When summer rolls around, Chillicothe’s Second Street is the place to be on the fourth Thursday of the month.
City officials and town historians seem to differ on exactly when the town’s Downtown Thursdays began, but all agree the event continues to thrive with shopping, food and entertainment. June brought out kids in costume for the Comic Book Superheroes theme, while July will feature the annual Corn Boil, followed by a Back-to-School Bash in August.
The Downtown Thursdays event runs from 5 to 8 p.m. on July 25 and Aug. 29 this year.
“The very first Downtown Thursday boasted a ‘genuine barn cat’ in a box. A 10-year-old boy begged his dad to purchase the little kitten, and this special purchase remains in the family today,” said Amanda Beadles, Chillicothe’s new economic development director.
According to records in Beadles’ office, Downtown Thursdays began about 17 years ago under the direction of the Chillicothe Chamber of Commerce, with the event being taken over by the economic development office six or seven years ago.
Town historian Dianne Colwell remembers a Chillicothe Pride group hosting a similar event more than 20 years ago, while former mayor and retired police officer Gary Fyke recalls selling Fedora’s pizza slices on Second Street during summer Thursday nights to help raise funds for the Rotary Club during the 1990s.
Whatever the history of the event, most downtown businesses continue to extend their hours during Downtown Thursdays to accommodate the street market, while vendors line the streets to sell a variety of wares. Second Street is closed off from Walnut Street to Chestnut Street, and live music, games, activities, face painting and door prizes are offered for all ages.
Admission is free and parking is plentiful behind the buildings on Second Street.
“It’s a fun inexpensive way to spend the evening and get connected with the community and get connected with the businesses,” Beadles said. “And the live music by local bands creates such an uplifting atmosphere.”
The event is also a great opportunity for anyone not acquainted with Chillicothe to check out the small river town located just 18 miles north of Peoria along Illinois Route 29.
“It’s a great time for people to come see what Chillicothe has to offer. “When they finish having fun at Downtown Thursdays, it’s a short walk to the river where they can walk and feed the seagulls. There’s also a park close to the river,” Beadles said.
Among participating Second Street stores are Wishing Star Boutique, Star Fish Cottage, Covered Wagon Crafts, Little Shop of Hoarders, Childers Sales and Altered Relics. Downtown eateries, such as Triple Dipple’s cheesecake shop and Odie’s, offer refreshments for sale, and Little Land of Candy -N- More will offer soda pop tastings featuring 50 different sodas to try.
About 30 vendors will have tables set up in the street offering a variety of wares, including home-baked goods, craft items, planters, candles, T-shirts, crocheted items, salsa, jams, pie filling, jewelry, artwork, wreaths, pet items and alpaca yarn.
“It is just a wonderful mix of craft people here,” Beadles said. “Willie’s Tamales and Swanee’s soft pretzels are also back this year.”
While it’s safe to say no barn cats will be sold at this year’s Downtown Thursdays, Beadles said she is hoping to arrange for a local animal rescue group to host an adoption booth at one or more of the Downtown Thursday events.
“One of our vendors is a young lady who makes little dog collars and little bow ties and things for animals, and we’ll have Freedom Paw Service Dogs, which is a new nonprofit that’s opening up in Chillicothe that trains service dogs for people,” she added.
The July Corn Boil features all-you-can eat locally grown corn, as well as a choice of a brat or chicken breast, baked beans, chips and cole slaw. Beadles said prices haven’t yet been determined for this year’s meals. Last year, meals were $8 and less, depending on meat choice.
“Last year the summer camp kids at Pierce Community Center helped shuck all the corn,” Beadles said. “They had a lot of fun, so hopefully they will do that again this year.”
Plans are still being finalized for the August Back-to-School bash.
There’s no rain plan for Downtown Thursdays, but Beadles noted that organizers have been lucky with the weather in the past few years. If the weather looks iffy, she said to check the Chillicothe Downtown Thursdays Facebook page for any changes.
While the event has a long history, it may possibly be combined next year with other community events, such as the annual Claud-Elen Days. Beadles would only say that’s an idea that may be talked about in the future.
For more information about Downtown Thursdays, call 309-274-3107 or visit the event’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ChillicotheDowntownThursdays.