With all due respect to the name, the typical industrial park does little to conjure a notion of fun or relaxation. Utilitarian by design, most industrial parks tend to lean on the front half of that moniker, catering to the types of businesses that require ample adaptable space, prefer more remote (and therefore more affordable) locations and aren’t particularly concerned about projecting the kind of “curb appeal” that might attract walk-up customers.
But one such complex in St. John may be turning the tide of what an industrial park can or should be.
On a short inlet called, yes, Industrial Drive, just off of busy Joliet Street, the eclectic collection of businesses retains the hard-edged, no-frills character of a traditional industrial park with tenants such as PERM Machine and Tool, Midwest Landscape Specialists and Fastenal, but broadens the possibilities with service-oriented outliers such as Comforts Catering and Laurie Tuttle Dog Training.
“We chose this location because it’s close to home,” says Melissa Matlon, one of the owners of ReVolt Competitive and Recreational Cheerleading, another of the nonindustrial businesses that saw the potential of the complex when it opened there in June 2018. “We absolutely love our location. It’s a former Diamond Kings baseball facility that has the perfect layout to accommodate our full-size spring floor, tumble track and additional equipment. We appreciate being close to Route 41 but are also tucked away where we can ensure the safety of our athletes when they are being dropped off and picked up from the gym.”
Matlon and ReVolt co-owner Jamie Hitt believe the “light industrial” vibe of the park has worked well for their gym, a feeling backed by its growth.
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“We are very fortunate to have found this location when opening the doors of ReVolt,” Hitt says. “We feel that we are very accessible and easy to find, and we’re pleased with the space that we have to grow our business. Being close to Route 41 and Joliet Street allows us to serve customers from several surrounding areas, but we still feel tucked away from very busy, high-traffic areas. So we really haven’t seen any downside to being located in an industrial park.”
Another business that saw plenty of upside in the location was craft brewery St. John Malt Brothers, which decided in March to move from Wicker Avenue to expand and consolidate its operations with 95ate5 brewery at 9585 Industrial Drive, where Jim Estry and his team brew beers and serve them alongside a full food menu in the adjacent brewpub. While craft brewing facilities are no strangers to light industrial settings, a retail area can be a little bit harder to pull off. But Estry says the current spot is unbeatable — especially with a customer base that actively seeks out the brewery.
“We’re not an impulse visit; we’re a destination location,” he says, noting that the only real drawback to the park is the lack of a patio. “We have good proximity to Joliet Street, and probably two times the space of our old location at half the price. So this has definitely been the right move for us.”
Like ReVolt and the other nonindustrial businesses filling out this particular industrial park, Malt Brothers@95ate5 has found a new commercial frontier in a place that until recently was the province of machine shops and auto parts suppliers. Whether this type of service-oriented migration signals a trend on the retail landscape or just a one-off blip remains to be seen, but for now it stands as one more example of the ever-developing commercial character of St. John.
“St. John has been experiencing explosive growth,” says ReVolt’s Matlon, “so it only made sense to grow here with it.”