Remote Worker Experience …

I was interviewed by  the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council in July and they published this nice article.

To be successful in the writing industry means one has to possess a broad range of versatile skills. Emily Potts has been a prominent writer, consultant, and editor based in the Peoria community with a scope of clients and employers nationwide.

Emily Potts - writer, editor, consultant - works remotely from Peoria.
Emily Potts – writer, editor, consultant – works remotely from Peoria.

More than 25 years ago, she moved to Peoria from Milwaukee in her role as assistant editor for Step-By-Step Graphics, a national graphic design magazine published by Dynamic Graphics (SBSG), which was based in Peoria. She was also attending Bradley University, and upon graduation, worked at other local companies including Central Illinois Business Publishers and Caterpillar. She eventually returned to SBSG as its managing editor, eventually becoming editorial director and rebranding the publication and gaining national recognition. After that, she worked as a remote acquisitions editor for a major publishing company based near Boston for nearly 8 years, and then as a solo writer and editor for several years, before becoming managing director at Pavy Studio, based in Lafayette, Louisiana. Read the rest of the article here.

Harvesting Hemp: From Seed to Sale

As more companies enter the crowded cannabis market, a local business seeks to differentiate itself.

CBD products have flooded the marketplace lately as consumers seek natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals to help them cope with anxiety, depression, chronic pain and other maladies. But in this rapidly growing and unregulated industry, misinformation abounds. It’s a “buyer beware” marketplace, and there are no guarantees the product you’re buying will actually provide the benefits it promises, while the origin of its contents is often unknown. 

A new business in Banner, Illinois, hopes to not only capitalize on the market’s potential, but educate people to lessen the confusion. “The consumer needs to understand how to use CBD and how it works in the body,” explains Paul ImOberstag, president of Banner Harvest. “We are a family-owned business that makes all of our products in-house from raw ingredients, and we process and package everything right here in Banner. We’re delivering a farm-to-table experience.”

A Trusted Source
Banner Harvest operates on the property of ImOberstag’s uncle, former Peoria mayor and businessman Bud Grieves. He and his wife Alice live on the 400 acres they purchased in Banner in 1998. “I wanted to convert the property into a conservation showpiece… to demonstrate sustainability and unique water management capabilities,” Grieves explains. “It’s roughly equal acres of native hardwood trees, prairie grasses and restored wetlands.”

While he initially had no plans to farm the property, Grieves recognized an untapped opportunity with this new venture. “I had 10 acres of virgin ground that had no chemicals applied for over 20 years, and I had the machinery and barns to plant, harvest and store product,” he explains. With the addition of his nephew and other family members, he had the combined skillset needed to make it happen. Read the rest of the article here.

Capturing Moments in Time

Any photographer will tell you that getting the perfect image is the result of being in the right place at the right time. Jim Burnham is no different, admitting that serendipity plays a major role in some of his best photographs.

His photograph “8 Seconds,” for instance, was a reaction to an unexpected change of scenery. He and some friends from the Peoria Camera Club had gathered one evening on the East Peoria riverfront to capture the supermoon behind the Peoria skyline. Not entirely satisfied with his shots, Burnham noticed something more dynamic was about to happen as the moon moved south. Grabbing his equipment, he raced to position himself up on Fondulac Drive overlooking I-74.

“Once up there, I had no more than five minutes to set up and take some extreme telephoto shots of the moon as it set over Bartonville, with the ADM plant and city lights in the foreground. It turned out to be the best of the bunch.” Read the rest of the article here.

Raising the Barn

The Village of Goodfield welcomes the Conklin Players back to the Barn.

If you had told Mary Simon two years ago that the Barn would be rebuilt and booking future performances, she wouldn’t have believed you. The director of the Conklin Players was sure that her turn in local theater was up. The Barn II in Goodfield, the theater troupe’s longtime home, had closed in the summer of 2015 after irreparable wind damage rendered the building unsafe. Undeterred, Simon moved her operations to Five Points Washington, where the troupe performed until the end of 2017.

“I was giving everything we made at Five Points to the troupe to try to keep them solvent,” she recalls. “And then I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. I had cashed out my insurance policies. I borrowed against things. My credit card debt was huge… I was tapped out.” But just two weeks after Simon gave up, Abby Reel walked into her life and proposed a plan that turned everything around.

A Storied History
A native of nearby Congerville, Abby Reel essentially grew up with The Barn’s cast of colorful characters as a backdrop. Her parents, Les and Carolyn Reel, were huge supporters of the theater—attending performances regularly, becoming friends with Simon and founder Chaunce Conklin, and encouraging their daughter to join—which she did as a teenager, working there before heading off to college.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and Reel is now owner of the Barn III, still under construction. The new venue is set to open in February with support from its community, a massive fundraising effort, and a sizable loan from Morton Community Bank. You know what they say about it taking a village. Well, it took that and more.

Although Abby Reel and Mary Simon act as partners, Simon is quick to point out that Reel is the boss—“It’s her nickel,” she explains. No doubt there’s a mutual affection and respect between the two. Several times during our conversation, Simon leaned close to Reel, patted her hand and mentioned how grateful she is to her for saving the Barn—not only for herself but for her beloved troupe, who were displaced when the last incarnation went out of business.

“We make decisions together, collaborate [and] compromise,” Reel notes. “And I think it’s really interesting how similar we are… in terms of how we think about taking care of people.” In fact, before embarking on their partnership, Reel, a licensed therapist, asked Simon to take a personality test. She had an inkling that they shared a lot of common traits and wanted to know how they would work together. Read the rest here.

Breathing Life into an Historic Building

When Raphael and Katie Couri Rodolfi purchased the F. Meyer Block Building on Adams Street in 2017, they acquired a little slice of Peoria history. Built in 1885 as Meyer Hardware, the structure has seen its share of tenants over nearly 135 years, weathering economies good and bad. Having set up their own ventures in the building—alongside a pair of other businesses—the Rodolfis are in it for the long haul.

The entrepreneurial couple has longed to open shop in Peoria, initially setting their sights on finding a location along West Main Street near their home. When they couldn’t find the right space for their needs, they expanded their search to the Warehouse District.

“We really liked everything that was happening down here. The city had redone the streets, making it more pedestrian-friendly. Sugar [Wood-Fired Bistro] was established and Zion [Coffee Bar] was moving in,” Katie recalls. “So all of that felt more like ‘city life.’ We lived in Chicago for a number of years, and Paris on and off, so we appreciate pedestrian-friendly cities and all the joy that can come with that.”

The addition of rehabbed loft apartments within walking distance—including Cooperage 214, Winkler Lofts and Persimmon Lofts—also sealed their resolve to put their roots downtown. Shortly after purchasing the building, Raphael moved his video production company, Videogenique, into one of the open office spaces. “The structure has a lot of character, which is 100 percent what we love about it,” he explains. While his large, open space on the first floor remains largely unchanged, he quickly went to work updating the other spaces to accommodate potential tenants. “We made mostly cosmetic changes like painting, tearing out old carpet and replacing acoustic ceiling tiles with metal tiles. It made a huge difference.”

Read the rest here.

Reimagine Success: Creative Space Gives Freedom

Peoria’s Prairie Center for the Arts  Provides Space to Let Creative Minds Explore the Possible

Prairie Center of the Arts is a hidden gem in downtown Peoria. Founded in 2003, the center is located in a 120 year old building that was once home to a rope manufacturer. The warehouse is now occupied with a large gallery space on one side, and a printmaking shop and artist studios on the other.

The Center offers residencies to artists with studio space and equipment that allows them to work without distraction. Dawn Gettler came to Peoria from Chicago as an art resident a couple of years ago, and when she was offered the program manager job at the Center, she moved here full-time two years ago. She says, “I found that I could buy a house here and afford a studio and get a job in the arts. I sort of re-evaluated what it meant to be successful, and for me that meant being able to make work and sustain a lifestyle, which I can do in Peoria.” Read the rest of the story here.

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Artist resident Josh Cox doing a screenprinting demo.

Where Are the Local Police When You Need Them?

I live near Bradley Park, and I often take my children and dog there. Last week, the unthinkable happened: An unleashed pit bull attacked another dog being walked by its owner.

The pit bull’s owner yelled to his dog, and then he started yelling at the other dog’s owner. His dog was attacking her dog, not the other way around. No one was helping the woman, so I ran over and yelled at the pit bull’s owner, “Your dog should be on a leash.” He approached me holding his dog by the collar in one hand and a can of beer in the other, screaming at me to “Shut the f&%@ up.”

He was within two feet of me. Honestly, I was scared he was going to hit me. I told him repeatedly not to get any closer, and I pulled out my phone and dialed 911. He yelled some more and finally walked away, gathering his friends. At least one other person called 911. I told the dispatcher that he was leaving and where he was walking, thinking a police officer would surely show up soon.

The true crime of this story is that no officers ever arrived. I called again when the man reappeared in the park several minutes later to pick something up that he left behind. I asked if any police were coming and the dispatcher said no, because I had said the guy was leaving. Really? There were plenty of witnesses willing to talk, not to mention a bleeding dog. I gave a description of the man, said he was still there and that we were leaving because I was afraid of him and I had my daughter with me. Again, no cops arrived. Approximately 30 minutes later, after we returned home, the police called and wanted to talk.

When I asked the officer why no one responded, he said that at the same time, he got a call about a guy who broke his leg at the RiverPlex, and that took precedence. Really? Don’t the Fire Department and EMTs deal with a broken leg? I questioned his logic and he said, “How would you feel if you were the guy with the broken leg?” I responded that there was a loose pit bull in a public park attacking another dog and children were present. He seemed to shrug.

Is there only one police officer on duty at a time in this city? I later learned that this officer was from the Park District, where my call was dispatched.

When I call 911, I expect an officer to arrive on the scene, even if the situation has dissipated. I don’t care whose jurisdiction the emergency falls under. Someone better respond, and in a timely manner.

This story was published in the June 6, edition of The Peoria Journal Star.

Not Your Typical Bar

Blue is a cozy neighborhood bar sandwiched between a tax service and liquor store on Main Street by Sheridan Road. Husband and wife James and Jessica McGhee have operated the pub since July 2009. “We’re the bar for people who don’t like bars,” Jessica says.

In fact, it’s comparable to a café, but with spirits, featuring mix-matched, comfortable chairs, random art, and shelves filled with board games that patrons are encouraged to play. Even the eclectic mix of music has been carefully curated by the by the owners and includes artists like The Smiths, The Pharcyde, and Postmodern Jukebox , as well as local artists The Amazing Kill-O-Watts. It’s not unusual to see people playing a game of Jenga or Connect Four while imbibing IPAs. Read rest of story here.

Emily Blue