For a western suburb at the geographic center of DuPage County, Glen Ellyn has a little something for everyone, including its 28,000 or so residents and the many visitors who pass through its nearly seven-square-mile boundaries.
A historic downtown straddling the railroad tracks leading to and from the big city: check. A bustling college that attracts students from all over the area: check. A community comprised of residents involved in and often volunteering for local nonprofits, civic groups, churches and schools: check. A suburb that attracts entrepreneurs seeking to follow their American business-owning dream: check. A thriving cultural climate with a plethora of performances: check. Plenty of green spaces, parks and a picturesque lake: check.
Meredith Hannah, economic development coordinator for the Village of Glen Ellyn, agrees that this community has a broad appeal and a spectrum of things to do and see. "Small-town charm, civic pride, friendly people and some of the best schools in the state make Glen Ellyn the perfect place to call home," says Hannah."Visitors abound at year-round community events where people come for the family fun and stay for the trendy shopping and dining." She adds that the community’s proximity to Chicago and other points of interest, along with its scenic parks and natural areas, are other draws for those who live in, work in, study in or visit Glen Ellyn.
Those who were raised in Glen Ellyn or currently call it home agree that it is a hometown at the heart of the county and at the heart of many people. "There is almost a mystical force that draws people to — and back to — Glen Ellyn," says Monica Eorgoff, who was born and raised in town and whose grandfather emigrated from Bulgaria directly to Glen Ellyn in the 1920s. "It was an idyllic place to grow up, and tradition and memories blend with natural beauty to give you a sense of belonging." Eorgoff’s grandfather was the keeper of an American flag that flew above the old fire station on Pennsylvania Avenue and atop the old Glen Ellyn Bank building, now home to retail shops, services and other businesses.
Stroll around pedestrian-friendly downtown Glen Ellyn along classically American-named streets like Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and you’re bound to come across a banner reading "A downtown to treasure." There is a veritable treasure trove in this district, whether it’s jewelry sold at Costello Jewelry Company, Larc Jewelers and Riviera Jewelers, the bounty of items sold at the many boutiques and specialty shops, the rich array of restaurants and gourmet stores, or the indulgent services offered by salons and spas.
While there are a few chains like the omnipresent Starbucks, downtown businesses are by and large owned by independent merchants. Some of those independent businesses have been fixtures in the community for decades, including Young’s Appliances, which dates back 85 years; The Bookstore, 50 years; Treasure House Resale Shop, 40-plus years; and Sign of the Whale Antiques, in business for 37 years. Other longtime downtown stalwarts with more than 20 years under their belt are Florist on Forest, Drury Design Kitchen & Bath Studio, and Linea Hair Salon & Day Spa.
Over the years, the downtown has attracted an ever-wider range of retailers. Clothes, accessories and gifts galore make for quality browsing time at a variety of boutiques including Jayne, 1 Happy Girl, Norabella and Enchantments. Other shops cater to the younger set, like M and Em’s children’s boutique and Sweet P doll studio, where children can bring in their dolls for parties, workshops and camps, and shop for doll accessories.
Several shops feature the works of artisans, like Bird on a Wire, a studio that carries custom locally hand-crafted items. Then there’s Re:new, which showcases works from refugee women who make a variety of pieces in the store’s studio; and Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer that carries works from 130 artisan groups in more than 30 countries.
Other popular specialty stores include String Theory Yarn Company, which offers a wide array of yarns and classes on knitting and crocheting; and the elegant Papier Girl, which specializes in stationery invitations and gift-related items.
Those looking for resale items and antiques can check out the racks at Kelsey Resale Boutique and Gather and Collect. More recently, Glen Ellyn has made a name for itself among gourmands, thanks in large part to Marcel’s Culinary Experience, which sells a variety of kitchen items, including foodstuffs, appliances, tools, bakeware, tableware and accessories, and offers a range of demonstrations and classes for all ages and palates. In May, for example, Marcel’s offers an outdoor class for those getting ready for grilling season, showing how to go beyond basic burgers and hot dogs with dishes like grilled avocado and bacon panzanella, or grilled beef bourguignon kabobs with a pinot noir wine sauce.
The epicurean experience extends to Marché, a gourmet wine and cheese shop adjacent to Marcel’s, where guests can savor cheese and charcuterie as well as wines, craft beers and spirits, among other items. Marché also offers cheese and charcuterie boards for parties and special occasions as well as gift boxes, in-store events and a cheese and wine club.
Those on the hunt for specialty foods and beverages can also find something to nosh, nibble and imbibe at spots like Cabernet & Company, The Beer Cellar, Olive ‘N Vinnie’s Oil and Balsamic Bar, Glen Ellyn Sweet Shop and the recently opened Chocolaterie Stam. And for artistic types, or simply those who like to pick up a brush and paint while tipping a glass of vino with friends, there is Bottle & Bottega, which specializes in wine and art parties.
In the summer months, those hungry for fresh fixings can shop the outdoor French Market in downtown Glen Ellyn, held on Sundays from June 4 through October 29, which offers a variety of locally grown produce, organic meats and baked goods, along with fresh flowers and artisan jewelry and crafts.
The culinary experience goes beyond gourmet purveyors and extends to the many downtown restaurant choices. There are some venerable favorites like Barone’s of Glen Ellyn, LuLu’s Pizzeria and More, Glen Oak Cafe, Made in Italy Trattoria, Made in Italy Express and Thipi Thai. Other hotspots include fire + wine, Blackberry Market, A Toda Madre, Main Street Pub, Javi’s Burritos, North Side Bar & Grill, Shannon’s Irish Pub, and the kid-targeted 2Toots Train Whistle Grill near the railroad tracks.
When coming home to Glen Ellyn, revisiting familiar places is part of the charm. "Everyone goes to longtime restaurants like Barone’s and Alfie’s Inn when returning to Glen Ellyn" says Eorgoff. Alfie’s, on Roosevelt Road, isn’t in the downtown area, but is a Glen Ellyn institution known for its hamburgers.
Mirroring the ever-changing shopping scene, newer eateries are also making their mark, like Maize + Mash, which opened in March (see related article on page 70). And other new dining establishments are on the horizon, including Two Hound Red, a restaurant and microbrewery which has started construction at the location of the former Schmid’s pharmacy. The brewpub will specialize in farm-to-table menu items and will make craft beers on site.
Meantime, those looking for a little entertainment can head to the Glen Art Theatre in downtown Glen Ellyn. A movie house with a history dating back to the golden era of films in the 1920s. The Glen Art is not only unique in that it’s an independent theatre in an era of chain multiplexes, but in its showing of first-run movies that are more artistic in nature than the average blockbuster. Another bonus — tickets are only $7, with $5 admission before 5 p.m.
So Much to Do
The Glen Ellyn Chamber of Commerce, Alliance of Downtown Glen Ellyn, the Village of Glen Ellyn and other organizations offer a wide range of events for residents and visitors.
"One of the things that makes downtown Glen Ellyn so unique is the many events that we execute throughout the year. These events bring in visitors from far and wide," says Carole White, executive director of the Alliance of Downtown Glen Ellyn. "Whether it is our Ladies Night Out in November, with over 600 women searching out the perfect gift, or our Wedding Walk, where brides look for that unique idea for their special day, Glen Ellyn has a long track record of delivering memorable events."
The schedule is particularly packed this time of year. On May 21, the Glen Ellyn Chamber of Commerce hosts a Taste of Glen Ellyn and Village Fair, a four-day event with live entertainment, foods and beverages, carnival rides, a craft festival and business expo.
Another popular event is scheduled for June 15. "Wine & Finds," held on the Thursday night before Father’s Day, is a wine tasting event where couples and friends celebrate, shop and taste throughout many downtown Glen Ellyn boutiques," explains White.
The Fourth of July is a big deal in Glen Ellyn, with traditions like the cardboard regatta on Lake Ellyn, a Picnic in the Park, and a parade and fireworks display. Later in July, it’s Jazz Up Glen Ellyn. "It’s a phenomenal event that showcases nine amazing jazz groups over eight hours and draws over 3,500 guests," says White.
Other highlights include a street party, "Sounds on the Street" on Sept. 1, with tastings from local restaurants and live music, a Ladies Night Out in November, and a Stories with Santa event around the holidays at the Glen Ellyn firehouse.
The Great Glen Ellyn Outdoors
Lake Ellyn Park is a favorite spot for events as well as simple relaxation and the chance to reconnect with nature.
"People come from all over to watch the Lake Ellyn cardboard regatta," says Courtney O’Kray, marketing and communications supervisor for the Glen Ellyn Park District, which oversees Lake Ellyn Park.
"Lake Ellyn is a special place year round," adds O’Kray, "with people out on kayaks and canoes in the summer and, in one of our newer events, to see the Pumpkin Flotilla Festival in October, in which pumpkins are pulled by kayaks and are all lit up on the water. It’s really beautiful and something different."
According to Eorgoff, the 10-acre Lake Ellyn and surrounding 25-acre park are part of what set the community apart. "Lake Ellyn Park is like a scene from Currier and Ives, right in the heart of Glen Ellyn," she says. "You can just sit on one of the benches and take in the view of the lake, the boathouse, the park and Glenbard West High School on the hill, or you can take a mile-long walk around the lake path."
Recently, the 1920s-era boathouse on Lake Ellyn was restored, with a new cedar roof, wooden doors and windows in an effort to replicate its original design. The boathouse, which has its own deck overlooking the lake, can be rented for special occasions.
Lake Ellyn is a multi-use recreation area, with amenities including picnic areas, walking trails, clay tennis courts, a playground and a deck for fishing. The park is the setting for many special events, including the Tour of Lake Ellyn bike race on July 15.
In addition to Lake Ellyn Park, the Glen Ellyn Park District maintains 28 parks and playgrounds in the community. For indoor activities, the Ackerman Sports and Fitness Center features an indoor turf field, basketball courts, rock climbing, and a fitness center and walking track.
Another green-space gem in Glen Ellyn is Maryknoll Park. The location includes a Splash Park with 12 spray jets (and a price of just $3 per child and $1 per accompanying adult), a clubhouse for lunch or picnics, an adventure playground with a 75-ft zip line and climbing boulders, and the Holes & Knolls Miniature Golf Course with 36 holes of mini golf and a concessions area.
Those who prefer the traditional game of golf can hit the Village Links, a facility owned by the Village of Glen Ellyn. It offers 27 holes of golf, practice facilities and year-round dining at the Reserve 22 restaurant. "The restaurant’s 134-seat patio boasts the most serene, scenic view in all DuPage County, with two fire pits, a covered outdoor bar and flat screen televisions — quite the popular spot in summer months," says Hannah. The Village Links is also a Certified Wildlife Sanctuary Golf Course, the first public golf course in the country to earn that distinction in 1991.
Glen Ellyn attracts, celebrates and conserves wildlife in a number of other ways, too, at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Operated and maintained by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, this is a native wildlife rehabilitation facility. It provides treatment to injured and orphaned wild animals — such as chipmunks, cottontails, mink, opossums, squirrels and raccoons — and hosts education programs to teach area residents and groups more about native wildlife. In the visitor center, people can get a look at native wildlife and see how the center’s volunteers care for the injured and orphaned animals.
College and Community
A community within the community of Glen Ellyn is the College of DuPage. Located on a 273-acre site, COD draws more than 28,000 students of all ages from throughout the western suburbs and is the largest community college in the state. The sprawling campus has 11 major buildings plus an array of athletics fields.
"At College of DuPage, we continually examine how to best serve the region," says school President Ann Rondeau. "Whether we are offering bachelor degree pathways to respected partner institutions like the University of Illinois, cultural events through the McAninch Arts Center, life-long learning opportunities through Continuing Education, or music through Chicago’s only jazz radio station, WDCB, we exist to serve and broaden the lives of our residents."
The college offers outreach programs and activities for all ages, including a youth academy, high-school programs, music lessons, tutoring and adult enrichment classes.
"We reside in a district that places exceptional value on the community college mission of offering students affordable, accessible and high quality education," says Rondeau. "We focus on the term ‘community’ when developing programs, services and cultural offerings to enhance the personal and professional lives of our students and residents. We are a place of innovation and learning that provides opportunities outside the four walls of a classroom."
A fine example is the McAninch Arts Center (the MAC), home to the Cleve Carney Art Gallery and the 800-seat Belushi Performance Hall, which features several resident professional ensembles, student productions and plays host to world-class touring attractions. Recently, its resident orchestra, the New Philharmonic, won the Illinois Council of Orchestra’s award for Professional Orchestra of the Year. The Buffalo Theater Ensemble is also based at the MAC.
Each week, the MAC hosts an average of five public performances, 10 rehearsals, two rental events, and several arts programs. This summer, the line-up will expand to include a series of free outdoor concerts at the picturesque lakeside pavilion. For a full schedule, go to www.atthemac.org.
Other Glen Ellyn Highlights
• Stacy’s Tavern Museum celebrates the history of the former, which served as an inn for those traveling to and from Chicago in the mid-19th century. The Greek Revival-style building is now a museum open to the public for tours from April through mid-December.
• The Glen Ellyn Historical Society hosts programs for all ages — including a recent session on the history of brothels in Glen Ellyn.
• The Illinois Prairie Path cuts through Glen Ellyn. A bike repair station in Prairie Path Park is the only one of its kind along the path. Planned improvements for Prairie Path Park include the addition of an outdoor ping-pong table and chess tables.
• Anima (formerly known as the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus) has been a cultural fixture in town for more than 50 years. The internationally recognized youth choral group is comprised of six ensembles of children from more than 35 communities.
Upcoming events include a spring concert on May 12 and a performance at the Glen Ellyn Arts in the Park series on August 26. Anima’s artistic director Emily Ellsworth, who has been at the helm for 21 years, is retiring at the end of this season.