Connected: Kankakee

What unites an event space, an art gallery, a pizza parlor, and a coffee shop? They all leverage the internet to engage with Kankakee locals and grow their presence beyond city limits.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL) and representatives from Internet Association member companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Uber, Yelp, Lyft, Thumbtack, Upwork, DoorDash, and Airbnb traveled to Kankakee, a city known for its “natural beauty, heritage, and urban attractions,” to learn more about how the community is using the internet to dramatically expand its economy. Local entrepreneurs from The Majestic Theatre, Merchant Street Art Gallery, Papi’s Pizza Cafe, and Stefari Cafe all explained the different ways they use the internet to bolster their businesses.

The internet helps main street businesses and organizations create jobs, connect with consumers, and compete worldwide. IA’s Internet Community Crawls showcase the ways in which the internet drives economic growth and jobs in communities around the country. Watch what main street businesses and their elected representatives have to say about the importance of the internet to their local economy in IA’s Connected video series.

Kankakee, and communities like it across America, find real economic and social opportunity when they leverage the internet. The internet provides small businesses and entrepreneurs an opportunity to compete on a national – often global – stage, and allows community groups to spread their message and strengthen their neighborhoods. I appreciate Rep. Kelly’s participation in today’s crawl, and look forward to the continued dialogue on the true value of the internet for communities across the country.

Melika Carroll, IA Senior Vice President of Global Government Affairs
Congresswoman Kelly at Papis Pizza in Kankakee, IL

What surprised me is how fast these businesses grew. It was because of their hard work, of course, and the community, but the community got involved because of Facebook and Yelp and different things online… The internet is the connection to the community.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL)

The Majestic Theatre

We first arrived at The Majestic Theatre, an event space filled with a rich heritage and distinct charm in Kankakee. Built in 1912, The Majestic Theatre uses online platforms like Facebook and Twitter to attract customers and promote events at the historical building. The theater even uses internet-enabled tools to plan formal events and weddings in the newly renovated, art-deco theatre. Overall, Owner Amy Rauch, truly relies on the internet’s broad audience and planning tools to run her business.

Our website is really important for The Majestic Theatre business itself… I use an all cloud-based program myself to run the entire company. I can be working from home. I can be working if I’m on vacation. I can be working in my office. So, it really allows me to be a modern woman in modern times.

Amy Rauch, Owner of The Majestic Theatre

Merchant Street Art Gallery

Merchant Street Art Gallery empowers local artists with autism by showcasing their work to the public. With only three other galleries of its kind in the United States, Director Janice Miller emphasizes the importance of online tools to access a wide network of potential supporters, but also to promote events and raise money for their cause by using services like @Paypal and @AmazonSmile. Miller posts events and announcements on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Youtube, ensuring that these artists get their proper recognition and appreciation.

We are using the internet as our method of reaching the rest of the country. We’re not only looking for artists, but we’re looking for people that enjoy art… to see what we have. People with autism are amazing artists, and we want people to know that.

Janice Miller, Director of Merchant Street Art Gallery

Papi’s Pizza Cafe

Next, we visited Papi’s Pizza Cafe, a dynamic restaurant that is “more than just the pizza.” With over 200 five-star reviews, stellar service, and a diverse array of dishes, Papi’s uses the internet to effectively communicate its offerings and promotions to Kankakee locals. On Facebook, the restaurant posts original photos and videos, fostering genuine connections with each of their over 3,500 followers.

On a daily basis, we post a picture or a special, whether it be a beer special or pizza special… We have a lot of people of Facebook comment and actually come in and get those kind of specials, so we know that using Facebook definitely brings in a lot more customers.

Scott Axmark, Host of Papi’s Pizza Cafe

Stefari Cafe

We ended our day at Stefari Cafe, a coffee shop that brings together European hospitality and locally-sourced coffee. The internet has played a crucial role in helping Owners Stefan and Ari Frunze transform Stefari Cafe into a dynamic location for locals to hang out, study, and enjoy a unique blend of coffee. Beyond promoting food and drink options, the cafe uses Facebook and Instagram to feature loyal customers, showing true appreciation for their community.

Everyday, when people wake up, I would say probably 80% to 90% of the population checks their phones. Then, they see our picture and think, ‘This is so good! Now I’m gonna go to get a cup of coffee,’ or ‘Yeah, I’m gonna go to that patio to enjoy a muffin.’

Stefan Frunze, Co-Owner of Stefari Cafe

Fun Fact: Illinois is home to 10,700 internet companies and more than 118,000 internet sector jobs.

Want to read more about the Kankakee crawl? Check out the coverage from Daily Journal

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