just wanted to be a model citizen for our Village. And he was.
In 2006, when rumors circulated that Jubilee might close, Terry started meeting with Roger. The Village Board then understood how critical the success of Jubilee was to the whole Village. Jubilee had worked through several setbacks, but the real game-changer was the arrival of the WalMart Supercenters in East Peoria and Washington.
Smaller stores have sometimes survived even in that tough environment, by specializing and/or having strong community support. By now, I’d think everyone has probably heard the story of Haddad’s Market in West Peoria that burned down recently, and is being rebuilt. West Peoria citizens loved that store and they used it a lot. They acknowledged that the prices were higher at Haddad’s than the “big-box” stores like WalMart, but they also understood that Haddad’s was part of the lifeblood of West Peoria, and needed to be supported.
Then came the Great Recession, starting in 2008. We don’t need to tell anyone how bad this was, because we are all still living it. It destroyed many jobs, and bankrupted many businesses. And it certainly was having its toll on Jubilee. The store was losing money, even after laying off half of its workforce. Roger made a number of changes to the business model which helped some, but the situation was still very difficult.
Then in August of 2009, our local gas station came to the Village Board and requested a liquor license. No claim was made by the gas station’s owner that this was necessary for their survival. It was explained that this was just another tool to help them compete against Thornton’s gas station at the bottom of the hill.
The veteran Village Trustees fully understood the strategic importance of Jubilee as the anchor store to the community and its businesses. They knew about what had happened in Washburn, IL, where its grocery store had folded under the onslaught of WalMarts in Peoria, Pontiac, and Bloomington-Normal. Washburn eventually had to form a co-operative to re-open the store as a non-profit, publically-owned business, but it has required ongoing subsidies from private individuals to stay alive.
When the gas station liquor license came to a vote in October, considering all of these strategic implications, the four veteran Trustees voted against a new liquor license, with the understanding that it was simply a matter of timing. It was made clear that when recovery from the recession occurred, the application for the liquor license would be reconsidered. The new Mayor and the two Trustees that had run with him in 2009 voted the opposite, to approve the liquor license for the gas station. The license vote failed.
A very important point needs to be made here, especially when you see what happens next. At no time, ever, did Roger Mohn request any Village Board member to disapprove the proposed liquor license for the gas station. The veteran Trustees made this decision themselves, knowing that any incremental loss of sales to Jubilee from a nearby business might make the difference in whether Jubilee would or would not survive the recession.
This story should have ended there, quietly, with the new liquor license delayed. If it had, and if we had been able to build increased community support for Jubilee like West Peoria has done for Haddad’s, we might still have a living Jubilee today. And with the economy starting to pick up, we would also now be discussing issuing the liquor license for the gas station.
Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened. Apparently the new regime thought it more important to grant a liquor license to the gas station, than to look strategically at what was best for the Village as a whole. And when they lost that battle, they weren’t going to walk away quietly.
At a following Business Association meeting, there was criticism of the Village Board, making the claim that it had no right to vote the way they did to oppose creation of another liquor license. Of course they have that right, as the State of Illinois liquor control code gives broad latitude to municipalities in this regard.
Later in the meeting, the new Mayor stood up and had harsh words for Roger, criticizing him for opposing the liquor license for the gas station. Keep in mind that Roger didn’t make the decision to delay the license, the veteran Trustees did. So why was the Mayor blaming him?
The Mayor then said something that indicated he thought this should all go public. We’ll probably never know what role the Mayor played in what happened next, but in the coming days and weeks the friends of the new regime wrote many anonymous comments on the online Journal Star newspaper article, criticizing not only the decision of the veteran Trustees, but also openly and harshly criticizing Roger Mohn and Jubilee. Roger’s son tried to defend Jubilee and Roger, but the vilifications persisted.
As the angry commentary continued, some citizens in the Village heroically went to the defense of Roger and Jubilee, both online, and with their pocketbooks by buying more in the store. But it was not enough.
Eventually, Roger came to believe that the opposition group’s diatribes might be causing the store more harm that good. Hearing this, the veteran Village Board members decided to let the liquor license go through. It was passed in December of 2009.
On the first of November, 2010, Roger announced that Jubilee would close.
Throughout all of the economic downturn before the store announced its closure, the Mayor never went to Roger to talk about what the Village might do to help. The first time he sat down with Roger was after the announcement of the closure of the store, and he brought along the Village attorney to do much of the talking. But by then, it was too little, too late.
Business owners have since told us that they are very worried about the closure of Jubilee and one said he has seen his own business drop since the closure. And there is certainly reason to be worried.
In 2009, the new Mayor and new Trustees ran on a campaign slogan of being “pro-business.” The two leaders of the Chamber of Commerce have praised and endorsed them for being more “pro-business” than the “old Village Board.”
But doesn’t “pro-business” go beyond a knee-jerk, rubber stamp “yes” to everything that any business wants?
Shouldn’t the Mayor and the Village Board be looking at the bigger picture and making decisions strategically, and not as individual issues?
And why would the new regime oppose any action that might help keep Jubilee alive, the anchor store whose closing will adversely affect many other businesses, as well as property values, in Germantown Hills.
Was it inexperience, or just arrogance?
Bottom line: We know that previous Village Boards brought Jubilee to Germantown Hills. We believe that the new Mayor and new Village Board members, along with their supporters, helped drive Jubilee’s demise.
Terry Quinn Mike Gaetz