RANTOUL — Paula Hopkins fears for the future of downtown Rantoul.
Victor Torres II and his family appear to be bullish on the downtown, however, and have recently purchased several properties there.
And village officials say they haven't forgotten downtown and are hopeful of giving it a shot in the arm.
Hopkins, who owns A House of Flowers at 113 E. Sangamon Ave., told the village board recently that if something isn't done, there might not be a downtown any longer.
"There are businesses dying downtown, and we need anyone's help we can get," Hopkins said, adding that sidewalks are "coming up" and a window in one store has been broken since last October.
"We have to do something positive in Rantoul," Hopkins said. "If I did not have Champaign businesses supporting me and Champaign deliveries, I would be out of business. I've had people who come into the flower shop who did not know we have a downtown Rantoul. Now that, to me, should never be."
Village Administrator Bruce Sandahl said he agrees the downtown "will be gone" if the village doesn't pay enough attention to it. But he disagreed on where the focus should lie.
"Personally, it's a lot more, in my opinion, than sidewalks," Sandahl said. "It's a lot more than broken windows. It's building demolition, reconstruction, refiguring downtown, making sure it's an area that attracts people not only for shopping but also for social gathering, which sparks shopping."
Sandahl said the village continues to meet with the Center for Community Advancement, along with state and federal agencies, "to see if we can come up with funding."
"It's moving along quite well," Sandahl said. "There's quite an interest from ... greater Champaign County for businesses to locate in downtown if we provide them the proper reason to."
One family that thinks that downtown Rantoul is a prime business opportunity is the Torres family.
Victor Torres II and his father and son have purchased several downtown properties. Torres and his wife, Maria, operate Maria's Tacos at 215 E. Sangamon Ave. The business is owned by their son, Victor III.
Victor II said he has also bought five properties at 107-115 N. Garrard St. They include the building that is home to the Hot Rods and Hooligans motorcycle club at 107; Janza Labor Services and Income Tax at 109; Pound Out Tattoo shop, which opened in April, at 111; a new pet store, A&W Critters & Tackle, which opened last month at 113; and a vacant building that they are remodeling and hope to rent out at 115.
He said that building "has been empty for a number of years."
But that's not all. Torres' father, Victor Sr., has purchased the former Aquarium pet store on Sangamon Avenue from Jerry Glazik, the building that houses Boost Mobile and a building that houses a second Hispanic grocery store, La Victoria. (Another Hispanic grocery store, Mi Pueblo, operates on North Garrard Street.)
Victor II said La Victoria will be expanded into the neighboring former Aquarium store.
"The community's been very helpful, especially with the restaurant," Torres II said. "We've been trying to do our part to fix those buildings and get tenants in there."
But those aren't the only recent developments downtown.
Loise Haines recently opened the Around the Corner Thrift, Resale and Antiques store in the building that formerly housed the Hallmark gift shop.
Janet Brotherton, owner of Lindsey Lane Bridal, recently moved her business from the former train depot at 107 N. Kentucky Ave. to the former Busey Bank building on Sangamon Avenue because she needed more room.
Brotherton's brother, Jerry King, bought the old train station from Brotherton and has moved his Route 136 Resale business there, which is operated by King and his wife, Denise. Route 136 Resale formerly operated at 620 E. Champaign Ave.