Money Matters: Three businesses that would be great to have in St. Joseph

by Jake Pence, Guest Columnist

As St. Joseph and small towns across the country face stagnation (lack of growth) it is important that they prioritize their local economy.

St. Joseph is a desirable place to live for many reasons. We have a great school system, small town values, a low crime rate, proximity to jobs and everyday necessities, the best El Toro in Champaign County and numerous local businesses. I could go on and on. However, if population growth isn’t a desired outcome then population retention is pivotal to the long-term livelihood of the community.

What’s the best way to improve the desirability and longevity of a small town? Create a thriving local economy that isn’t too dependent upon one industry.

That said, this article is dedicated to three businesses I believe would improve resident retention and add a welcomed vitality to the local economy in St. Joseph.

BBQ & Craft Beer Restaurant
Location: East of Jack Flash

Yes, we already have a great selection of restaurants in St. Joseph and this is by no means a knock against any of them. I thoroughly enjoy a burrito loco from El Toro, the frisco melt from Roch’s and anything on the menu at The Wheelhouse. I’ve also eaten my fair share of China King, Padano's, Scratch, Subway, Monical's, and Dairy Queen over the years.

Despite all of these options, what we're missing is delicious portions of pulled pork, beef brisket, burnt ends, cornbread, potato salad, coleslaw, and craft beer.

To scratch that itch, residents of St. Joseph and surrounding communities have to drive to Urbana or Champaign.

Have you heard of Burgers & Beer in Gibson City? How about Gross’ Burgers in Westville? I’m guessing you have heard of one if not both. What do those restaurants have in common? First, when my family drives past them we stop and eat. Second, they are demand drivers for their local economy.

I firmly believe that a BBQ and beer focused restaurant would develop into a staple of the St. Joseph food scene and drive demand to the rest of the local economy. For proof of concept, visit Edley’s next time you’re down in Nashville, TN.

Boutique Assisted Living Facility and Memory Care Center
Location: Southwest of the middle school or a new residential development

Based on the recent traffic I’ve seen at my proposed location, this could very well be in the works.

Why do most people live in St. Joseph? They grew up here and this is where their family lives; therefore, we should prioritize the health, housing, and livelihood of all residents from newborns to great grandparents.

One of the hottest trends in real estate is assisted living facilities because the baby boomer generation is approaching the age where this assistance may be necessary. Additionally, Alzheimer’s rates are rising and quality memory care facilities are becoming more important than ever.

The addition of a boutique assisted living facility and memory care center to the community would be ideal to provide a much needed service to the older generations of St. Joseph. Instead of having to drive to Champaign, Urbana or to other facilities in the surrounding area, families and caretakers could make a five minute drive across town to check-in and visit loved ones.

For proof of concept, check out my colleague Loe Hornbuckle at Sage Oak Assisted Living based in Texas -

Home Remodeling General Contractor
Location: Vacant lot on 2nd Street south of the Kickapoo Rail Trail or your garage

How many of you have completed a home remodeling project during COVID-19? My guess is 50% of the people reading this article have done one or more improvements to their home. How many of you ENJOYED the process of completing your home remodeling project? I’m going to say 10% - and if you’re in that 10% then pay close attention.

In my opinion, St. Joseph has a housing situation that is bottle-necked by supply and demand issues. That has resulted in the village not experiencing the population growth many once thought it would thanks to stagnation. If we aren’t going to develop new housing – a topic for another day, then we must continue to revitalize and renovate the current housing supply.

There are already businesses in town that do this and do it well – a shoutout to Roger Beals - but these businesses are always booked out weeks, sometimes months in advance. There is a shortage in supply and a surplus in demand for contractors; therefore, there is an opportunity for a new company to balance out the market with a much needed service.

With minimal overhead costs, diligent customer service, and an active social media presence, I don’t think it would take long to create a thriving business with many opportunities to expand into nearby markets.

All of these businesses will take a certain level of industry specific knowledge and access to capital to start, but that can be acquired through partnerships, research, and over time. Entrepreneurship isn’t about reinventing the wheel or coming up with a Shark Tank-esque idea. It is about finding opportunities in the marketplace and taking action to meet an unfulfilled demand.

As an investor and entrepreneur, I am personally very interested in exploring all three ideas. There may be others in your circle who feel the same way. Start a conversation. Discuss the possibilities and the opportunities. Quite frankly, I think conversations about entrepreneurship and taking calculated risks aren’t talked about enough in our community, yet we are home to some of the brightest minds and hardest workers in the area.

It is time to make entrepreneurship a priority in St. Joseph. So let’s get to it!

About the author:
• Jake Pence is the President of Blue Chip Real Estate and a consultant for Fairlawn Capital, Inc.. A 2019 graduate from the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, he is a 2016 graduate from St. Joseph-Ogden High School where he was a three-sport athlete for the Spartans. You can view his latest acquisitions and advice on his YouTube channel here.
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