“Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t care. Let’s go north. No, wait. North-northwest. No, wait. North-north-northwest. Straight, right, straight, left, right, diagonal this way, straight.”
That’s how it began. And that’s how most of our road trips begin. We pick a direction and just…go. We try to stay off the main roads and see where things take us. And that’s how we landed in the small town of Richmond, Illinois.
We first had to get there, though. Being that the journey is often the key, we took plenty of back roads in northern Illinois, avoiding traffic as much as possible. That’s how we end up on roads like this…
Which leads us to long-since-abandoned, foreclosed-on, or other derelict properties. Such as this house and barn complex. The sun was facing us, but we got a few ‘okay’ shots nonetheless…
It appears that people do come by this place occasionally, so I jumped out of the car on the gravel road for a few shots while Ang kept a look out for shotgun-wielding squatters.
I particularly liked this random building on the property, named “The Coupe” – with sign and all. Was it just an old garage for a farmer’s favorite car? A former local drinking spot? Who knows?
After ducking out of the property with no harm done, we made our way down the road.
Eventually we meandered our way to the end of Illinois Highway 31, and figured we’d make it to the Wisconsin border. Because why not?
Then, I saw a tiny sign letting us know that an ice cream parlor was ahead, and decided we had to stop. And that’s how we ended up in Richmond, Illinois: Population 2,500.
It didn’t particularly seem like a 2,500-person town to us, but we’re sure there’s a bit of residential sprawl that we didn’t see. First things first, though: Ice cream! The place was called Skoopers, which you can see here just behind Trixy’s Barber Shop. Trixy is apparently the town gossip, which makes perfect sense since she’s the barber.
We sauntered into Skoopers, ready to attack some delicious creamy goodness. The “Liquidation” and “Sale” signs outside were a bit discomforting, as we hate to see small-town businesses closing, as is often the case in the U.S. Plus, what if we couldn’t get any ice cream?
Fortunately for us, Skoopers was still open. We walked in, greeted by a set of stools hosting an elderly lady, a few gents moving some furniture, and two police officers on a ladder, testing out some video-camera surveillance equipment.
Picture that (because I didn’t get one). Clearly, this is a meeting place for townsfolk. A social center of town where everyone can chit-chat and get things done.
Meet Carolyn. She owns – or, owned – Skoopers.
Carolyn rocks in the way that makes you happy to live. Carolyn is the type of person who appreciates it when you ask if you can take pictures – good thing we did! – and jumps at the opportunity to be in a picture herself.
“Absolutely! We have to take it under the Skoopers sign!”
We love that, despite Ang and I looking a bit worn for wear on this particular day.
The good news is that Carolyn wasn’t closing the shop for economic reasons. She was closing it because all of her kids have moved away, and she wants to be around her grandbabies. So, she’s off to Missouri, and it just so happens that the day we visited was the last day of operation for Skoopers.
She was handing over the reigns to a new owner, giving up the shop she’s had for 19 years (!!!) – 14 in this location. She also lives upstairs, so she was leaving her home and her business to travel to another state and start anew with her family.
Of course, none of this happened before I ordered a milkshake. See, I wanted a malt. I love malts. My father taught me that there aren’t many things in this world better than a good malt.
Carolyn suggested a chocolate malt, but I told her that the chocolate-peanut butter ice cream had caught my eye, and I thought that it would make a good malt.
She said no. The malt would wipe out the delicious chocolate-peanut butter flavor, and I should have it in shake format. I wanted to disagree, but remembered that same thing happening to me not too long ago.
Plus, Carolyn is the boss. Carolyn knows what’s good for her customers. So, a shake it was.
And was it a darn good shake. Carolyn had it right. Of course she did.
While Skoopers will be turned into some type of fancier café-ice cream shop place by its new owners, Carolyn kept it the way it should be over the last 19 years.
Not only is it the aforementioned gathering place for the population of Richmond; it’s also a general store that sells everything from vintage candies…
…to funny gags…
…to Cub Scout supplies, inspirational signs, knickknacks, and some antiques. And in case you fear change, she’s got that covered as well…
We also got to meet Sue. Sue is Carolyn’s aunt, and this day was the first time in a couple of years that Sue could get up to Richmond to visit.
At first, Sue scoffed at being in a photo. Then she said what the heck, and let me grab this shot. Too bad I got it all blurry.
But it’s Sue, so it must be in this post. Sue has got to be in her late 70s or early 80s. And guess what? Sue works at Starbucks. That’s right. Without getting into how we feel about someone her age needing to work, we’ll just say that she loves working there. She’s been a barista for ten years at a Starbucks location in another small town, West Dundee.
She also recently got to meet Howard Schultz, which made her day. She said she actually thanked him for all he and the company have done for her, and he gave her a hug. The glowing look on her face told us that she was most certainly smitten by this occurrence.
After spending a great deal of time chatting with Carolyn, Sue, Dominic the police officer (who left for a call before we could get a picture), and the rest of the gang, we headed out to walk around the town for a bit.
Unfortunately, many places were out of business. It’s always a shame to see that – in towns large or small – but it appears that Richmond does have its share of thriving small businesses with growing clientele.
Richmond is rife with antique shops, which tells us that this is clearly a shopping destination for antique hunters. We particularly like the old bank, the frontage of which was kept intact by its current antique-shop owners.
We tried to check out a Celtic store that carries everything from collectables to Scottish and Irish foods. Even though it was closed for renovations, we happened to run into Norma, one of the owners. She apologized that the store was temporarily closed and promised she’d show us around another day if we just gave her a call. Gotta love that.
We grabbed a business card and let her get back to work. We then passed a couple of delicious-looking restaurants, as well as this antique shop, complete with vintage door-handle advertising. Wouldn’t it be cool if people still did that?
Walking down the street and turning the corner, we saw an old bridge. A very, very old bridge.
There are so many angles going on here that it’s hard to tell which one is actually level. It’s closed to car traffic these days, so we walked over the trail below and found ourselves standing in front of this run-down church.
How great is that look? And, guess what? It’s for sale!
If you’re looking to move to a small town in northern Illinois, this would make a great project and a very unique house, don’t ya think? It sits right on a wooded area, next to the hiking/walking trail and just in front of the bridge.
Also out front was an old, apparently abandoned car. A 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle 300 Deluxe V8, to be precise.
It was quite worn down, but not unsalvageable! Maybe it comes with the property?
After walking around a bit more, it was getting late and we had to get back to a prior engagement. Hopping in the car and driving out of town, we were once again thrilled at the unexpected encounters we had in Richmond, Illinois.
Talking with the people, seeing what the town has to offer, and getting a feeling of how things go make for a unique experience that will always stay with us.
This is a perfect example of why we do what we do, and why we won’t – and can’t – stop anytime soon.
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Have you ever been to Richmond? Any thoughts about our post? Share your thoughts in the comments!