When Alex Dupor decided to open a sushi restaurant, he knew he wanted to build it in his hometown of Libertyville. More specifically, he wanted to build it in the village's downtown.
"You look at downtown Libertyville as a destination," he said. "It's like being in the city."
Shakou Sushi is just the latest in a growing number of restaurants opened in downtown Libertyville, part of a movement business owners and local officials say is transforming the village's dining scene into one of its top attractions.
That popularity is reflected in sales-tax data from the Illinois Department of Revenue, which shows the village's dozens of restaurants, cafes and bars contributed a record high of $582,000 in municipal sales tax last year, part of a steady increase over the last decade.
In 2012, Libertyville posted its highest earnings from sales tax since 2008, according to state data. The village made $6.05 million last year. That's $217,000 more than it made in 2011.
But Libertyville remains far from reaching its pre-recession levels. At its peak during the last 10 years, the village brought in $7.58 million from municipal sales tax in 2003.
Local business leaders consider Libertyville's historic downtown one of the village's key economic drivers. Rows of restaurants, artisan shops and craft stores form a bustling retail hub along Milwaukee Avenue and its adjacent streets, featuring tree-lined sidewalks and quaint storefronts.
The restaurant boom has provided a significant boost to Libertyville's downtown. Pam Hume, executive director of MainStreet Libertyville, said the number of downtown restaurants has swelled in recent years — from about nine in 2008 to 15 now. But she contends the area still has a way to go before it's fully recovered from the recession.
"What I can say is, that there's a feeling of optimism," she said. "But everyone is still working hard."
Hume said the variety of dining options made it difficult to predict when the area might hit a saturation point. Visitors can find Mexican, Italian, American and Japanese cuisine all within a half-mile of village hall.
Libertyville's economic development coordinator, Heather Rowe, said three new restaurants — Fine's, Yumz Frozen Yogurt and the Green Room — are scheduled to open in the next couple of months.
With its sleek decor and modern aesthetics, Shakou Sushi rivals any number of trendy restaurants in Chicago. Its interior includes a sushi bar and Euro-style lounge.
Dupor and his partner, Adam Garvanian, held their grand opening last week. On Saturday evening, the wait was reportedly two hours long.
Meanwhile, Mickey Finn's Brewery is moving into a new location near the PNC Bank on Milwaukee Avenue.
And the downtown area still has room to expand. The village's website lists 17 vacant office and retail locations for lease.
Overall, Rowe said she was impressed with how well the area weathered the economic storm. She credits loyal residents and determined business owners for its continued success.
"What is great to see is that the people opening the businesses are really dedicated individuals with terrific creativity, dedication to their business, great business acumen and a real sense of community," Rowe said in an email. "This is a recipe for success and growth."