Smile Politely

Small Town Downtown: Homer, IL

Whenever the malaise of the daily grind wears on me, I find solace in small towns. Folks move at a slower pace in small towns. They wave at passersby. If you crave the anonymity of Amazon shopping and think greeting your Grubhub driver at the door is too much social interaction, then perhaps small towns are not for you. And while I can introvert with the best of them, I do hanker for a voyeuristic glimpse into small town social life.

In Homer, early morning socializing can be done at the Vintage Bakery, which opens at 6 a.m. most days. If you are an early bird, I do recommend stopping in as early as possible for the best baked goods. I rolled in around 9:45 and most of their baked goods were gone. Their frosted sugar cookies were delicious, though, and very affordable at $0.50 each.

They do serve breakfast to order, though, so it’s the perfect first stop even if you’re not able to get there at the crack of dawn. They offer a ¼ order of biscuits and gravy with one egg, one sausage patty or three strips of bacon, and coffee or tea for $5. Double everything for only $9. The bakery has plenty of table space, couches, games, and even a television to make it the perfect hang out spot.

If you grabbed an early breakfast and need an activity to occupy your time until other venues open in the late morning, head to Homer Lake Forest Preserve. Alright, it’s a few miles outside of Homer and most certainly does not qualify as downtown, but it’s impossible to mention Homer without encouraging folks to visit Homer Lake. Whether you enjoy fishing, hiking, birdwatching, or just taking in the view of the lake, it’s a must see.

For those with kiddos, there is an awesome Natural Playscape with tons of “natural” apparatus to play on. My favorite was the waterfall splash area. No swimming is allowed at the lake, but there is a shallow man-made waterfall that little ones will love to splash around in. Honestly, if I wouldn’t have made all the parents and children uncomfortable, I would have kicked off my shoes and splashed around myself.

The preserve has all the amenities you would expect from such a space: volleyball nets, free standing grills, picnic tables, and conventional play areas, making it an ideal destination for picnics and parties. They also have an Interpretive Center with live animals and interactive exhibits at no cost. Homer Lake is well worth the trip all on its own.

Heading back to downtown Homer, stop in at Ms. Becky’s antique and gift store. The space is filled to the brim with the country home décor aesthetic, as well as wonderful gift ideas. I didn’t know I needed scented light bulbs in my life until I saw them on display. And if the bare walls of your home, office, business, church, etc. are driving you to distraction, Ms. Becky is well stocked in a wide variety of wall hangings. If you, like me, are a sucker for antique and gifts stores that feature local artisans, then plan to spend at least an hour discovering all there is to see at Ms. Becky’s.

By this time, you might have worked up an appetite. Or at least could go for a sweet treat. Main Street Belly Deli has you covered. They offer freshly sliced meats and cheeses, as well as celebrity-inspired sandwiches, salads, and beverages. They have long, shared tables that encourage folks to chat up their neighbors.

Homer Soda Company is also housed in the Belly Deli, so you don’t have to wait for the Soda Fest to snag your favorite drink. I’m quite partial to the Dang! Butterscotch Root Beer (IMHO if you aren’t putting all the force of your personality in saying, “Daaaaaaang,” you’re saying it wrong). For a particularly indulgent treat, have a Bette Davis:  butterscotch root beer with Mackinac Island fudge ice cream for $4.75.

Downtown Homer also hosts a Farmers’ Market every Wednesday evening in the summer months. Nestled in the park next to the Vintage Bakery, the market features many growers selling vegetables, herbs, flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees. I picked up a red raspberry bush growing in a Folger’s can for $7. I also couldn’t resist bison burgers from Harden Ranch and nearly bought a set of bowls formed from old vinyl records.

Other vendors were selling various crafted goods, from wax melts to hammered brass lawn ornaments to jewelry. Berry Good Things, selling farm fresh eggs from rural Homer, also caught my eye with their sign encouraging visitors to their farm to pull into the driveway slowly because they like their chickens “plump and happy, not flat and dead.”

If you need a break from the heat, or just want to stop and chat, the park has a covered gazebo to sit and rest. And kiddos and train buffs alike will enjoy climbing up into the train car in the park.

If you somehow still need convincing to make the trip out to Homer, I will give you three words: Live. Professional. Wrestling. In an Opera House, no less. Homer Opera House is home to local performances from plays such as Julius Caesar and Tik-Tok of Oz, as well as monthly bouts from the United Wrestling Coalition. That’s right, for $10 (or $12 at the door), you can see folks like “Big Beef” Gnarls Garvin, Phabian Barbosa, and Sensei Bock duke it out in the ring. In fact, the next match is Saturday, June 15th, so get your tickets now and be ready to rumble in Homer. 

Photos by Elisabeth Paulus

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