Old Edgerton storefront revived as teen center

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Neil Johnson
Friday, September 20, 2013

EDGERTON—The former general store at 204 W. Fulton St. in downtown Edgerton used to have a dance hall and theater upstairs.

In the city's tobacco boom town days of the early 1900s, the local wealthy and elite partied there, paying as much as $5 to get in.

The downtown storefront, once home of Wileman's department store, has become a weekend hangout once again.

Only the new demographic doesn't include big shot tobacco barons. Instead, the place is for teenagers, and there's no charge at the door.

After 18 months of heavy renovations, the Edgerton Teen Center's new home is ready for visitors. In fact, the teen center had a soft opening last weekend, and about 35 teens turned out on the first night, the center's director, Dave Flood, said.

Flood, an Edgerton resident led a $50,000, 40-person volunteer revamp of the store.

The old floor and walls are gone. Crews tore a façade from the front, exposing the original brick, which still is painted with a store sign. 

Inside, the new teen center has seen a rebirth; it's got wall-to-wall stained wood flooring, a new wood soft-drink and snack-bar counter and new woodwork and window trim setting off the ancient, exposed brick interior walls.

The center itself is a monster of a space, cut into two main areas: On one side are a dance area and a stage loaded with drums, amplifiers and soon stage lights. On the other side are a game area with pool tables, air hockey and two auto-racing simulators.

Flood looked around the cavernous space, which was empty and quiet Friday afternoon. He hopes the center, which will run on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights for now, will draw 70 or 80 teens a night.

“We're open now. It's been a long way to get there, but it's good. We're looking now to just get the kids back in and do our stuff,” Flood said.

The teen center's “stuff" is pretty simple. Think of things teens age 13 to 18 like. 

While youths sip soda or cappuccino or nosh Doritos at the snack bar, they can watch the clacking of billiards to the left or one Saturday night a month hear a band play. The youth center is working to recruit area youth bands.

The youth center, a nonprofit group once known as the Non-Toxic Teen Center, has been in operation since 1993 at various locations in Edgerton, most recently in rented space at 512 N. Main St.

The center's lease there ran out in December 2011, and the center's board of directors decided it needed space to grow, Flood said.

That was when the center bankrolled purchase of the three-story building downtown with plans to raise funds to refurbish it.

At its new site, there's more room for activities, and its more visible.

Flood said the old teen center wasn't as inviting, and many people didn't know it existed. And the center's former moniker, Non-Toxic Teen Center, seemed to be a turnoff for people, Flood said.

“When it was the Non-Toxic Teen Center, people for some reason only saw the toxic part. So we decided to give the new center a name that presents us as what we've really always been—a teen center for Edgerton,” Flood said.

Flood said teen center officials are trying to land grants and money from local organizations to help the center run after school. He said it would cost about $200 extra a month, mostly in utilities, for after-school hours.

The center has a shop in back that the group plans to eventually turn into a metal and machine shop for teens to work on projects, either on weekends or after school.

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