What’s Up Downtown (our Blog)

Sterling Main Street Recognized for Outstanding Revitalization Efforts at 2023 Illinois Main Street Conference


Pictured L-R: Dionne Baux, Vice President of Field Services, Neighborhood Commercial Districts, Main Street America; Janna Groharing, Executive Director, Sterling Main Street; Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton

Sterling Main Street is pleased to announce being awarded The Lieutenant Governor Award for Economic Vitality recognizing the Shoppes at Grandon Plaza.

The Lieutenant Governor Award for Excellence in Revitalization is one of the most notable recognitions for Illinois Main Street communities to achieve for their work in bringing economic prosperity to their communities. Work highlights projects, activities, and events focused on the Main Street Approach™, as well as outstanding volunteers and board members.

“Main streets across Illinois showcase the very best of small businesses and revitalization efforts. I’m so proud of the 2023 award recipients for their hard work and talent to create positive change in our Main Street communities,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “That positive change will spark economic opportunities and jobs that build purpose and a sense of community throughout Illinois.”

On Wednesday, November 15, Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton alongside Illinois and Chicago Main Street Coordinators Jim Miller and Frankye Payne, respectively, of Main Street America recognized sixteen (16 awardees. Twelve (12) awards were given for program efforts, two (2) for outstanding volunteers, and one each for Board Member and Volunteer of the Year.

Awards were announced by Tasha Sams, Manager of Entrepreneur and Small Business Support and Joi Cuartero Austin, Sr. Program Officer for Economic Vitality, with a special welcome by Dionne Baux, Vice President of Field Services, Neighborhood Commercial Districts, all representatives of Main Street America.

Full list of recognitions as follows (details can be found on Illinois Main Street website):

Awards for Design

  • Alton Main Street Alton, IL | Mini-mural grant program
  • Greater Freeport Partnership | Freeport, IL | Chicago Avenue Streetscape Project
  • Jacksonville Main Street | Jacksonville, IL | The Plaza Project

Awards for Economic Vitality

  • Action Brown County | Mt. Sterling, IL | Start-Up and Business Innovation Competitions
  • New Covenant CDC BFD | North Lawndale | Chicago, IL | Business Financial Dashboard
  • Sterling Main Street | Sterling, IL | Shoppes at Grandon Plaza

Awards for Organization

  • Austin African American Business Networking Association | Austin Area Chicago, IL | When Soul City Met Black Wall Street
  • MainStreet Libertyville | Libertyville, IL | Oktoberfest in Libertyville
  • Calumet Area Industrial Commission | Pullman/Roseland Community Chicago, IL | Community Bike Ride

Awards for Promotion

  • Batavia MainStreet | Batavia, IL | Increased Merchant Engagement & Promotion Strategy
  • Six Corners Association | Portage Park/northwest side Chicago, IL | Go Local – Six Corners
  • The District Quincy | Quincy, IL | Blues in the District Concert Series

Outstanding Volunteers

  • Batavia MainStreet – Suzy Ray
  • Dixon Chamber of Commerce & Main Street – Beautify Dixon – Preservation and Beautification Committee

Volunteer of the Year

  • Greater Freeport Partnership – Devin Mielke

Board Member of the Year

  • Greater Freeport Partnership – Josh Elliott

“Throughout the year, Illinois Main Street communities work tirelessly to build relationships with businesses, property owners and other economic development partners to create a vibrant place for residents and visitors alike,” Jim Miller, Illinois Main Street State Coordinator. “Collectively, these recognitions showcase just a portion of what can be accomplished when using the Main Street Approach™ as a method for economic development.”

The 2023 Illinois Main Street Conference was hosted alongside the Chicago Main Street program, and in partnership with the office of Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and the City of Pontiac.

“We are honored to receive this recognition. Sterling has a long-established history in cultivating local entrepreneurship. In developing this retail incubator, we are excited for the opportunities these spaces will be able to provide our community as another tool to help continue to grow the local entrepreneurship pipeline,” said Janna Groharing, executive director for Sterling Main Street.

All projects, activities, or events submitted for recognition must have been completed in 2022 through June 30, 2023. Volunteer nominations reflect an amalgamation of work done with the Main Street organization and community.

Learn more about Illinois Main Street and view a full list of award winners at ilmainstreet.org.



As a Main Street AmericaTM Accredited program, Sterling Main Street is a recognized leading program among the national network of individuals and organizations who share both a commitment to creating high-quality places and to building stronger communities through place-based economic development. We strive to bring economic vitality back to the downtown business district, working with business and property owners, community leaders and the public to provide promotional support, community events, guidance & grant opportunities for building rehabilitation, and a variety of other projects in our efforts to instill community pride, and make Downtown Sterling a destination for residents and visitors alike. Learn more at sterlingmainstreet.org.


Illinois Main Street (IMS) supports a network of communities across the state that are working to bring prosperity to their older and historic downtowns and commercial districts. IMS does this by providing hands-on training, statewide workshops, networking opportunities, and other resources. Illinois Main Street programs have collectively secured nearly $1.2 billion in public and private reinvestment, with 24,000 businesses started, added over 11,000 jobs and rehabilitated 1,220 buildings since 1992. Illinois Main Street is administered by Main Street America, a national movement of neighborhoods and communities who share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. Learn more at ilmainstreet.org.

Never stop learning…

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a day long workshop provided by the Illinois Main Street program.  The Jacksonville Main Street program was our host for the day.  Just a bit larger than Sterling and about  45 minutes West of Springfield, Jacksonville has been a part of the Illinois Main Street program since 1999 and in 2012 was a “Great American Main Street” award winner from the National Main Street program.

Perhaps even more than the information presented at the various workshops I’ve attended over the years, one of my favorite things is the inspiration I get in seeing the projects in person that have taken place in the communities I’ve visited.  My visit to Jacksonville proved to be quite inspirational.

As the workshop was starting early on Thursday, I travelled down on Wednesday afternoon.  Rather than staying at one of the hotels on the edge of town, my friend, Judy, the Jacksonville Main Street director, tipped me off to a new business right in the heart of their downtown – The Little Stove and Hotel TLS – a great little wine bar and Italian Restaurant recently opened.  They’d converted the upper floor into 3 hotel rooms, available on Air B&B.  Perfect!

The host had asked for my ETA and a fresh carafe of water and ice bucket were waiting in my room.  I settled in and then walked downstairs for dinner.  A fabulous little place – a welcoming feel, open, clean, about a dozen tables and seating at the bar overlooking the small open kitchen.  Woodfired pizza and craft cocktails. The whole time I’m thinking….”we could do this in Sterling”  – a great restaurant on the main floor, a private meeting room in the back, and 3 Air B&B’s on the upper floor of a great corner building in their downtown.

Thursday morning came and I walked the block down to “The Plaza” where our workshop would be held.  WOW!

This HUGE former bank building, slated for demolition not all that long ago, is in the process of being fantastically renovated into a multiuse building – a tap room, axe throwing business, multiple small retail business and a plethora of space yet untapped, but full of potential! AMAZING!

Catching up with my Main Street counterparts, meeting a new director and board members from one of the newest Illinois Main Street communities; getting the opportunity to share about our Shoppes at Grandon Plaza project; and hearing what other Main Street communities are doing is always reinvigorating, and just another reason why I continue to love this job every day.


2023 Report to Our Community

              A message from our Executive Director

Wow, what a year!  While 2021 was a year of organizational planning coming out of the COVID days, 2022 was definitely a year of implementation and growth!


In partnership with a small group of Keystone Group Members, our Mural Committee got to work raising funds and starting a restoration plan for downtown Sterling’s historic murals. Bringing back the original artist, Robert Valadez, “Adelante” underwent a full restoration over the summer.


Our Economic Vitality Committee continued pursuing the creation of a retail incubator and broke ground on the project in July, partnering with the Whiteside Area Career Center’s Building Trades class for much of the construction which remains ongoing. The application process for our first round of entrepreneurs is winding down and we anticipate having 6 new businesses open later this spring! This project would not have been possible without the financial investment from area businesses and individuals like you, and the commitment of the City of Sterling. Sterling Main Street was blessed to receive a T-Mobile Hometown Grant of $50,000 for the project – having been selected as one of 25 recipients nationwide for this  grant from a pool of over 400 applicants.


The Twin City Farmers Market continued work on its list of improvements to better serve our community. The  year-round farmers market saw the construction of a new deck, completed for safer access to the indoor space, as well as a new glass garage door on the north side of the building, replacing an old metal rollup door that was becoming increasingly hazardous.  During 2022, our Market welcomed 71 different vendors utilizing both its indoor, year-round Market space and the outdoor Sterling Marketplace pavilion.


In addition to 52 weeks of Farmers Markets in 2022, Sterling Main Street hosted a dozen other community events. 236 volunteers provided 1,288 hours of service to help bring those activities to life.  Our Sip+Shop events held in both the spring and fall saw 15 different businesses participating and great attendance. Our Spring event was SOLD OUT!  Mother Nature was not cooperative for our Car Show, but despite the gloomy weather it was a profitable event for our organization. We expanded our summer Pop-Up Market series to 6 events over the 3 month period. The Market series welcomed 49 unique vendors and saw quite an uptick in guest attendance. Hot Dog Day was another sell out event with over 7,000 hot dogs served up during the 3 hour event. 24 businesses took part – be it cooking, sidewalk sales, or other fun activities. The Fun Fair provided in conjunction with the B.L.I.N.D. student leadership group was a huge hit as well. Hops on the Rock saw beautiful weather for the day. Attendance was up, new regional brewery participation was up, and the feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive as we continue to grow this event. The Downtown Christmas Walk saw record turn out and near perfect weather. Seasonal Sights & Sounds was the perfect note to end what’s been a fantastic year on.


Sterling Main Street was recognized at the Illinois Main Street Conference held in Bloomington in October with The Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Revitalization for Organization. This award recognizes Main Streets who create a strong foundation for a sustainable revitalization effort, including cultivating partnerships, community involvement, and resources for its district.

Main Street was pleased to take part in a Community Pride workshop with the cities of Sterling and Rock Falls, along with other community partners.  You’ll see more work inspired by that workshop coming in 2023. We also enjoy being a part of the City’s Riverfront Commission, and working with their partners Gorman & Co. and Studio GWA, in promoting revitalization of Sterling’s riverfront.

A few of our goals for 2023 and beyond…

  • With a continued focus on the growth of entrepreneurship and business development, Sterling Main Street will further explore ways to expand the Twin City Farmers Market, the Shoppes at Grandon Plaza and Pop-Up Market opportunities.
  • Sterling Main Street will continue strategic partnerships with the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, City of Sterling, Sterling Today, Greater Sterling Development Corp, Sauk Valley Community College, Woodlawn Arts Academy, and others on collaborative projects such as the Keystone Group, riverfront redevelopment, mural restoration, banners for the 1st Avenue Bridge and more.
  • Sterling Main Street will continue its volunteer recruitment efforts to engage more of the public in its committees and event planning.


How you can help

Our 2023 Partnership Campaign is now underway. In addition to the many specific event-related promotional opportunities Sterling Main Street offers, we have a number of ongoing programs and revitalization activities for which funding is also needed. Partnership opportunities are welcomed from both businesses and individuals.

To learn more about all of the ways available to support Sterling Main Street…
Click HERE to view a printable PDF document
or HERE for an online response form.

Thank you for your ongoing support of Sterling Main Street and the revitalization of Downtown Sterling!

*Please click HERE to download a printable version of our Annual Report & Partnership Campaign

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T-Mobile Hometown Grant

So we did a thing today…


The T-Mobile Hometown Grant initiative has been a tremendous resource for small town America since it’s inception in early 2021 and Sterling Main Street is blessed to have been selected to receive a $50,000 Hometown grant in support of our Shoppes at Grandon Plaza project.

Thanks also to Air Play Espresso & Bakery for allowing us to hold our celebration in your warmth after the award announcement on site.

Learn more HERE

Applications now being accepted

November 3, 2022

The Shoppes at Grandon Plaza, a retail incubator project by Sterling Main Street, is being designed to attract small businesses, create more retail shopping options, and bring people into downtown Sterling. Its inaugural season will open in the spring of 2023!

The long-term goal of this project is to continue to foster entrepreneurship in Sterling and the greater Sauk Valley region, specifically as it relates to retail shopping. To provide a structured setting for new businesses to test their market, while also providing the ongoing educational support and training for those entrepreneurs to help ensure their best chance of long-term success in a competitive and challenging retail environment. And further, to provide a pipeline of new businesses to keep storefronts occupied and add to the prosperity of the communities in which they locate.

As construction of the incubator units continues, the Application Portal for prospective businesses is now open. Applications will be accepted until December31, 2022 at 5:00 PM.

Applications will be reviewed in early 2023 and Vendors will be notified of their acceptance in February 2023. Possession of the units will be delivered to vendors at the beginning of April and vendors will have one month to customize their spaces prior to the May 2023 opening.*

An independent jury will review all applications and select the vendors for the 2023 season.  The jury committee will strive for diversity in vendor offerings, and applications will be reviewed with this in mind.

For more information on the application process and the online application form, please visit https://sterlingmainstreet.org/sgpvendors/, or contact Sterling Main Street Executive Director, Janna Groharing at 815-626-8610 or by email at janna@sterlingmainstreet.org

*Please note that Sterling Main Street will do it’s best to adhere to this timeline. As the incubator units are currently under construction, modifications to the timeline may be needed due to unforeseen construction delays. Every effort will be made to keep vendors, once selected, fully informed on the construction process.

What’s Up Downtown!

Other Happening for the week of August 8th:
While fundraising remains ongoing, we’re in the final stages of planning on the Adelante restoration that starts NEXT WEEK! August 16th! Want to get involved? Join us at the office TONIGHT (Aug 😎 at 6:30 for our final planning meeting. Or Donate Now –>> https://bit.ly/3yGQurP

Looking for other ways to get involved in your community? Our Design Committee, Economic Vitality Committee and Hops on the Rock Planning Committee are all meeting this week as well.
  • Design Committee – Tuesday, August 9th @ Noon | The Precinct, 113 E. 3rd Street
  • Economic Vitality Committee (Retail Incubator Planning) – Tuesday, August 9th @ 4 PM | The Precinct, 113 E. 3rd Street
  • Hops on the Rock Planning Committee – Tuesday, August 9th @ 5:30 PM | The Precinct, 113 E. 3rd Street
Our Main Street Pop-Up Market returns to Dale Park this Thursday, with musical guest Bobbi White, 30+ vendors and special guests Gorman & Company and Studio GWA who will be sharing information on the Riverfront Redevelopment efforts.
The Twin City Farmers Market is in full swing on Saturday morning, Showplace Antiques & Treasures is celebrating 13 years on the 13th, and lots more.  Come downtown and see what’s happening.
Want to get involved…learn more here —>> https://sterlingmainstreet.org/partners/volunteer/

Upcoming Meetings!

Join us and help make a difference in your community.  Sterling Main Street is a volunteer-based organization and our success depends on you!  Our committee meetings are open to all, so just show up, or contact us for more information on getting involved.  Call 815-626-8610 or email info@sterlingmainstreet.org.

To Learn more about our committee’s activities visit https://sterlingmainstreet.org/partners/volunteer/


Design Committee
Tuesday, July 12th @ Noon

Welcome Home Campaign
Tuesday, July 12th @ 6 PM
Sauk Valley Area Chamber Office
Zoom option also available – Contact Us for link

Keystone Group Summer Gathering (Ages 21-35)
Thursday, July 14th @ 5:30 PM
Brink’s Patio & Pop-Up Market

Economic Vitality Committee
Tuesday, July 19th @ 4 PM
Sterling Main Street Office

Organization Committee
Tuesday, July 26th @ 9 AM
Sterling Main Street Office

Promotions Committee
Tuesday, August 2 @ 9:30 AM
Sterling Main Street Office
Zoom option also available – Contact Us for link

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