Do They Have Coffee Shops in Peoria?

Remember the Steve Martin/John Candy movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles? It’s an old favorite of mine, and the thought of their travel experiences caused me to chuckle in the midst of my own traveler’s distress last month. As we all know, Midwest weather can wreak havoc on the best-laid travel plans!

When my (much-appreciated) direct flight from Dallas to Peoria was cancelled on a Sunday night, I decided to fly stand-by the next morning on the first flight to Chicago. This was a good plan, as most flights were cancelled for the next day or so, but the bus trip to Peoria took a few hours longer than expected, so my getaway cost a bit more in both time and money.

The ride home on the Peoria Charter bus offers a unique opportunity to meet (and overhear) people you normally wouldn’t, as you are bonded by circumstances out of your control. The conversation
between a young man and woman seated across from me went something like this:

Young man: “I moved to California as soon as I left high school. I’m a singer/songwriter, I love to surf and I manage a restaurant. I’m on my way to see my family who still lives here. What’s there to do in Peoria? A few sketchy bars, maybe. I’ll be on my computer, as there’s nothing else to do while I’m in town …”

Young woman: “I’ve been flying here every week for about a month, working on a consulting project. I just stay in my hotel room unless I’m invited to a business dinner. I’m late for my presentation, but I really need a Starbucks. Do you think they have coffee shops in Peoria?

It was all I could do to keep from interrupting the two of them with a recitation of all the unique art and cultural activities happening here on a daily basis. While we can’t compete with the largest metropolitan areas, I do believe that our local arts community is tremendous for a town of this size—and if you read this magazine regularly, you are well aware of that fact.

Yet communicating that idea, at times, can be a struggle. In this issue, Richard Kirchgessner of the Peoria-based artistic collective Satellite City Transmissions (see page 20) makes a similar point: “On first glance, it would appear that we do not have a viable and thriving arts community in Peoria. The arts community here needs to be supported and encouraged to help bring more people into an awareness of the arts in our city.”

Many of the other artists make similar points. They agree that our local arts community is top-notch, but find it difficult at times to convey that message to outsiders. We asked about their vision for the arts community in Peoria and received a variety of responses—many revolving around the notion of greater cooperation among our existing
arts groups. Once again, we find that collaboration is key.

The Prairie Center of the Arts exemplifies that message. Located on Washington Street at the southern end of the Warehouse District, the Prairie Center is an artist-in-residence program which provides artists of various mediums the time and space they need to create. A unique asset to our community, it is a prime example of the power of collaboration, allowing artists access to industrial equipment and expertise, and working in concert with organizations like Bradley University, Caterpillar and Lakeview Museum. Driven by the tireless work and vision of Michele and Joe Richey, the Prairie Center is sure to play an even larger role in the future as the Warehouse District begins to transform into a mixed-use urban neighborhood. Read more about the Prairie Center of the Arts on page 12.

Yes, we do have coffee shops in Peoria, and there’s more to do in this town than frequenting “a few sketchy bars.” We hope you enjoy this issue! a&s