Solar eclipseOn Aug. 21, the first total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States in nearly 40 years will occur, and Southern Illinois will offer a front row seat. The point of the eclipse’s greatest duration will occur over the Shawnee National Forest.


A solar eclipse happens when the moon blocks the sun. The August eclipse will cross the United States from Oregon to South Carolina and will be the first one in nearly 100 years to do so.


Eclipse path over IllinoisA total solar eclipse occurs much more infrequently than partial eclipses. While partial eclipses occur between two and five times each year, a total eclipse only occurs approximately once every year and a half, though often it is only visible over the ocean.


Communities across Southern Illinois are celebrating the eclipse in a variety of ways. Southern Illinois University Carbondale has partnered with NASA and the Adler Planetarium to offer a day of events and eclipse viewing in the football stadium. Carterville is hosting a Moonstock festival with Ozzy Osborne headlining. Additionally, there are 12 Illinois state parks within the portion of the state where the eclipse will be visible.

It is March in southern Illinois and there is no better time to fish at Crab Orchard Lake and National Wildlife Refuge just outside of Carbondale. At Crab Orchard Lake, mid-to-late March is crappie season as the fish travel through the lake for their yearly spawning frenzy.

But fishing is not the only point of interest in Crab Orchard Lake, just as Crab Orchard Lake is not the only point of interest in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Preserve. Vacationers also go boating, swimming, picnicking, and camping along the lake, which sits on the northern edge of a national wildlife preserve.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Preserve is home to a wide array of wildlife that call Illinois home. March is an ideal month to visit, because it is between winter, when bald eagles build massive nests in the trees, and spring, when wild turkeys strut through the park displaying their plumage.

In addition to a national wildlife preserve, the grounds also include a national wilderness area, one of just 750 in the United States. National wilderness areas are the most stringently-protected pieces of land as classified by the federal government. Because of its protected status, Crab Orchard National Wilderness Area may only be entered on foot, by canoe, or on horseback to preserve the land.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Preserve shares its southern border with Shawnee National Forest, the only national forest in Illinois. Shawnee National Forest has approximately 280,000 acres of federally managed land with ample room for hunting, camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and much more.

Warm weather is fast approaching in Illinois, and the southern portion of the state is the place to be for anyone who appreciates the outdoors.

Family VideoThough Blockbuster has but a few dozen stores left, Glenview-based company Family Video has expanded to 759 locations in 19 states and Canada. Last year the DVD rental company made an estimated $400 million in revenue and has seen significant growth under President Keith Hoogland.

In its heyday, Blockbuster operated over 9,000 stores and made $6 billion in revenue annually. While many have thought that the large movie rental companies faded due to the development of digital technology, Keith Hoogland cites poor business practices and contracts as the reason for the large movie rental companies’ demise.

BlockbusterFamily Video has taken a much different approach than big video chains like Movie Gallery and Blockbuster. The company has chosen to buy movies outright and keep all of the profits rather than accepting deals for discounted movies in exchange for shared revenue. Family Video stores are entirely company-owned and use many items that are made in-house, ranging from software to shelving.

Keith Hoogland has continued to adapt his ventures as the marketplace changes. As the market has changed, he’s reduced the square footage of hisMarcos Pizza stores and leased the space to businesses like Subway, H&R Block and Marco’s Pizza. In fact, Hoogland is the largest Marco’s Pizza franchiser, operating 149 stores. Additionally, Hoogland has opened 11 fitness centers and a chain of electronics-repair stores. The businesses are managed by the parent company Highland Ventures (Hoogland means Highland in Dutch) and video continues to account for about 90 percent of Highland Ventures annual revenue.

The history of Family Video can be traced to 1946, when Keith Hoogland’s grandfather Clarence opened an appliance distribution business. Keith’s father Charlie took over in 1953. In the 1970s, the distribution business started to wane as mom-and-pop shops closed and suppliers choose direct sales over distributors. In 1978, with an overstock of videocassette tapes and a few real estate properties, Charlie Hoogland launched the Video Movie Club of Springfield, one of the very first movie-rental stores in the U.S.

Charlie Hoogland worried that technological advancements would soon render his cassette tapes irrelevant, but he figured that the real estate beneath the stores would remain valuable. He began a policy of paying off mortgages on his locations within five years, a practice that Family Video continues today. Forbes estimates the chain's real estate is worth as much as $750 million today.

In the 1980s, Charlie forged into rural markets, hypothesizing that larger competitors would maintain an advantage in big cities. Now 90 percent of Family Video’s stores are in rural America where customers may have limited access to high-speed internet or be reluctant to use services such as Hulu and Netflix.

Over the years, Family Video has embedded itself within the community. When a new store opens, it’s a community affair with snow cone machines, face painting and giveaways. Hoogland told Forbes that his stores have become gathering places like local coffee shops.

Family Video has in part remained competitive by offering new releases well before streaming sites. The copyright laws on physical discs are much less stringent than for streamed content, allowing Family Video to offer the latest films weeks or months before streaming outlets. This fact has also helped Family Video gain business with a younger crowd.

Though Hoogland realizes that his movie rental enterprise won’t last forever, he will continue to use Family Video to increase his real estate portfolio.

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In celebration of Valentine's Day we caught up with Pease's and toured Peases at Bunn Gourmet to see how they prepare for one of the sweetest days of the year.

 

Shark TankA group of three budding entrepreneurs from Springfield High School won Sangamon County’s version of the hit ABC reality show “Shark Tank” with a business to connect nonprofits with potential donors. Abby Tellez, Joseph Abe-Bell and Julia Gorden created Tomatoes and Blankets, what they described in The State Journal-Register as a cross between Kickstarter and Match.com for local nonprofits.

The idea for Tomatoes and Blankets came from concerns about food waste. The teens initially wanted to connect restaurants with local nonprofits in need of food donations. From there, the idea grew to creating a way for nonprofits and charities to communicate what donations they needed.

The creators of Tomatoes and Blankets participate in Sangamon CEO, a program that teaches high school seniors about business and entrepreneurship. Students learn about the challenges of creating a business, meet with local business owners and are paired with a mentor from the business community.

LighbulbAs part of Sangamon CEO, the program participants proposed different ideas for businesses. The top six proposals were selected to compete in an event like “Shark Tank,” where they pitched their business ideas to five business owners and answered questions about their proposal. Although no cash prizes were awarded, Tomatoes and Blankets was deemed “worth funding” following their presentation.

Sangamon CEO is facilitated by Nabih Elhajj and Richard Johnson. Elhajj is a local entrepreneur who operated The Market on Koke Mill and cofounded Shoutbuddy, a podcast that highlights entrepreneurs, while Johnson was a dean at several universities and previously worked for the U.S. Department of Justice.

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