When Julia Ziller was growing up in Aurora in the 1990s, she dreamed of being able to walk downtown on her own.
But his parents did not allow it.
She reflected on this recently as she toured the new Wyckwood House and Bar at 80 S. River St., enthusiastically saying that the after-work boutique and lounge was just one of many symbols of downtown’s comeback. Aurora town.
“It’s so nice to see my little baby dream come true,” she said. “I’ve waited for this all my adult life.”
Ziller is a friend and associate of Wyckwood founder and owner Shannon Gutierrez, and that’s how she ended up at the Wyckwood VIP event on Thursday. On Friday, the public got their first glimpse of the new Wyckwood at the town centre’s First Fridays event.
Overall, the reviews are positive.
“I’m grateful for what Shannon did,” Ziller said.
What Shannon Gutierrez did was find a business, and then expand it, in downtown Aurora. It illustrates both an optimism in the rebirth of downtown and what people hope will be the start of a post-pandemic world.
Gutierrez founded Wyckwood as an online business, occasionally hosting pop-up retail events. When she decided to make it a regular retail business in 2018, she chose a storefront on Downer Place, where the store transformed into a hip and thriving boutique specializing in small local specialty vendors.
In this way, Gutierrez not only trusted downtown Aurora as a place to start a business, but Wyckwood House became something of an incubator for small businesses to grow and make their mark.
“It was kind of, we can do it, you can do it,” Gutierrez said. “I think there’s a lot of power in the community, and I think the Aurora community is something special.
“It’s not just the people who live here, but also the business community.”
The opening of the shop has not failed to prove it, from the charcuterie offered by Chi-cuterie, a new business which is about to open in the former Moveable Feast building in downtown Geneva, to the balloons and in-store signs designed by Aurora- graphic designer based in Sarah Cervantes.
Wyckwood carries some of Cervantes’ artwork – the store has made its message coffee mugs popular – and Cervantes designed Wyckwood’s labels that adorn the store’s curated line of products, from clothing to candles.
After its success in Downer Place, Gutierrez opened a second store in downtown Wheaton in 2020, then decided to expand its flagship location in Aurora.
The new location, at 80 S. River St., is in the former West Aurora School District offices that have been converted into apartments, the home of Kluber Architects and now the home of the new Wyckwood.
The new Wyckwood House includes more than the signature boutique, but also a bar and lounge for after-work get-togethers and happy hour.
And Wyckwood is just one of many downtown businesses opening or expanding as the pandemic appears to be easing. The Cotton Seed Creative Exchange also held a grand reopening on First Fridays at 64 S. River St., just down the street from the new Wyckwood.
The urban outlet offers local artisans, vinyl records, gift items and more.
Owner Yvonne Toney-Thompson has moved from Broadway to a larger location – another business has started and is now expanding downtown.
As the Craft Urban restaurant nears opening, another restaurant, Stolp Island Social on Stolp Avenue and Galena Boulevard is also planning its reopening.
The restaurant closed during the pandemic in order to stay open eventually, once the nearby Paramount Theater restarted its shows.
The restaurant opened at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and at 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
It has now started opening at 10:30 a.m. for brunch and lunch on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Paramount offers matinees in the afternoon, as well as every Sunday.
Sunday brunch is from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., changing to Sunday dinner at 3 p.m.
It’s enough for someone like Ziller – who can come downtown anytime she wants now – to wave her hand in a forward motion.
“It’s like they say: Aurora ahead,” she said with a smile.