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For communities of all sizes, the activity in the designated downtown area generally presents a fair assessment of the success found in that community’s economy. Larger cities can flaunt their downtown areas, with major retailers flooding the limited space with new, high-end shops and intentionally overpriced wares. For smaller cities and villages, the deflation of activity in the downtown area too often represents the slow death of that area’s old way of life, an injury from which that community may never fully recover. Especially in light of the ever-altering marketplace, community leaders may often find the task of renovating a downtown into a newly thriving district too daunting to attempt. Mokena’s leaders, however, maintain faith that Mokena can, indeed, grow and thrive with the right kind of economic stimulus, and advances in the downtown area highlight major strides made toward offering just that.

In their efforts to discern what improvements would help the downtown Mokena area, Mokena leaders happen to have a little help from the people at RTA. The village currently has plans for a study of the downtown area focusing particularly on and around the Front Street Metra station to decide on prime transit-oriented development (TOD). Research for the TOD focuses primarily on “trying to develop more…quality residential condominiums and such in buildings with potentially commercial space on the ground floor and residential above,” says Marty Lucas, Mokena’s economic development coordinator. Promoting mixed-used property downtown helps Mokena functionally by allowing businesses a renewed opportunity while also installing a steady market in the form of the denizens for the new buildings. Proximity to the Metra station will also mutually benefit the RTA and the village, making easier access for each and allowing for future beneficial change to occur more easily.

No downtown would quite feel complete without an independent grocer, and Berkot’s Supermarket fulfills that requisite handily. For years, Berkot’s has remained a staple presence as the central entrance into Mokena’s downtown on the southeast corner of Wolf and LaPorte Roads. Evidence of Berkot’s continual thriving evidences itself in the grocer’s ambitious expansion and renovation plans. The supermarket has already enlarged its space by over 50 percent, increasing from a 13,500-square-foot store into an expanded, 25,000-square-foot one. During the ensuing months, Berkot’s will focus on renovating its space, as well, ensuring that even an independent grocer updates to accommodate the current epoch of change in Mokena.

The Regions Bank moving into the downtown saliently indicates the increase in cash flow into the area. Mokena’s downtown Walgreens also offers more than just prescription drugs and an emergency gallon of milk. A nurse practitioner frequently provides services in a clinic to address minor injuries and illnesses in lieu of going directly to the hospital and with the ability to conveniently order prescriptions as necessary right within the store.

Building upon the study for the TOD, the existing businesses in downtown Mokena, and with all of the new attention Mokena has earned, its leaders look forward to making strong changes in the near future. On the residential side, developers hope to place an emphasis on high-quality residential buildings to better enjoy downtown life. Young professionals, commuters and empty nesters may all etch out a niche in the burgeoning downtown, reinvigorating it from within.

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Finding a single indicator for a community’s success is fairly difficult, but for many cities and villages, the accomplishments downtown generally offer a fair reading as to how all other economic endeavors will go. Thousands of residents in Mokena now and those soon to arrive can look to the major investments into the future of the village with hope, and see those investments displayed prominently in Mokena’s downtown. As the area around the Metra station continues to add commercial ventures and more attractive residential space, too, the downtown, and Mokena as a whole, will certainly blossom into the village it always meant to be. Residents no longer have to ask if, but when, and should enjoy partaking in this current, critical part of Mokena’s history.

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