By Chris Breach |

The coronavirus impacted area business like never before in terms of how they had to adapt and adjust their business models or plans. Below are the outlooks, hopes and dreams from area business leaders.

Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee Count, said the organization is eyeing a prosperous 2021. Although the county hasn’t been unscathed by the pandemic, it is in good shape.

“We’ve made a pretty good recovery,” Nugent said. “I think Kankakee County is fortunate to have so many essential businesses and manufacturing businesses that didn’t feel the brunt as much as some of the other areas in the state. We’re fortunate there.

“Unfortunately, the restaurants and bars, the entertainment industries took a big hit, and it’s going to take some time for them to recover. We’re certainly hoping the vaccine makes the difference, and we can get back to normal. In a normal world the economic outlook is bright.”

Nugent said the county has had a pretty good economic run the past few years.

“We’ve had some big companies that had left, but we’ve had bigger companies that have come back in and taken their place,” he said. “We’re still getting some calls and still see that happening. There’s a good economic future once we get past the virus.”

Nugent said the county is in a good position for the new year.

“We’re still in the middle of the country,” he said. “We’re still 40-some miles south of one of the largest cities in the country. We have economical land for development, and some of the moods are changing. ... We’re very well positioned for a post-COVID world.”

Christy Smith, owner of Kankakee’s DressWell Boutique, 150 N. Schuyler Ave., is hoping to turn the corner in 2021.

“You know 2020 was a struggle for small businesses,” Smith said. “We are just praying that we’ve learned a lot of different ways to engage with our customers whether it’s shopping in store or by Facetime or processing orders over the phone, offering curbside pickup and local deliveries.

“We are just ready to do whatever we have to do to continue to keep our doors open. With the vaccine just being released, we’re just hopeful that that’s going to help us return to normal. If that can’t happen, we feel we’re positioned to be able to still serve our customers and still offer a fun shopping experience.”

Smith said they’ve learned to adapt.

“We had to basically change our entire business model because we were set up for 100 percent in-store customer service,” she said. “We didn’t have a website, so what we were doing was relying on social media to still keep that interaction with our customers. The other thing that we did in trying to really be prepared for 2021 is we moved locations. My Bourbonnais store [DressWell] is now sitting next to Evolve Clothing in Kankakee, and then we’ve opened a third store — the Clothing Bar in the old DressWell Boutique in Bourbonnais.”

Smith said they’re hopeful for some normalcy by the spring.

“That’s what we’re really, really hoping,” she said. “… We’re ready for people to actually walk in and shop.”

Jeff Hammes, president of Peoples Bank of Kankakee County, is looking forward to getting back to normal.

“Life without COVID and being able to greet our customers and our coworkers with a smile and a handshake,” he said. “And I’ve got to tell you we’re probably not going to be shaking hands. I think we just miss being around people.”

Hammes said Peoples Bank has weathered the storm.

“Community banks have played an important role in refinancing a lot of homes and saving customers interest and being able to lower the interest rate on the mortgages for their customers,” he said. “And we’ve been a safe place for their deposits.

“We’ve also helped a lot of businesses with the PPV program. We’ve weathered the storm, but we’re looking forward to more normal days ahead.”

Peoples Bank has also played a role in the uptick in real estate. Hammes is hopeful that continues.

Tom Spellman, owner of the Hoppy Pig restaurant and bar in Bradley, is looking forward to a brighter 2021. The Hoppy Pig is expanding with a carryout catering and bottle shop businesses next door to its location to the north.

“It’s going to be called ‘Little Pig’ for the carryout-catering, and then the Barrel Room at the bottle shop, which will have a menu with small bites in there, self-serve wine and beer,” Spellman said. “You can taste everything before you purchase it.”

Spellman said it’s going to take a while for customers to get used to going out again.

“There’s a lot of people who have stayed home this whole time,” he said. “It’s not like there’s going to be a switch and they’re going to turn off [the COVID], and all of a sudden, it’s business as usual no matter how much my hopes and dreams would be that.”

He said there’s still uncertainty, and the Hoppy Pig has been able to survive during the pandemic.

“It’s hard to know what is going to happen,” Spellman said. “We’re hoping by the second quarter we’re more back to normal.”

Becky Broderick, newly-appointed executive director of the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce, is poised for the Chamber to hosts its 2021 programs.

“With the vaccine distribution we are looking forward to events in the second half of the year,” she said.

One of those events is the Taste of Kankakee County, which could likely be held in the summer.

“We are looking into it, and we’re hoping to possibly do it outdoors,” Broderick said.

Membership has remained strong for the Chamber, but at the outset of the new year not much will change.

“We’re going to start off with more virtual events for the beginning of 2021,” Broderick said.