Night Out in the Heights aims to draw more shoppers

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Peoria Heights is keeping its retail doors open a little later one night a week as it tries to bring more awareness to what the village has to offer.

And so far, Night Out in the Heights, which is every Thursday night when stores stay open until 7 p.m., is starting to make a difference to some participating business owners.

“I think it’s a nice thing for people who like to shop in the Heights but can’t make it before 5 p.m., when most of the stores close. And we’re starting to see people come in that have never been here before. It’s a good experience for everybody,” said Betty Rohman, owner of Harp and Thistle Imports.

“I’m glad to be part of it. I think it’s fun,” said Rohman, whose store is open 9 to 5 the rest of the week.

This is the second year for Night Out in the Heights, which began June 4 and continues every Thursday  through Sept. 24, and the list of participating stores and restaurants is growing, said Carolyn Catton, president of the Peoria Heights Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a good way to let people make a nice evening of it in the Heights. They can come and shop, then stay and have dinner. It helps build awareness as well as revenue for the Heights,” Catton said.

This summer there are 10 stores participating. They are:

Restaurants participating this summer are Hearth, Lucky’s Modern Dive and Salt.

Catton said the Night Out idea came from Chamber member merchants during meetings a year ago to brainstorm ways to improve awareness of the businesses in the village. She said she believed the idea made sense because she knows many communities have nights where shops stay open later.

“Some businesses are seeing a difference,” she said. “The restaurants are open later anyway, and now some merchants are seeing people come in to their stores while waiting for their dinner reservations,” Catton said.

This year, restaurants are helping by agreeing to highlight a special menu item each Thursday night as part of a Taste of Peoria Heights initiative.

Coming up one night in August and twice in September, there will be artists displaying their work in the village as well as strolling musicians from the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, Catton said. “We want to expand on the existing Thursday night events. We hope this will help bring in even more people on those nights,” she said. The dates for the artists and musicians have not yet been set.

One who found some success last year with a little added incentive was Mary Beth Nebel, owner of I Know You Like a Book. She has a wine bar in her bookstore and last summer, she had people outside the store recite poetry they or somebody else had written. “It was pretty well received. People seemed to have fun with it. I haven’t done that this year, yet,” she said.

Nebel believes staying open later one night a week is worth it. “We all need to promote it a little more. We need more participation from businesses. But Carolyn Catton has done a phenomenal job getting more businesses to join the chamber so I think we will see more participation as it goes,” she said.

At the same time, neither Nebel or Harp and Thistles’ Rohman begrudge those business owners who prefer not to stay open two more hours each Thursday. “A lot of these businesses only have one person. The business owner and that’s it. And it’s enough just to be open the normal hours,” Nebel said.

Said Rohman, “One of the reasons some people open stores in the Heights if because they can be independent, set their own hours rather than feel the need to be open as long as all the other stores are, such as in a shopping center. So if they choose not to, that’s fine.”

Hugh Higgins, owner of Hearth and soon to be the next chamber president, supports the effort. “Anything we can do to give people another reason to come to the Heights, to stimulate commerce in the Heights, helps all of us,” he said. “In the evenings people come to the village for the food. We want to capitalize on that. “

Thursday is a good night for Night Out in the Heights because it is close enough to the weekend people want to get out for a nice meal. On Fridays and Saturdays they often are meeting others or have any items on their agenda, he said.

Higgins said Night Out in the Heights won’t work without the commitment of participating stores and restaurants. “Customers know the stores up here typically close at 5, some of them at 6, and it is a challenge to re-educate customers. People need to see the stores are open. I think it’s important we in the restaurant scene try to move it forward by letting our customers know about it,” he said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).