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Walking through Wheaton

A welcoming downtown, filled with history and happenings

Published: Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 11:41 a.m. CDT

Founded on solid, Christian ground, the citizens of Wheaton were eager to build and share their city. Since 1859, Wheaton College, formerly the Illinois Institute, was dubbed an historic landmark and considered a community fixture for more than 150 years. However, this accredited and well-known campus needed a bigger draw to parallel its success.

With the founder’s strategic move to bring in the railroad and the “Wheaton Depot” station, the city was able to rise up around it, creating what is now a bustling business district.

Storefronts reflecting the past and the present preserve the quaint qualities of small town living, attracting tourists from the surrounding suburbs and beyond.

Take, for example, the Wheaton Theater. Opened in May of 1925, this theater was home to Vaudeville acts, silent films, and live dramas. When it closed its doors in 2006, the community cried out to renovate the theater to its former glory, but the plans were later rejected due to lack of funds and the iconic theater remained vacant and untouched. Eight years later, that renovation is finally coming to fruition.

“With the help of the city, a committee was formed and put in charge of fundraising so that the theater could be built to accommodate live music, stage dramas, small concerts, as well as reemerge as a working theater for screening films. It will be a multi-use space with a new face lift,” says Paula Barrington, Director of the Downtown Wheaton Association. The exact date of renovation and construction has not been disclosed.

Surrounding the historic venue, Wheaton’s city streets are lined with stores tailored to everyone, from consignment shops to unique boutiques. Places with creative names like Two Shopaholics, Jeans & a Cute Top, Frocks and Frills, or Rumpleshirtskin illicit smiles and ‘must see’ mentalities from tourists. Stacey Jansen, owner of a unique boutique, Bella Roba, says, “we couldn’t be happier with the outcome of our first year of business in Wheaton. We have developed so many great relationships with people here--customers and other business owners alike.” This store’s european elegance seen in it’s inventory and decor is not sold anywhere else in the area.

“I’m happy to say there will be many new businesses opening up in the next few months. P.S. Flowers, which is a home décor and silk flower shop, as well as NEXT yoga studio, and Moore Toys & Gadgets, are only some of what is to come. At least six other businesses and restaurants are moving in and the city has received five more bids for next year,” says Barrington. “It’s very exciting news.”

After a nice day of shopping, popular restaurants like Muldoon’s or Ivy are perfect destinations if you are in need of a great meal or refreshing drink with co-workers and friends.

If in search of a healthy dining experience, try The Cellar Bistro. Winner of the 2014 Diner’s Choice award, and located in the downtown historic district, this small business provides a light alternative menu to that of its neighbors. It’s antioxidant and preservative-free delicacies leave you feeling satisfied and refreshed.

Should you prefer a worldly dining experience, located on West Front Street is Suzette’s Creperie. What began at a small crepe cart in the streets of Chicago, is now a double storefront restaurant and patisserie serving the finest Parisian cuisine. Awarded 2014’s Business of the Year by the Downtown Wheaton Business Association, this French bistro’s ‘joie de vivre’ is a must experience for all family and friends.

On a hot summer day, a nice cool treat or sweet nosh may be a perfect excuse for an outing downtown. Kilwin’s, Wheaton’s newest chocolatier, boasts a prime location along West Front Street, kiddie corner to the train station. A scoop of gelato is the perfect treat to enjoy while you sit back and cool off by the historic fountain.

One of the biggest weekend draws for business is the French Market, offered from 8 a.m.- 2 p.m. every Saturday morning. Modeled after Parisian street fairs, the blending of both local and traveling vendors combine to make the largest market community of its kind in the region.

“Vendors selling jewelry, hand made crafts, art, flowers, as well as freshly grown produce fill the parking lot with hundreds of people looking to buy, and experience this event,” says Barrington.

This market has garnered so much attention from the community over the years that the city is in talks to construct a permanent structure allowing this market to last longer and remain protected from every kind of weather.

According to Barrington, “The city is planning to adopt a new street plan in the next 10-15 years which is going to slightly change the face of downtown Wheaton. Within this proposed plan are the details regarding the permanent structure for the market. During the off season, the structure would then act as extra parking for the community.”

Summertime in Wheaton also provides many activities for locals and its tourists. Whether you go to concerts in Memorial Park, festivals, local community plays, or wine tastings, there is something for the whole family to enjoy.

“The Wheaton Park District offers so many unique facilities, like Arrowhead Golf Club, The DuPage County Historical Museum, and two aquatic facilities,” says Margie Wilhelmi, Director of Marketing for the Wheaton Park District.

“There’s also Cosley Zoo, a six-acre nationally-recognized zoo featuring domestic farm animals and native Illinois wildlife. Plus, found within the 54 beautiful parks throughout Wheaton, are a zip line at North Side Park and a climbing wall at our Lincoln Marsh Natural Area, for those who prefer to enjoy the outdoors for free,” Wilhelmi adds.

Downtown Wheaton is what some would call an “urban suburban experience,” offering the charm and quaintness of a small town while home to more than 60,000 residents.

“If you live downtown, your apartment door opens to a bustling street, reminiscent of city life,” says Barrington. “For the residents that surround the city center, it’s a quick walk down the street for a short fix of Wheaton. There are so many different lifestyles.

‘But for the tourists, this is just a great community to spend a leisurely day whether you are shopping, eating, or people watching,” she adds.

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