Sue and Tim Reardon of La Grange made a similar move. When the 1896 building that housed their shop, SoTish, went up for sale, they bought it and converted the second floor into a 4,000-square-foot loft. A tenant occupies space downstairs.
"Our teenage sons didn't want to move at first," said Sue. "But now they think it is pretty cool" walking where they want to go.
While her friends chose apartments in complexes, twentysomething Sara Gearen of St. Charles chose a 1,000-square-foot rental in a mixed-use building because the landlord allowed her to bring her dog. "I didn't want the upkeep of a house," said Gearen.
Though she commutes to work by car, her bicycle gets plenty of use on weekends.
"I'm right on Main Street, so my friends and I can sit by my window to watch the parades and the fireworks," said Gearen. Though her building is aging and drafty enough to make the curtains blow, she said, the rent is low.
Whether it's new construction or vintage real estate, prices run the gamut in mixed-use buildings. Condos range from the $199,900 units in Sienko's building to million-dollar penthouses.
Renters can find over-the-store units that range from a few hundred dollars a month for walk-ups to $3,600 a month for a 1,800-square-foot unit at Aloft in Glenview.
In addition to size of the unit and the building's age and view (parking lot or plaza, for example), the prices vary by the toniness of the suburb.
Many of the early mom-and-pop mixed-use buildings in suburban downtowns were built before modern zoning laws. Municipalities later designated areas commercial or residential. Ushering a mixed-use project past a city council today often requires a zoning change that allows the two types of developments to merge.
But "if a suburb is serious about downtown revitalization, it needs these residents who don't have to get into their cars to get downtown," said Klein. "They keep these downtowns alive."
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Mixing it up
Here is the response of 1,101 U.S. home shoppers in 2007 when asked whether they are considering buying a home in a "town center," a mixed-use building in a suburb or small city:
Age group % interested % very interestedSource: RCLCO, Washington D.C. real estate consultants
25-29 49 9
30-34 39 13
35-39 30 7
40-44 31 9
45-49 29 12
50-54 32 11
55-59 38 16
60-plus 24 18