By Request… Peoria Landmark #443
Velvet Freeze at 4542 N Prospect Rd, Peoria Heights, closed. As far as I can find, here’s why:
Peoria Journal Star, Phil Luciano, Peoria Journal Star, September 23, 2005
Road construction has just about killed Velvet Freeze.
It didn’t have to happen.
Velvet Freeze is a quiet Peoria landmark, absent any ingrained symbol (like Emo’s clown) or brand (like Lou’s root beer). But it’s survived 67 years.
It started in the Heights as an ice cream shop. The ’50s brought its signature Wonder Dog, a chili dog with homemade meat sauce.
In 1963, a second store opened in a strip mall at Gale and Forrest Hill avenues. Velvet Freeze later opened outposts in East Peoria and Campustown.
The eatery at Gale and Forrest Hill has accounted for most of Velvet Freeze ‘s $650,000 in annual gross sales. That store had enjoyed high motor traffic. But the location turned lousy.
From fall 2002 to spring 2003, in the first phase of the Interstate 74 project, the Illinois Department of Transportation rehabbed the Forrest Hill bridge over I-74.
That bridge was important to Velvet Freeze . Forrest Hill connects the eatery to busy University Street.
But the road closed for bridge work. Patrons didn’t bother to find another route to Velvet Freeze . In six months, the store lost out on $80,000 in sales, says owner Kevin Thomas.
This summer brought construction to Gale and Forrest Hill. The city project will improve Gale and widen Forrest Hill to five lanes.
Velvet Freeze and the other stores in the strip mall used to have easy access via both streets. No curbing blocked the front-door parking that surrounds the strip mall.
During construction, traffic at the intersection has been squeezed into thin lanes. There’s only a tiny, makeshift lane (marked by a tiny sign) to bring cars into the strip mall.
Few patrons have found their way in. Thomas wasn’t making enough money at Velvet Freeze to pay two lunchtime employees, so he shut it down.
Two other shops have shuttered, maybe for good. Another will permanently close soon.
“We’re just sick about the situation,” says co-owner Joe LaHood.
Velvet Freeze ‘s Thomas doesn’t understand why the two projects weren’t done simultaneously. He could’ve taken just one financial hit, not two.
IDOT says the agency and city agreed to do both projects together, in 2002 and 2003. But IDOT implementation engineer George Ryan says the city had trouble negotiating prices to buy right-of-ways at Gale and Forrest Hill. So, while IDOT went ahead with bridge work, the intersection project was delayed three years.
Not quite, says city engineer Gene Hewitt. He says the city could’ve done the intersection project three years ago.
But at that time, IDOT was rehabbing Sterling Avenue. IDOT felt the intersection project was too close to the Sterling project and would’ve created traffic havoc. So, IDOT asked the city to postpone work at Gale and Forrest Hill until this summer, Hewitt says.
Regardless, Thomas says Velvet Freeze is done at that intersection. The strip mall will be surrounded by high curbing that will allow just limited access. He doesn’t want to take another chance that another inconvenience will push customers away again.
And without that main store’s historically high revenue, he’s seriously thinking that he might have to close down all of his Velvet Freezes.
Sigh. When construction is over, our roads will be better and swifter. But to me, Peoria hot dogs won’t taste as good.