Middle sister, no more!
Western Springs comes out of its shell with fabulous dining, a walkable downtown, and plenty of places to play
Take a seat along Hillgrove Avenue, and you'll likely hear it in the air. Mingled with the cheerful cries of children playing in a nearby park, and the bell of the evening train arriving at the station, there is a hum of progress. Western Springs has come into its own.
This once-sleepy suburb, nestled between La Grange and Hinsdale, is building a downtown, and a reputation as an ideal place to set up both business and home.
Trendy boutiques and smart storefronts line the main drag. Generations-old businesses – Casey's Market, Kirschbaum's Bakery, The Competitive Foot – are joined now by national chain stores and stylish restaurants.
"The face of downtown has changed dramatically," says Joe Lane, president of the Western Springs Business Association, and longtime manager at Casey's Market. He's been part of the community for more than 20 years. "Our storefronts are flourishing again, and there’s more development downtown. From four to six p.m. it’s always hoppin’.”
People are shopping again. They are picking up fresh items for a backyard barbecue, Some are meeting friends for a glass of wine at Hillgrove Wine Cellars. Many are sitting down to fabulous plates of food at one of several impressive dining spots that dot the block.
Vie, renowned for its exquisite cuisine and its equally prestigious chef Paul Virant, has “put Western Springs on the map” Lane attests. Named one of the Top 40 restaurants in the USA by Gayot Guide, and heralded as one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in the business, Vie builds a menu of succulent offerings with local meats and produce from Midwest farms and artisans.
Newcomer Davanti Enoteca, part of the Francesca’s family of restaurants, boasts a trendy tapas style menu, complete with items like a hunter’s style wild boar salami, mascarpone polenta, or a lightly baked focacchia with sweet cheese and served with local honeycomb.
“It’s small plate sharing – polenta, homemade ragu, vasi (homemade spreads and Tuscan bread)– it’s a seasonal menu and people love it,” said Davanti managing partner Chris Elsey.
And the feeling is mutual. The restaurant group chose the Western Springs spot for its downtown footprint, and its central access to surrounding communities like Oak Brook, Burr Ridge, Clarendon Hills and LaGrange. But in the process, Elsey and his partners found a niche in a local community that cares for its businesses.
“We love it here. Everything here is great,” he said. “People can walk here. They really appreciate and want to support a restaurant. They keep telling us they want us to stay.”
That close-knit loyalty from the Western Springs community keeps the very heart of this village beating. It’s a town where people say hello to one another on the street, and where parents feel safe to let their ‘tweens walk downtown for a snow cone or a candy bar.
“The residents of Western Springs are the nicest people in the world,” says Lane. “I know them. Many of them are my friends. I have watched their kids grow up. They were my cashiers and now they come into the store with their own children.”
It’s a village that boasts its own theater, an active historical society, and a wide array of local festivals and family events. Top-notch schools and parks around nearly every corner secure the village’s ranking among the finest for raising families.
“Neighbors here know each others children, and people really do look out for each other,” says Lane.
And as the downtown community grows, keeping the balance between quaint and contemporary becomes the biggest goal for folks like Lane.
“You can’t stay the same, otherwise you’re done,” he says, “but you want to modernize the ‘old town feel’ without losing what’s great about it.”
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