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January 25, 2014 / jeffnward

The City of Geneva Did Nothing to Help Great Harvest Bread

When City of Geneva Economic Development Director Ellen Divita stood before the city council and said, “I’ve been working with Marty [Kane of Great Harvest Bread] for several months and actually found him a new location,” it would be entirely accurate (and generous) to describe that as a “mischaracterization.”

But before we go there, please allow me to issue a couple of caveats.

Ellen Divita

Ellen Divita

First, Marty did not provide any material nor did he cooperate with this column because he and his lovely wife Kim are ready to move on to their next adventure.

Since Marty has been a frequent contributor to my columns and we regularly discuss these kinds of issues, our conversations as he was wrestling with throwing more money into the business are all I really need.

Second. Though they can certainly contribute to the eventual demise and though fate can often be unkind, the success or failure of any retail enterprise is ultimately up to the entrepreneur and not the municipality in which it resides.

That said, I’m not the one who dramatically took to the podium and described how ceaselessly I’d toiled to single-handedly save Great Harvest Bread either.

Here’s the real story.

Marty and Kim decided they’d had enough in November and once they came to that conclusion, it was a done deal. The cost of premium ingredients had skyrocketed 400 percent, Wal Mart and Meijer bakeries were undercutting them, and downtown Geneva was dissolving before their very eyes.

As a courtesy, Marty called Divita to let her know about that decision and it was only with the horse was already out of the barn that she made any attempt to close the door.

Now, Divita did manage to suggest a new location, but what she failed to mention is was the only place worse than Great Harvet Bread’s current Third Street ghost town digs – the northeast corner of Routes 25 and 38.

That’s right! The old Rain Restaurant in the Geneva Place Retirement Community. No foot traffic, no adjacent retail, no parking, and you generally have to take your life into your hands whenever you cross that intersection from any direction.

Any one of us regular folks would’ve considered and dismissed that premise in a mere five minutes, but only Genevans enjoy the rare privilege of paying a six figure Economic Development Director to spend “months” coming up with a DOA thought.

And, by the way, where was Divita and the rest of the City before this closing was inevitable? How long has the old U.S. Bank building sat empty?

Marty repeatedly approached the city with simple signage suggestions that would mitigate those nearby empty storefronts only to be shot down every time. A sandwich board at Rt. 38? Nope! A sign on the now defunct Erday’s building pointing to Great Harvest? Nope! Apparently, you don’t get anything from the City of Geneva unless your last name begins with “S” as in Shodeen, Simon, or Stanton.

Meanwhile, instead of lobbying on behalf of smaller downtown business, Divita has been busy pushing for an absurd downtown SSA sales tax increase that will specifically benefit the aforementioned “S” group.

And the city council wasn’t much help either. Remember when Great Harvest wanted to install a drive through? Holy crap! You’d a thunk they wanted to tear down the Pure Oil building. Wait a minute! The Mayor actually backed that plan. The Kanes would’ve had an easier time sneaking a pair of nail clippers onto an airplane.

Not only that, but Marty consistently came up with great ideas like a downtown grocery store or a concert area/skating rink – things that would bring women with children downtown – all of which were summarily dismissed. And what was the downtown master plan folks’ main concern? Sight lines!

It would seem that, in Geneva, doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result works better than innovation because it’s so much easier!

One alderman asked me why Marty didn’t come to them sooner, but at what point do you get tired of being ignored and hearing the word “no?”

The bottom line is this. If we choose to believe Ms. Divita’s version of events, she spent “months” working on a day late and dollar short solution only to come up with a cure that was even worse than the disease.

Which means it’s time to address the city council. Though I’m cautiously optimistic about that collective pair you seem to have grown as of late, you need to take it a step further. Because when neither the Mayor nor City Manager McKittrick ever hold any city staffer accountable, it’s up to you to do it. And I’ve provided you with the perfect place to start.

For God’s sake! City Manager Mary McKittrick doesn’t even live in Geneva! What does that tell you?

On a final note, Marty did ask me to pass along this sentiment. “The outpouring from the community has been great,” he said, “ We will miss our loyal customers and we enjoyed being part of the Geneva business community.”

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