Archives

Jacksonville Main Street Launches Online Marketing Playbook For Local Businesses

The Jacksonville Main Street has been working hard to help small businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest way Jacksonville Main Street is trying to do this is by developing an Online Marketing Playbook designed to help businesses with both online marketing and transactions. After many local businesses have been reaching out to Main Street about concerns of small businesses about marketing in the COVID-19 age and their lack of knowledge. Main Street developed the handbook with the help of Groupon professionals new volunteer service.

Judy Tighe, the Executive Director of Jacksonville Main Street, says the playbook was developed for people of all skill levels: “It really starts with the basics and helps people get started, and then there’s also a section for people that have familiarity with online marketing and sales, but maybe want to do a little bit more, so for the more advanced users there’s a section that would address them. It’s really easy to refer back to, so people can learn and use it at their own pace, and their own skill level.”

Tighe says the playbook is free for all to use and can be accessed via the Main Street website and printed via PDF: “It’s a PDF, but it is also online, and the links obviously are live on our website. Anybody can go to our website and click on the resources and COVID-19 tab, and on the drop down menu, there’s the Marketing Playbook. Once it’s open, then there’s a place to click for the PDF file download, and then you could print it out. It’s free to use. There is no obligation to us or Groupon to use it.”

Tighe says that the playbook is one of the many ways Jacksonville Main Street has tried to promote local businesses. They recently partnered with The Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce and Jacksonville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau to put on the annual Santa Stroll: 12 Days of Loving Local.

Local Jacksonville Man Brings Christmas Cheer to the Developmentally Disabled

A Jacksonville native is raising funds to continue his efforts of promoting Christmas cheer to the developmentally disabled.

Jamie Gish, a native of Jacksonville has worked with the developmentally disabled for five years, and is the founder of the Reindeer Express Project.

Last year Gish attended Santa School to become a Santa, and says his focus as he entered his second Christmas season portraying the jolly old elf, is to provide a Santa experience to developmentally disabled members of the community who have been unable to travel out due to the COVID-19 pandemic: “Most of them haven’t been anywhere since this pandemic began. They’ve been inside their group homes, and you know I just started to feel bad for them, so I wanted to do something to make a special Christmas memory for them.”

Gish says the Reindeer Express Project is all contactless to help conform to COVID-19 guidelines: “So, they’re all no contact visits, so what I’ll be doing is arriving. I got some LED under-glow lights put on my car the other day in red, so I pull-up I have some red under-glow lights on. I have some Christmas music blasting and get out [and] wave to everybody. [I] try to communicate with them as much as I can through the windows or to stay socially distanced. I’ll leave a package for them, and then if the off-duty staff are parked outside of that group home when I stop there, then I’ll just swing by to say hi to all the kids in the cars, and I have got some treats for them too.”

Gish delivers gift baskets that include Christmas activities for the members of the group homes to do: “What they are getting is a box of premade Christmas cookies to decorate. It’s an instant Christmas party, so they get the cookies. They get a Christmas DVD, some Christmas crafts, a game, [and] a jingle bell necklace, so they’ve got a bunch of goodies, so they can have a party once Santa leaves.

Gish made five visits in the Jacksonville area over the past weekend, with more planned for Springfield, Lebanon and Godfrey next week.

Jacksonville business No Regrets Cookies, has partnered with Gish by helping him provide the cookies that go in the baskets. While Gish hopes to give to approximately 30 group homes during this season, he says he only has the funding for the eight currently scheduled.

To donate, you can find the Reindeer Express Project on go fund me.com.

For more information, you can look on santajamie.org or go to Jamie Gish’s Facebook page.

Cass Shop With a Cop Changes Due to Pandemic Restrictions

The Cass County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 296 plans to do Shop With a Cop a little differently this year.

Traditionally, Shop With a Cop is a program in which police officers both state and local would shop with less fortunate children in the community the Saturday before Christmas. The process included volunteer help as well to provide the presents and rely on local businesses to help provide funds.

This year due to the COVID-19 pandemic the event will still be held, but the format has changed. Instead of allowing children to shop with the cop directly the FOP Lodge 296 of Cass County in Beardstown is accepting lists from 100-120 less fortunate children with a $100 maximum and distributing them to volunteers that will then shop for the items and deliver them.

While in the past the Lodge has focused on both Small Businesses and Large Corporation donations to provide each child with the gifts, with the recent decline of small business participation and the impact of the pandemic on small businesses, the funding for the event will come primarily from large corporations this year.

If you wish to donate to the event, donations can be mailed to the Cass/Beardstown FOP Lodge 296 at 418 East Main Street in Beardstown, Illinois. If you wish to make a cash donation or feel uncomfortable mailing the gift, you can call (217) 323-3131 or (217) 452-7718 to make arrangements.

Winchester Applies for Funding to Improve the City Sewers

Homeowners in Winchester who are currently not on a city sewer line could soon have one in the next year. 

In October, the city council was told of a State of Illinois grant available to communities who are completely unsewered and those communities who still have areas within city limits who are still on septic systems. Winchester falls into the latter category. 

The 100% construction grant through the Rebuild Illinois Program would cover the construction costs for the city if they are approved. The city only has to pay for engineering and design fees. Mayor Rex Mclintire says that the city would be developing the northwest portion of the city with the new sewer and get many folks off of septic services: “I signed off on a permit application with the EPA on the 19th of November, and they submitted that, and as of right now, it’s just a waiting game. They have to finish their plans and everything like that, and hopefully we’ll get the permit, and we can submit that with it, but even if we don’t, we’re still going to submit it by the end of December. Now, there is $20 million for 5 years, consecutive years, so if we don’t get it this year, we got a good shot at getting it maybe in subsequent years. We just thought it was worth the shot, and the thing is we’re going to develop that property eventually. This was a way we could maybe get 100% of the construction [funded], and we were going to have to pay for the engineering cost anyhow, so we thought it was well worth the risk.” 

The city is paying for the design portion out of the city’s TIF fund. The costliest portion of the project would be the construction of a lift station, but it would remove the residents in that portion of the city from septic services. Benton & Associates Engineer, Greg Hillis, told the city that he’s hoping to have the state review permits and have paperwork signatures ready to go before December 31st, which is the deadline for submission to the grant program.

Officials Warn about the Risk for Holiday House Fires With Decorations

The office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal is urging safety for people putting up outside Christmas decorations. With nice weather expected this week and outdoor holiday decorations one of the socially distanced ways to show the festive spirit this year, State Fire Marshal officials warn that outdoor decorations can be hazardous if proper precautions aren’t taken. 

Fire Marshal spokesperson, J.C. Fultz, says one should be careful with decorative lights: “Replace any light strands that have worn or broken cords. Make sure to read the recommendations for number of light strands that you can string together. Turn off all the light strings and decorations before going to bed. You don’t like Clark Griswold and have major issues.” 

Real Christmas trees are also another common source of house fires this time of year. Fultz says that regular maintenance on real trees is required: “If you have a real Christmas tree, they smell good; they look good, but make sure to check the water levels daily. It is not unusual for a tree to drink up to two gallons of water the first day it’s in the stand, and keep those real Christmas trees away from any heat source. It can dry them out quickly and cause major issues.” 

The National Fire Protection Association reports that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 780 home structure fires per year that began with decorations between 2013-2017. More than half of home decorations fires in December are started by candles. Candle fires peak in December followed closely by January. The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and New Year’s Eve. 

The OSFM will once again host its Keep the Wreath Red campaign to continue awareness about the importance of fire safety during the holiday season. Wreaths will be placed and lit with red bulbs outside of the OSFM offices in Springfield and at the Thompson Center in Chicago. White light bulbs will replace the red bulbs when a fire related death is reported in the state.

State Launches Programs to Encourage Homebuying

Illinoisans who want to purchase a home, but feel they are not in a financial position to do so, now have more options in Illinois. 

The State is launching two new home buyer assistance programs aimed at making home ownership available to more people. 

The first program is called Smart Buy and includes a 30 year fixed rate mortgage and assistance for a down payment or closing costs and can also help with student loan debt. 

Javier Gumucio says that money for assistance can be paid later: “The really neat part about the Smart Buy system is the Student Loan assistance or debt relief which will provide 15% of the purchase price up to $40,000 to pay off all those student loans.” 

The second program known as Opening Doors, is aimed at low to moderate income home buyers. It also includes a 30 year mortgage, with $6,000 for a down payment that is forgiven after five years. 

Gumucio says the programs are aimed at African American and Latino communities, however the programs are available to everyone who qualifies: “The key barriers to home ownership that these two demographics have faced having really involved down payment problems, and then the second barrier being student loan debt.” 

Both programs were created using appropriations allocated to IHDA in Governor J.B. Pritzker ‘s bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan and will continue until funds run out. 

Borrowers must meet all eligibility requirements established for IHDA’s DPA programs, and homebuyer education is required. The program is not exclusive to first-time buyers and may be used by buyers in any county in the state. 

Officials say the Smart Buy program is expected to assist approximately 500 to 1000 borrowers, with the Open Doors program expected to assist about 6,000. To find out more information on the Smart Buy and Opening Doors programs, visit https://www.ihdamortgage.org/.

Sydney Geyston Wins the Fall Society Showcase at IC

An Illinois College student wins a campus-wide competition with a piece supporting local businesses in the wake of COVID-19. 

On Wednesday, the Illinois College Literary Societies competed in their Annual Fall Society Showcase. The Showcase is an event held every Fall semester in which the 7 societies, 4 male and 3 female, select one individual to give a piece from one of the 3 productions each society hosts every semester. 

Sydney Geyston, of Sigma Phi Epsilon, was named the victor, which she says has always been a goal of hers: “Well, I was actually extremely shocked. I thought all of the producers [sic] last night did an amazing job, and as I was watching it, I knew the judges had a tough decision that they had to make. Once I learned all about the literary aspect of it, I actually remember telling my family one day I will go to Fall Society Showcase or Best of the Best and maybe, just maybe, I might be able to win. I don’t know. I never could have imagined that would have happened the Fall semester of my Sophomore year still being relatively new to the society and to the literary aspect of it, so it came as a shock and as a blessing.” 

Geyston says her extemporaneous piece called “Investing Local” was inspired by supporting local businesses in wake of the Pandemic: “This year our theme for the Literary Production was Stay Local. Our Vice President, Leah Reither, chose this theme especially in the height of the COVID-19 virus. She found that it was beneficial for everyone to learn about helping out local businesses, so that they can stay afloat during these times, too. The one that I was in was Investing Local, so I gave an extemporary piece, and it was on investing local, but I didn’t want to just talk about the basic investing of giving back your money. I thought it was important to discuss how you can utilize your time and your talents as well.” 

Sigma Phi Epsilon is one of the female societies at Illinois College and was founded in 1916 with the letters standing for Knowledge, Love, and Service. The Society also won the Spring showcase Best of the Best last semester. 

Geyston was awarded $100 and a new trophy this year which was created to promote a spirit of competition with the event being over Zoom to promote social distancing due to COVID-19 this semester. Madison Love, of Chi Beta Literary Society was the runner-up with her piece entitled “The Most Worthy Love” about self-love and received $75. 

All of the Literary Societies continued to show their commitment to literary excellence in the wake of the pandemic.

Cities Team up to Cut Court Costs

Three Scott County municipalities are coming together to take care of ordinance violations. The Winchester City Council last night unanimously approved inter-governmental agreements with the Village of Bluffs and the Village of Manchester to share Winchester’s municipal court system.

Winchester set up their own municipal court system earlier this year to police ordinance violations within their city limits to avoid the citations from going through a lengthy process in the circuit court system. 

Winchester City Attorney John Paul Coonrod says it’s a way for 3 city governments to deal with immediate problems: “They split the cost per radis, so if let’s say there’s 10 cases in the municipal court that day, and Manchester brings 2 cases. [Then] Manchester is responsible for 20% of the total costs of court that day. Although it should be noted, that the central reason why Winchester started its municipal court in the first place was to avoid the cost of taking it to a circuit court which would be easily ten-fold the cost of just pursuing minor ordinance violation cases at the municipal level.” 

Coonrod says that the winter months will likely slow down the municipal court system for Winchester, as most of the issues that have been concluded in the city have dealt with outdoor debris and lawn maintenance violations. He said that the city would be looking at derelict vehicles in yards and on streets in the near future. The next scheduled date for municipal court in Winchester is January 14th.

Eat Drink and Win $100 in Chamber Checks

The Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce is working to help bars and restaurants who are struggling during increased COVID mitigation restrictions with a new contest. 

The Chamber is now hosting a new drawing called Eat Drink Win, which gives patrons the opportunity to win $100.00 worth of Chamber Checks just by continuing to support their local eating and drinking establishments.

President of the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce, Lisa Musch, says the idea for the contest came from outside the chamber this time: “Bryan Nyburg, our Community Development Director for the city, and Mayor Ezard called me a couple of weeks ago and said hey we’ve got this idea [and] we need a little help with it [and] wonder what your thoughts might be. We wanted to do something to help our local bars and restaurants. We were just finished up our 12 Days of Loving Local/ shopping local with our kind of store promotion in conjunction with Main Street and the Visitors Bureau to help our local retailers. You know to keep people shopping local, so we wanted to try and push that towards bars and restaurants now to see how we could be of benefit to them.” 

Musch says the Eat Drink Win contest is pretty easy, and that they worked hard to keep it as simple and yet as supportive as possible. All one needs to do to enter is to visit any bars or restaurants in the area using their carry out, curbside pickup, delivery or drive through options and save the receipt: “If you spend $10 or more at any of our local bars and restaurants anything in the Jacksonville area. You bring in your receipt and drop that off at the Chamber which is at 1155 West Morton right there in Community Park by the Big Eli Wheel, and we’ve got a mail slot on the front of the door in the box, so you can drop your receipt through there. Put your name and number on the back of it. You can also email a copy of your receipt with your name and number to  Chamber2@Jacksonvilleareachamber.org. We have our big selection process the December 14th through Friday December 18th and draw our winners.” 

Winners will receive $100.00 worth of Chamber Checks that can be spent at a variety of retailers in the Jacksonville area. 

Musch says so far the Eat Drink Win promotion has been well received, and local bars and restaurants need all the support they can get at this time: “We’ve had a lot of comments the last couple of days when we rolled this out [like], wow this is great. We want to do something to support our local business, bars, and restaurants, because you know people are still eating and drinking, and it’s a great way to support those local entities. You know we want to make sure everybodys able to make it through this time. It’s been very difficult this second round of mitigation for our local bars and restaurants. You know they’ve tried to get back to a better place for themselves, and you know things were going better, but then this second round of mitigation has been very difficult.” 

Musch says the drawing for the checks will be held from Monday December 14th, through Friday December 18th. She says they wanted to make sure the checks were distributed before Christmas, so they could be used for gift buying or giving if need be. 

Musch says a big thanks is owed to the sponsors of the event as the Chamber had intended to give out five prizes, however thanks to generous donations, the number of prizes is now up to eight, and could be more before it’s over. 

For more information on the Eat Drink Win drawing, go to the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce Facebook Page.

Winchester Key Club Hosting Christmas Parade Saturday

The Winchester Key Club is planning a Parade to raise money for the Winchester Historical Society and Ministerial Association this weekend.

The club was created last year with the help of Winchester’s former Superintendent Dave Roberts and the Winchester Kiwanis Club. It was formerly known as the Leadership Group with the purpose of Service and Leadership. Key Club is a student-led leadership organization and is the high school branch of Kiwanis International.

The club has been committed to serving the community this semester with their newest event being a Parade. Key Club Officer, Zoe Evans, says the Parade will be this Saturday: “The Parade details, however, is this Saturday, December 5th starting at 6pm. The parade will start at Daws Funeral Home and continue down Main Street, West Cross, ending at the high school. The parade’s main purpose is to get money from the entries that are donated, and we’re going to give it to Historical Society and Ministerial Association.”

Participants paid $30 to participate and must have a minimum of 100 Christmas lights to be eligible. The club is still accepting last minute entries.

Other service projects the club has completed this year are a town-wide clean-up, assisting the Kiwanis in their food pantry project, and most recently decorating the Winchester city square for Christmas.

They have also held events at the school to foster community including a hallway decorating competition and a Christmas tree decorating contest in which the classes competed against each other for prizes.