Stepping into the historic Hesse building again on the northeast corner of 7th and Avenue G sent all my senses into an overload of sorts last week.
I met Angela Hedges over there for a piece on her new wine and whiskey parlor that’s coming this summer. I might spend a little time and money there. I’m sure I can find my way home on the three-block walk without having to sleep under a bush.
Those who know me well, know that story. If you don’t – be sure to ask the next time you see me on the golf course or the sidelines. I can tease ya with this – it was a dark and stormy night on the campus of Western Illinois….
That’s a story I can laugh about with my therapist. And will probably give him more insight than he bargained for.
Anyway, memories are what they are. The colorful reel of our lives of discretion, abandon, adventure, and for the religious, maybe even sin.
But they also bring us to a place of sensory emotion. How good it felt to walk into the Ivy on a spring afternoon and sit down to a cup of butternut squash soup and a long piece of buttered, dill bread. Maybe even a spring turkey wrap. And if you left without Martha Wolf’s Caramel Apple Tart, your food IQ is at idiot level.
Walking in with Angie made me miss Strawberry Rhubarb pie and a cup of coffee, sitting at the window and looking out at the history of Avenue G/Main Street/Market Street whatever you want to call it.
One of the photos I took was of her looking out those tall arched windows onto the street. It was a portrait for the most part, but when I pulled it up on the computer, I saw something in her. A gaze that said all at once, this is great and is this gonna work?
We’ve opened up 10 new businesses pre- and post-pandemic downtown. Some have closed already, most have stayed open and they are doing it their way. Random hours, which is good… and bad. It makes us constantly check to see if Major Oak has Shepherds’ Pie or if they are closed. So we have to keep tabs on them.
With the construction on Bus. 61, city officials say traffic is much heavier on Avenue G and F… and E. I tend to go down Avenue G more often now because I want to see if anything is changing. If the OPEN sign is on at Riverside, I tend to stop in for the Almond Chocolate Protein. It’s a milk shake that’s quite a bit better for you than a milk shake.
Swed Coffee is typically hopping, as is Stage 2, the salons, the financial and services sectors always have cars in front. The banks are busy and Aldi’s is teeming with customers.
Hedges’ look at the window is one of promise. It’s as if she’s looking for cruise passengers that have yet to arrive this year, but are on their way with more than 30 stops in the works. The Pocket Park is fully WiFi capable and lit up like a church at night, another wonderful addition to a historic downtown that’s seeing more energy and life than it has in the past two decades.
I wanted to sit on the floors in the Hesse building and listen to their stories in the creeks and gaps. Hedges said she’s just going to clean them, put a light hand sand on them and some polyurethane to help them shine. But the history will remain, along with the chair marks and dips and curves from decades of traffic and Iowa seasons.
And that monstrosity of a cabinet that sits against the east wall with the kitchen pass-through is getting a clean and polish, too. That thing is huge and looks down on you like Fortissimo of Beauty and the Beast fame – both intimidating and charming at the same time.
The screened in porch reminded me of Hitomi’s fresh garden salsa, some of the best ever created, and Jimmy’s crazy-ass taco combinations. I never had the same one twice. That area will be part of Hedge’s plans for social sipping… and more memories.
I still hear people whining and moaning about the new depot platform, but that’s a realization of a former mayor’s dream. A vision based on a cultural, niche downtown retail sector with art and food and retail that could become a day stop off the rail lines… and now cruise line stops and tours.
The downtown seems to be headed in that direction. We still need that next sustainable restaurant, but look at things in the composite.
The Southwest Chief is rumored to be resuming daily stops, American Cruise lines is projected to stop at least 30 times a year and probably more with the company adding more Mississippi River vessels, Viking Cruises is planning to bus people down from their Burlington dock, the annual summer Riverfest, and a brand new 5-star marina – we’ve got something cooking.
So, hurry up, Angela, this sounds like a place I would like. Of course the only way I get down there is if I stop and grab a couple loaves of Julie’s and Adam Hohl’s Peach Bread out of the refrigerator at Harvestville Mercantile for Lee.
They won’t get home without a couple of man size bites out of them, especially if there’s a bush nearby – but that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org