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Victorian Village

Located east of downtown and north of the Mid Town district Victorian Village was located just north of the 1100 block of East State Street on Spafford Avenue between Ninth, Longwood and Sixth Streets in Rockford. Some stores opened in restored Victorian houses in the area as early as 1979. Donna and Eugene Gauerke gave the neighborhood an enormous boost when they converted whole blocks of two unit apartment houses along Longwood and Ninth Streets that they previously rented out to tenants into commercial properties. They knocked out walls, tore out kitchens, erected a rooftop billboard promoting the area and wired Longwood for Victorian era street lamps.

 

Soon other shops followed until the area grew to include a collection of 21 restored houses featuring a mix of 72 small businesses, eateries and offices featuring a plethora of items. In 1985 then Mayor John McNamara officially opened Victorian Village as a shopping destination. Soon it became home to Victoria’s Bed and Breakfast, the first of its kind in Winnebago County.

The Victorian Village area became a favorite destination among locals and tourists alike and many bus tours would stop there for the day. It also attracted large crowds during its spring, fall and Christmas walk promotions with more than 5,000 in attendance at times. The Northern Illinois Tourism Council moved its offices to Victorian Village in 1990 as they were looking for a walk up facility where people could come in and pick up information about events and activities in Northern Illinois and they found the perfect fit in Victorian Village.

 

The area had some early success but by the late 1980’s things were already starting to change; some of the businesses were so successful that they moved to larger locations elsewhere in town, some were not successful at all and closed. Lack of parking, confusing one way streets and the lure of new large antique and crafters malls that started opening up on Rockford’s booming east side surely contributed to Victorian Village’s demise.

 

 A business called the Jacuzzi Resort located at 204 N. Longwood Street opened in 1996 that rented Jacuzzi suites by the hour raising the suspicion of illicit activity occurring in the area which did not bode well for the image of Victorian Village, although nothing was ever proved in that respect. Many shop keepers facing the rising cost of rents opted to move to the malls because of lower overhead costs, higher volume of traffic and cashiers offered by the malls also was an attractive incentive for the dealers to move so they no longer had to be on hand all day to ring up sales instead of what they really loved doing – scrounging for new merchandise.

 

 Although it was never easy to get into the area, having a Wendy’s and McDonalds gracing the entrance did not add to the Victorian image of the area. City Hall also contributed to the eventual demise when they turned their backs on the area and let an asset slip away. The city put up roadblocks to the area with the erection of a concrete wall along Ninth Street preventing vehicles from turning into the village from the busy thoroughfare which choked off business. The city claimed it was a safety measure to reduce the number of crashes at the busy Longwood – Ninth Street merge.

Tourism officials quit promoting the area when the number of stores began to thin out and shopkeepers started adopting irregular hours and lowbrow inventory. The Victorian Village Association who coordinated rental of units and promotions at Victorian Village since 1990 disbanded in 1997 because the businesses had dwindled down to the point where dues were no longer paying for the expense of promoting the area.

 

Today the former Victorian Village with its houses of gables and gingerbread has been mostly converted back into apartments and residences. Victorian Village may have been a concept ahead of its time, maybe with the renaissance of the downtown area and midtown districts today this area might have boomed and been a tourist destination to this very day.

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