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Downtown Canton Wants to Expand, Graduate Students Help

Graduate students at the University of Illinois recommends changes for Canton to improve and expand its downtown area.

CANTON – The University of Illinois Extension teamed up with the Canton Main Street Program to help expand Downtown Canton and bring in bigger crowds.

Cheryl Bielema is the current Interim Director for the Chamber of Commerce and also on a part of Canton’s Main Street Program. “Canton is not growing, we're shrinking in size,” Bielema says.

So, a class of six graduate students looked at demographics, learned business owners' sales trends, and heard from residents about what would make their town better.

Bielema says they had to make some choices. “We can attract new people here or we can create kind of a destination community where visitors come.”

The study recommends beefing up business downtown in a number of ways, like adding more entertainment for younger crowds.

“We were definitely a retirement community, but we are transitioning,” says Kaelynn Lewis. Lewis has grown up in Canton. She says the city is transitioning into a younger community and needs more things to do in the area.
 
Lewis says the sense of community is strong, but agrees that recreation is lacking. “We can go to Peoria and experience the attractions and that kind of thing, but it's kind of like a tourist type thing. It's not our town, but if we do that here it's our town.”

Lewis welcomes change, but she doesn't want canton to lose its local bond. I'd like to see more activities that try to make us a community not just bring more people here.”

The study also recommends connecting with more immigrant business owners. They say that will help draw in a more diverse crowd.

Canton is now looking at what changes they want to put in place and how they will fund them.
 
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