The Importance of Small Towns and Their Businesses

Catherine Greub, Opinion Editor

Catherine Greub, Opinion Editor

The Lake Forest and Lake Bluff Communities are made up of incredible people and incredible small, family businesses. We are all so lucky to be living in communities that are not taken over by factories or huge chain stores rather than little places of heaven where you get to know the owner, see what is happening in town, and connect with other customers.  

But unfortunately with the COVID-19 outbreak, some small businesses are struggling to stay open. 

As a (family) owner myself of Gerhard’s Elegant European Desserts right across the street from the train station on Western Ave, I can see how this virus is taking a toll on not only our business but the community as well. We are so fortunate to have loyal customers that still come in every morning for their cup of coffee and grab a donut or two to take back home, but it’s very sad not to be able to chat with our customers like normal. They are our family. We’ve been here for 25 years and they have helped us every step of the way. 

“I am forever grateful to all of them!” said owner (and my mother) Mary Greub. “We need to work together. Support one another. Promote one another. We small businesses can’t lose anymore.” 

But it is hard when the wholesale business has all disappeared – As country clubs and hotels are hurting too, Gerhard’s is surviving solely on retail sales.  

The Lake Forest Book Store has also been in a rough spot the past couple of months due to the Coronavirus. There recently has been a GoFundMe page started by owner Eleanore Thorn so the book store can stay afloat. 

While Thorn has been the official owner for seven years, the book store has been an active part of our community for 70 years. Opened in 1949 by a group of women and continuing to be owned and operated by women, the bookstore has always impacted the community – whether it has been a little girl’s first read, a famous author connecting with their readers, or cookbook help for an up-and-coming chef.

I had the opportunity to reach out to Eleanore Thorn and ask her about her thoughts on the coronavirus and what she thinks our town needs most now. “We want to keep our town unique. We’re special – we are not like any other neighborhood. Lake Forest is not full of chain stores. We need to protect our town.”

We’re special – we are not like any other neighborhood. Lake Forest is not full of chain stores. We need to protect our town.”

— Eleanore Thorn, Lake Forest Book Store

She hopes and prays that the bookstore can stay afloat after the pandemic ends and that our town will succeed. She is forever grateful to the donors and checks she has personally received too. As for now though, remember that you could buy a book off Amazon and get in a couple of days, or call up Lake Forest Book Store, and have it ready in minutes.

Another small town staple is Lake Forest Food and Wine, a business that has been a part of the Lake Forest community for over 30 years. Lee Harkleroad owned it until long time employee Maria Gomez (working there since she was 16 years old) bought it from him. 

Maria is offering limited hours from 9 AM – 3 PM and has curbside or carry-out availability. Unfortunately, Maria has had to lay off co-workers due to this pandemic and is now working full time only with help from her sister. 

But there still has been some good coming out of this craziness. Gomez was eager to share with me that she has customers who have an “open tab” at LF Food and Wine. This means, any first responder from Lake Forest can go and grab a bite to eat on that original customer’s expense. It is a wonderful way to help a small business and thank the first responders as well. 

“We’re the type of community that if we see someone who needs help, we’ll help. No one wants to see a small business not open anymore,” Gomez added. 

Moral of the story: coronavirus sucks and has taken a toll on everyone! 

Just remember, whenever you’re in the mood for a coffee, head to a small coffee shop. Need a new bike or just a tune up? Head to a small business. Book? Lake Forest Book Store. Or a midday lunch? There are plenty of sandwich shops open in the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff community to pick from.

Treat yourself and help one another at the same time. We appreciate it more than you know!


Below are some ways to help your local community! 

  1. Go donate to Lake Forest Book Store’s GoFundMe
  2. Purchase gift cards of small businesses on the LFLB Chamber of Commerce
  3. Order food from a small business once a week to support the community

Shop online from lots of small businesses (complete list here)