DeKALB – Watching the walls of the buildings that housed their family business for about 80 years being torn down doesn't faze Merle Sawyer and her son Mark.
“It doesn't bother me,” 93-year-old Merle Sawyer said about the demolition of the former Sawyer Auto Imports buildings at 460 E. Lincoln Highway. “In a way, it's probably a good thing. I hate to see it sitting empty.”
The former Sawyer Auto Imports buildings near downtown DeKalb is being demolished to make way for a quick-service restaurant or a convenience store. Demolition started Monday and will raze all three of the former businesses' buildings along Lincoln Highway within the next week, said new owner Dipak Patel.
Patel bought the buildings two years ago with the idea he would tear them down and build a Subway restaurant. Patel owns the Subway at 928 W. Lincoln Highway near Northern Illinois University. While his plans for putting in a Subway have wavered, he still sees the space as a prime spot for a small quick-service eatery. He said he would be open to other businesses, such as a Starbucks, building there.
“We don't have any plans at this moment, but you never know,” Patel said. “With the McDonalds across the street, we thought it would be good for another restaurant.”
He expects after creating some parking, the property would fit a 5,000-square-foot building. A business plan should be in place by the end of the year, he said.
Mark Sawyer, 62, who ran the business from 1975 until 2002, said he knew the buildings wouldn't last forever.
While he is somewhat emotionally attached to the buildings because his family operated Sawyer Auto Imports there from the 1920's until Brian Bemis bought it in 2002, he understands making room for something new.
Wendler Engineering remodeled the former dealership portion of Sawyer Imports on the south of the lot about four years ago, but the showroom space and other buildings along Lincoln Highway have been vacant for at least six years.
“I certainly have some emotional connections,” Mark Sawyer said. “You can't help but think about the good stuff. It's too bad it couldn't have been used for something, but it was an old building.”
DeKalb's economic development consultant Roger Hopkins said that area of downtown and Lincoln Highway would be ideal for a new restaurant because many people frequent the area. If plans for a new restaurant were to move forward, city leaders would want a new business to be built with a downtown image in mind.
“We'd like them to be built right up on the sidewalk so it preserves the urban downtown look,” Hopkins said.