Smile Politely

Small town downtown: Paxton, IL

If you’ve lived in Champaign-Urbana for any amount of time, the urge has probably hit you:  to get in the car and just drive. C-U isn’t a sprawling concrete jungle, but sometimes you just gotta get out of town. Maybe it’s just me. I was raised in a small town of about 400 people. I drove over 10 miles roundtrip to get to high school every day and over 70 miles to college and back. The perks of walking/biking everywhere sometimes rubs against a yearning for wide open spaces. And the variety and diversity of C-U doesn’t prevent a nostalgic squee from bubbling up inside me whenever I see a small town downtown.

To indulge my nostalgia, as well as to induce squeeage, I traveled to Paxton, just a 40 minute drive from C-U, this past weekend to enjoy its vibrant (I’m pointedly avoiding the word “quaint”) downtown. Why Paxton? That high school I drove to…that would be Paxton-Buckley-Loda (PBL) High School. A lot has changed in the 15 years since I graduated. The biggest change is the result of a fire that burned down the Majestic Theatre in 2007, as well as surrounding buildings. A small park now occupies the same location, creating a relaxing space in the middle of downtown.

Another business that was affected by the fire is Past & Future Books and Collectibles, a Paxton staple since 1993. Owner Charles Schroeder has resided at four different locations in the 100 block of Market Street. Number three burned down with the Majestic, but Schroeder has restocked a lot of books, from mysteries to sci-fi to non-fiction to romance, as well as many collectibles. I snagged two urban fantasy titles and a collection of Uncle Abner mysteries for under $6. Battlestar Galactica trading cards and a “Vote for JFK” button also piqued my nerdy interest. Past & Future has limited hours and only accepts cash but is a must-see for any booklovers or collectors.

One of the big draws to small towns are the many antique stores, and Paxton definitely delivers in that area. There are no less than five antique and/or resale shops on Market Street. My favorite was Ruby Jewel Antiques & Gifts, owned by Melody Henegar and Romonna Williams. Their store has the mix of local artisans with quality antiques that I appreciate most. I purchased two bars of goat’s milk and olive oil based soaps with imbedded loofahs for under $12. Ruby Jewel regularly hosts Ladies’ Nights, which are pop-up markets featuring local vendors. 

Now it’s time to for the food, and you have plenty of choices in downtown Paxton, some of which SP has already written about. Into barbeque? Head to the Humble Hog for lunch. Into local beer? Head to the Harvest Ale House for dinner and late night drinks and bites. I opted for lunch at Pueblo Lindo. They have typical Americanized Mexican fare, affordable yet filling lunch portions, and truly awesome margaritas. The service was excellent in spite of a busy lunchtime crowd, and the colorful booths are just plain fun.

If you’d like to take a bit of Paxton home to nosh on later, Mom & Pop’s Kettle Korn Stop is your next stop. The variety of flavors are seemingly endless, and Alan Meyer, who owns the shop with his wife Marcia, was behind the counter handing out free samples. They also sell online and have a myriad of gift tins available. My favorite was the snickerdoodle, a mix of popcorn, almonds, pretzels, cinnamon cereal, and white chocolate. A large bag of the specialty popcorn was $12.50, though smaller, cheaper bags were available. My sister, who prefers salty popcorn to sweet, favored the cheddar pretzel ale flavor at $6.25/bag.

My last stop before leaving town was the butcher. No one wants to leave meat in their car while they go antiquing, am I right? Central Lean Beef is a carnivore’s dream, especially the kind of carnivore who likes to know where their meat comes from. The walls of Central Lean not only have menus showing the variety of beef and pork products for sale, but also the various Illinois State Fair grand champion and premiere herdsman ribbons for Charolais cattle won by Dave McClure and his family, who started Central Lean with Dave Leffler and Steve Arends. Love Black Dog Smoke & Ale House? They’re a customer of Central Lean. They also have a variety of local sauces, mixes, honey, and more for sale. I was the picture of restraint and only left with a package of bacon that was under $5.

The best part of downtown Paxton? I haven’t mentioned half the businesses you can visit. The next time you feel that nostalgic tug or just want to pass a Saturday outside of C-U, jump on I-57 or US-45 and make your way to Paxton, IL.

Photos by Elisabeth Paulus

Past & Future Books and Collectibles
165 S. Market St.
Paxton, IL
M 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fr + Sa 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ruby Jewel Antiques & Gifts
149 N. Market St.
Paxton, IL
Th-Fr 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Pueblo Lindo
124 W. State St.
Paxton, IL
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Su 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Mom & Pop’s Kettle Korn Stop
119 S. Market St.
Paxton, IL
T-Th 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Fr 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Central Lean Beef
114 S. Market St.
Paxton, IL
M-Fr 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

More Articles