Julie’s Corner Store is Charming, Creative
Nine years ago, Farm Bureau member Julie Hubbard lived as an empty nester in the north suburbs of Chicago, selling knickknacks online to put her three kids through college. Today, she runs a successful small business thanks to her grandmother’s fudge recipe and a chance meeting at the water department.
“We were shipping about 100 boxes a day out of our house, and we needed to find a warehouse for all this stuff,” Hubbard recalls of her online business.
Looking for something cost-effective, they found a building on Fifth Street in Lacon, a small town on the Illinois River northeast of Peoria.
“The day we closed on the building, I went over to the water department to turn on the water,” Hubbard says. “I met a bunch of amazing people who told me I had bought the oldest commercial building in town. I drove the two-and-a-half hours back up to Skokie, sat down at the dinner table and told my husband, ‘I don’t think I can turn that building into a warehouse.’”
Hubbard decided to convert her online business into a brick-and-mortar operation, opening Julie’s Corner Store in 2006. Today, the shop sells a charming assortment of specialty foods and gifts, crafts, toys and, at her husband’s suggestion, fudge.
Julie's Corner Store
Phone: (309) 246-2262
Hours: Monday through Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday: 9 a.m to 7 p.m.; Sunday: noon to 4 p.m.
“My grandmother made fudge when I was a child,” she says. “Who doesn’t love fudge? We have two large kettles that allow us to produce 36 pounds of fudge every two to three hours.”
Hubbard and her staff have created more than 100 flavors of fudge, ranging from the traditional chocolate and vanilla to more exotic flavors such as peanut butter and jelly, birthday cake and a jalapeño fudge made exclusively for the Marshall-Putnam Fair in July. They serve about 12 to 15 flavors each day, with the standards – chocolate, chocolate nut, vanilla, vanilla nut and caramel – available daily.
SEE MORE: Find Fudge in Illinois
“We started out with family recipes, but we’ve simplified those recipes to maintain consistency,” Hubbard says. “Our base flavors stay the same, but we have a bunch of really creative people who turn those base flavors into extraordinary ones, such as root beer float and watermelon. It all depends on the creativity of the bakers working on the fudge.”
Hubbard says the staff creates some of her favorite flavors around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. These include candy cane, pumpkin praline, eggnog and apple pie made with dried apples and apple cider she buys from local farmers.
In fact, Julie’s Corner Store specializes in a variety of Illinois-made products.
“We have a wine tasting room, and we only serve wines made and produced in Illinois,” Hubbard says. “People don’t think of Illinois as a wine state, but there are over 100 wineries in Illinois, and it’s really nice to be able to highlight them. We also have over 70 glass bottle sodas that are bottled in Illinois, [brands] like Green River, Frosty and Jelly Belly. We also have a few local artists’ works on display and for sale.”
The Illinois Department of Agriculture recognizes Hubbard’s fudge as an Illinois-made product, which she says has allowed her to meet other Illinois food vendors and manufacturers whose products she stocks in the store. Not only that, but Hubbard has used her success – Julie’s Corner Shop has tripled in size since opening – to help other small business owners grow. She also hosts several marketing and customer service seminars.
“We’re all in this together,” she says. “If one of us can be successful and pass the customer along to other businesses, then it’s good for everybody.”
Though she’s only lived there since 2006, Hubbard has become one of Lacon’s most vocal champions. The monthly newsletter she sends to customers includes a calendar of local events. The mayor dubbed her store the town’s unofficial visitors center, and in February 2014, the Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau nominated her for the Governor’s Tourism Award.
“When you’re growing up in [a big city], it doesn’t seem like anything one person does can make a difference. I learned very early on in my living here that it only takes one person to make things change and make things happen, and I wanted to be a part of keeping a small town in America alive,” Hubbard says. “I kind of made it my personal mission to not let Lacon fall by the wayside.”