Making downtown Joliet a destination
By bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org June 26, 2012 6:30PM
People check out the old cars along Chicago Street during the first of of three cruise nights in downtown Joliet, IL on Thursday June 21, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media .
Downtown Events Coming This Summer
July 12 and Aug. 9: Rooftop Summer Music Series at Joliet Area Historical Museum.
July 19 and Aug. 16: Cruise Nights.
July 27: The “Big Amazing Race” sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Aug. 4: Kidzfest sponsored by Lewis University.
Sept. 14: Race Fan Rally, kickoff event to NASCAR weekend.
Thursdays: Concerts on the Hill at Bicentennial Park, 6:30 p.m.
Fridays: Joliet Farmers Market, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information, visit www.cityofjoliet.info.
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:10AM
JOLIET — On one end of Chicago Street, men with classic cars remembered their teenage years in Joliet in the 1950s when they cruised from Silver Fross on the East Side to Dog ‘n Suds on the West Side.
A block up the street, hundreds of teenagers lined along two city blocks, creating future memories of their own as they waited to get inside a concert at Mojoes.
“It’s awesome,” Jimmy Poynton of Hickory Hills said of his impression of downtown Joliet while he and a group of friends waited in line last week to see a performance by the band Marianas Trench. “So many cars that I want and will never be able to get.”
It was the kind of an evening that prompted James Haller, community and economic development director for the city of Joliet to call out to a passer-by, “If it’s fun, it’s in downtown Joliet.”
For at least that evening, the city promotional slogan for the downtown district was working.
“Bicentennial Park is packed,” Haller said, noting that the park’s Concerts on the Hill, held every Thursday in the summer, was drawing a big crowd. And, he said, the Slammers were playing at Silver Cross Field, which also brought in a couple of thousand people.
Downtown Joliet has been a big draw this month with more in store for the rest of the summer.
The Joliet Public Library District brought in just more than 3,000 for its Star Wars Day on June 2.
About a week later, New Orleans North, a new festival created by the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry, drew another 3,000, impressing even the people who organized the event.
“We were hoping to get 1,500 to 2,000 people,” said Russ Slinkard, the chamber’s chief executive officer.
Who says you can’t get people to come downtown?
Some say it. But a night like Thursday says it ain’t so.
Last week marked the first of three cruise nights to be held downtown this summer.
Downtown Joliet is a great place for a cruise night for guys such as Dennis Ruettiger of Joliet if for no other reason than that it’s the where he and friends would cruise back in the 1950s.
Ruettiger remembers going from downtown to the Silver Fross drive-in. Then, “I’d go down to the Dog ‘n Suds on Jefferson and pick up a race.”
Pick up a race?
“We’d go down to Caton Farm Road,” he said. “There used to be nothing but farms there.”
Farms and a quarter-mile track that street racers like Ruettiger used to test his ‘57 Chevy.
Mayor Thomas Giarrante doesn’t admit to taking part in the Caton Farm races. But he can map out the route that the guys used downtown, starting at the old Mode Theater.
“We used to drive around the loop all night, looking at the girls,” the mayor said.
Giarrante wanted to bring back cruise nights when he became mayor because of the benefit to downtown restaurants. The new Red Goose Bakery & Cafe had a special that night on what it called “Route 66 Sliders,” which came in Sloppy Joe, pulled pork and corned beef.
“We’re trying to bring back downtown,” Giarrante said. “If you go into Chicago Street Bar & Grill right now, it’s packed.”
Star Wars Day
Speaking of packing downtown, Joliet Public Library Director Dianne Harmon said the library’s Star Wars Day is getting bigger each year.
The event attracted 3,050 people by the library’s count, which compares to 1,800 a year ago. Fewer than 1,000 came to the library’s first Star Wars Day three years ago, so Harmon is wondering what next year will bring.
“There were people from Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin for sure that I know of,” she said.
It’s a family event, bringing people of all ages. They range from people like Harmon, who remembers, “My husband surprised me with tickets to the original Star Wars in 1977,” to young children who take delight in the re-enactors, whether they be good guys or bad guys.
“The kids love the Stormtroopers,” she said.
Harmon credits Roger Burns, youth services librarian, for being the lead organizer on Star Wars Day. The Heritage Corridor Convention & Visitors Bureau and Will County Center for Economic Development got involved and helped make the event a success, too.
“We really wanted to do something that would be significant downtown,” she said, “and we think we’ve found it.”
New Orleans North
The Joliet chamber thinks it’s hit on something, too, with New Orleans North.
Another 3,000 people — 3,100 to be exact — came to the June 8 event held less than a week after Star Wars Day. Chicago Street was closed off to create a New Orleans atmosphere. People ate, drank, and met a lot friends, Slinkard said.
This was a new event for the chamber, organized in part for the sake of having a festival downtown.
“People thought it would be a good way to kick off the summer,” Slinkard said. It could become a good way to kick off every summer for years. New Orleans North will return in 2013.
“We’re hoping this will become an annual event,” Slinkard said.