Goshen News, Goshen, IN

December 13, 2012

Historic downtown LaGrange returning

By DL PERRIN
CORRESPONDENT

LaGRANGE — For a little more than two years, a core group of motivated residents of LaGrange, have been organizing. They want to attract like-minded residents and business owners to join them in promoting and focusing on improving the downtown area. Gregg Todd is their newly appointed president. For many decades, Greg has been involved with civic organizations and promotions as a private citizen and as an employee of Farmers State Bank.

The group they formed, Focus LaGrange, is in the process of becoming a 501c(3) so they can apply for matching grants, loans or other financial vehicles that might be available to them as a non-profit association. Right now they are in the fundraising mode.

“We did a chili competition last year. It was very popular,” Greg said.

They intend to do a repeat the weekend before Super Bowl weekend 2013. They are calling it Focus LaGrange Super Bowl Chili Shuffle. All area residents are invited to compete with a large pot of their own chili recipe. At least four restaurants or businesses will host the competitors and their pots-o-chili for an afternoon of tasting. Thirty-two entries are accepted and, in the spirit of the season, each will be assigned the name of an NFL Team for the voting.

The chili competition is fun and they certainly need the seed money, but their long-range plans include economic development projects like store-front makeovers, themed design and a strong town identity.

Another active member is Laurie Miller, the interim clerk-treasurer for LaGrange.

“We have an enthusiastic group,” she said. “We are all busy with work and family. It takes a commitment of one meeting a month and a few fundraising events throughout the year. We are all in the same boat, so we understand the personal-time, balancing act, but the purpose of the group is to improve our community. It is up to us.”

Joe and Cheryl Albergo opened their restaurant, Chicago Joes, a little more than two years ago, directly across from the historic courthouse.

“We love this town,” said Cheryl. “Joe used to come here as a kid in the summer and now we live on Royer Lake.”

They own two buildings. On the ground floor they run a music venue on one side and a sandwich and pizza restaurant on the other.

 “We have a beer and wine license, but we are not running a bar. Our music is over at 9 p.m. and we serve food the entire time,” Cheryl said.

The point of focus, for them, is to attract other small owner-operated businesses to downtown LaGrange. They enjoy the slow-pace and realize many of the tourists who visit the area or summer at the lakes are also there for the peace and quiet.

“I’d like to see a few antique shops or other retail shops.” They realize pedestrian shopping traffic will add to their business. “We don’t have a lot of spare time, but we take part because we believe in what Focus LaGrange is trying to achieve,” Joe said. “We want to see LaGrange thrive, it is a good place to live.”

Focus LaGrange meets at 7 a.m. once a month at the LaGrange Town Hall on North Detroit Street near CVS Pharmacy.

Anyone who has ideas for downtown improvements or you’d like a list of the group’s purpose and mission statement, contact Gregg Todd at Farmers State Bank, 651-7111.