A tweet is all it took. Two months after I casually fired off a tweet, an event that has been in the “planning stages” finally took place. Since moving to Pekin in March of 2011, I have been on a mission for two things. First to find a decent place that has craft beer on tap, and second, to help revitalize a downtown that is dead as a doornail. The latter was easier to find. One of the interesting things I found in Pekin was an organization called Pekin Main Street. It is a non-profit that seeks to preserve and revitalize downtown Pekin. A town of 34,090 has been ripped apart at the seams and thrown all over the map. No, I’m not talking about the recent tornadoes that tore through town – I’m talking about mindless sprawl. What was seen as “progress” in the late 60’s and early 70’s is now seen as a disconnected town with little semblance of a functioning economic core. A vacated mall on the outskirts of town that is now a hodge-podge of stores, one-way streets slashing through the central part of the city, and historic buildings dropping like flies, very little seems to be maintained with a long-term vision in mind. After surveying the damage, I could see the Pekin Main Street organization was not only very much-needed here, but I very much wanted to help the cause. But where do you start? Should we save the old buildings first? Should we lure businesses to town? Or do we need to just start all over? Honestly, it’s all of the above. You need to repair your connection to the past, strengthen the mix of businesses by creating an entrepreneurial culture, and start from scratch with a new mentality which is not just asking what to fix but what do we want our downtown to be long-term? Since I jumped into Main Street head-first, I’ve been trying to figure all of that out. A surprising fact is that Pekin has a long history of brewing beer. I like beer. So why shouldn’t we try to tie our past into our future? With all the necessary ingredients at our disposal, it would be foolish not to. However, Illinois is Illinois, and starting a brewery has its headaches. The business climate is turbulent to say the least. Our government is notoriously known for being notorious. Needless to say, progress is tall order.
What can you do to bring together people, fill a space in an otherwise desolate downtown, and help raise money to kickstart our local economy? Have a craft beer night in an arts building known as The Speakeasy and raise money to go towards attracting new, small businesses! BRILLIANT. I’m glad I thought of it. Yeah right! That’s where putting an idea that some of my other fellow board members and I had been brewing for the past 2 years finally came to a head. Having seen the Twitter handle @thebeerreport floating around the Twitter-verse and knowing that this soul lives and drinks in Pekin, was refreshing. Having read The Beer Report and listened to some of the podcasts, I knew this was the guy to help carry out my mission. So on that September day when I sent the tweet to Groucho, I wasn’t surprised that I could entice him and some of his loyal hop heads to downtown Pekin. We all want that same downtown that feels whole. One with street life, with a sense of community that’s more than driving from place to noplace in isolation, something with substance and feels genuine. And if we can enjoy a frosty beverage, that’s just icing on the cake. Even with the events that unfolded a week ago, the commitment to our community showed its importance. In the blink of an eye things change. For better or for worse, you have to roll with it. Pekin will get back up and dust itself off just like other communities have done before it. New connections have been made, and it seems like things have been put into perspective. At the end of the day we are all looking for the same things; to have neighbors to share a beer with, lend a helping hand in times of need, and a place that welcomes everybody. Our little craft beer night was the first of its kind and it was kind of exciting. Waiting for others to start something doesn’t seem likely. If you want something done, it’s best to find people like yourself and push forward with your vision. While it was the first, it hopefully won’t be the last. There’s one thing that will remain constant in human history – people drink in the good times and people drink in the bad times. Cheers to all that helped put this event together!
Listen to the live podcast of the event here.