I was in Chicago Wednesday. It was a crisp spring day, the sky and water in a matching shade. The city, when viewed from the approaching interstate, no matter which one, is not a terrific thing. The city looks too congested, hazy, too city-like. But when viewed from Lakeshore Drive, the city comes alive. It would be hard to view the city from that direction and consider the city a mess. And so I spent time in the city and I visited a few coffee shops and restaurants and marveled at the variety in such tight quarters. In Lincoln Park we walked past three coffee shops to go to the fourth, because that one was better, or just different, it was hard to say. So many people can support so many shops, even when they’re all nearly the same. I enjoyed my visit and my meetings and returned home as I always do, happy to have been and happier to be back.
In Walworth County, we do not have the luxury of superfluous shops and stores, because we don’t have the population to support such variety. I’m happy for this small town setting with small town concerns, but businesses that rely on foot traffic can face an uphill battle because of the demographics. That’s why I root for local businesses that open, even as I know most of them will fail. A new ice cream shop in Williams Bay? Well, we already have two, maybe three, four if you count that one place, so you’ll be the fifth? And you’ll be serving Blue Bunny Ice Cream, the same kind the gas stations sell? I’d rather treat you as farmers treat farm animals, because you never get to know something you know is going to be dead in a few months. But alas, I cheer on businesses that I think the community needs, and businesses that will benefit the community they serve.
I have had a dream for decades that I would someday buy the Geneva Lakes Bait and Tackle store and turn it into a high end outfitter. I’d run guides through the shop, and make it a high end sporting store. That dream is probably no longer viable, but that corner of Williams Bay where Highways 50 and 67 intersect has been the focus of much growth. Mercy Hospital is big and bold on that corner, important for the area and a nice thing to have nearby so many recreating daredevils. The Belfry Theatre, as you read here last year, is being refitted and should be open soon for a summer concert series. Lakeland Church is helping the effort; their church being located just to the north of that intersection. The sore spot has been the site immediately across from the hospital, just north of the Belfry, north of my someday bait and tackle shop.
That corner property was a mix of run down old this and beaten up that, and you’ve likely noticed over recent months a revitalization of sorts occurring on those grounds. A new barn was built, the property cleaned, the old house remade. The style fits my eye, whites and grays and a bit of modern intermixed with a decidedly country vibe. The business is Boxed and Burlap. My friend Jon Neighbors and his lovely wife whom I’ve never met are the owners, and what they’re doing deserves your attention. The property is being turned into a destination with multiple purposes, most notably the tree and plant business that occupies much of the property. But that’s where the similarities to other greenhouses and nursery operations end. The old house is nearly complete in its transformation to coffee house. The tour I went on yesterday revealed a very cool space that will likely become a very popular coffee spot. In Williams Bay, we’re long ice cream but exceptionally light coffee. Boxed and Burlap fixes that.
There will be additional goings on, with one building undergoing a conversion to an artists studio where you can take some art and pottery classes, should that be something you’re interested in. I love art, but I barely have the patience to draw a heart around my name when I sign my wife’s anniversary card, so you won’t find me working on my pastels anytime soon. But the space will be there, so that’s nice if you’re artsy. There will be live bands, seasonal festivals, a farmer’s market, and more. The vision of the owners has proven to me, before they’ve proven to anyone else, that this business will work.
But for it to work, and for the community to benefit from it for years to come, it needs your help. I’m not going to tell you to visit them this weekend, but I am asking that you visit them over Memorial Day Weekend. The coffee shop should be open, so stop for an espresso and take home a lilac bush while you’re at it. Help this business succeed not for the sake of the owner, but for the sake of the community. Failed businesses aren’t a benefit to anyone, and important, high visibility corners are an especially important component to any thriving community. Hopefully this summer I’ll see you at Boxed and Burlap.