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Most small businesses faring well since Stellantis idling, but not all

Josie Owens, owner of Sam's Pizza in Belvidere checks on a pepperoni pizza cooking in the oven.
Maria Gardner Lara
Josie Owens, owner of Sam's Pizza in Belvidere checks on a pepperoni pizza cooking in the oven.

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The Stellantis auto plant in the city of Belvidere paused production in February and laid off over a thousand employees. Some small businesses told WNIJ how they’ve fared since then.

In one sunny afternoon at Molcajete Restaurant, a popular spot for Mexican food on State Street, there’s a decent crowd.

And yet, there’s an ominous sign posted in the window. New Hours: Monday and Tuesday Closed.

The restaurant manager Victor Hernandez said it’s an old sign, posted since the pandemic.

Whether the assembly plant idling has affected business, Hernandez said, “For right now, I can't really say Chrysler has hurt us just yet.”

For many, it’s still known as “Chrysler.” The plant was originally built by the auto company in the 1960s. After a merger in 2021, its parent became Stellantis, though the site continued to be the home of the Jeep Cherokee.

Several storefronts down is Annie’s Beauty Salon. Salon owner Ana Alamilla said she hasn’t felt a drop in business either.

“For the moment, no,” Alamilla said. “I believe because folks may still be receiving unemployment benefits and as of now, we haven’t felt much.”

She’s owned her salon for 24 years.

“I’ve had children come through and now those once children bring their own children,” Alamilla said.

She was around too when the auto plant shut down its second and then third shift several years ago. That was a loss of about three thousand employees.

City officials said the Stellantis plant workforce traveled within a 70 miles radius. Locals said that was evident in the rush of traffic leaving Belvidere to go up towards Rockford. And so, most small businesses here may not have depended on their spending dollars.

That appeared to be true for a barbershop owner, another beauty salon, and a security company that WNIJ reached. But that couldn’t be said for all businesses.

Owners of Sam’s Pizza have been managing a different experience since the idling of the auto plant.

Josie Owens kept a steady pace as she placed a pizza in the oven and started off on another. Her next order is a pepperoni pizza but without cheese.

“The town is dead without Chrysler,” Josie said.

She said business has gone down around 50 percent.

Her husband Jerry Owens said that means they’ve had to cut staff.

“Typically we would have four or five delivery guys,” Jerry Said.

“And now we're down to maybe three.”

The restaurant has been in Josie’s family for over sixty years.

"We hope and pray,” she said, “that things will get better for Belvidere and Belvidere will start growing.”

Officials from Growth Dimensions, the economic development arm for Boone County, said they’re looking forward to the upcoming General Mills Distribution Center that broke ground last year. They add that there are good prospects for new investments that would bring jobs to the area. Regarding Stellantis, they're cautiously optimistic the facility will reopen and possibly be repurposed to build electric vehicles.

When WNIJ spoke with local legislators, they said the state continues to negotiate with Stellantis.

Recent reports from Crain’s Chicago Business said state officials are offering incentives to entice the company to build its anticipated electric truck -- The Ram 1500 REV -- in Belvidere.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.