By Craig Hastings
It’s been awhile since I’ve been out here on patrol late Friday night. I’ve been doing this for thirty-nine years and as much as the scenery has changed on Rt. 36 over the years it hasn’t for me. Tonight I can see everything just as it was in 1979 when I started working here part time. RoadRanger? Nope, not tonight. I can see the L K Restaurant sitting there and imagine the interior just as easily as the exterior. This was where TPD Officer Eddie Haton took me to eat super my very first night I rode in a squad car on duty as a part time officer. At the time the L K Restaurant was the boundary where all business establishments stopped. There was no need for our patrols to continue any further than this parking lot. I remember well the size and importance of the Dixie Truck stop. Strange how some things come back around full circle. For all the years the Dixie property lay vacant and we all feared nothing would ever be built again on this space, along came the Lambo’s Travel Center project. Lambo’s has provided Tuscola not only an economical boost but also an aesthetical improvement to the corner of Rt. 36 and South Prairie Street.
I can’t help but wonder how much more the landscape will change this summer. The Fuel Mart renovation is nearly complete. It appears to be more than twice its original size. And then there is the much-anticipated new street that will be just north of the southbound exit ramp. This will be where the Love’s Truck Stop will be built along with several other new businesses I’m sure. After that who knows what else. As much as we all like to see new business we also don’t want that to be at the cost of losing an equal amount of those already here. This is a phenomenon that happens frequently in the Champaign area.
There’s a lot happening in the retail industry in Tuscola right now. So much so the Cronus project has gotten little attention in the local coffee shops. I’m not sure myself where this project stands other than it’s reported to still be a viable project. And should the Cronus build happen, regardless of when, none of us can know what else might come to town. I would expect we would see an expansion of construction in both the retail and housing markets. It won’t matter, I’ll still be able to patrol east and west on Rt. 36 and see everything I saw in the 80’s.
It’s not just me. The other two old timers that continue doing this with me on a part time basis see the past every bit as clear as I do. We experience the same phenomena in some of the residential areas. Mostly the ones where we used to get a high call volume for service. There were times in our pasts when dispatched to a neighborhood we knew what house we were going to without being given the address. In the reverse, those people we were going to see knew which one of us was going to show up! They knew our shifts and who was working when every bit as well as we did. However, this has changed in some of the residential areas. Tuscola has experienced a lot of turnover of who is moving out and who is moving in some neighborhoods in the last fifteen years or so. I’m not sure why this is. There was a time when some members of the family homestead either never moved out of the home or at least stayed in the neighborhood. Over the years it seems generations of families I got to know through my career as a police officer in the early 80’s have moved out of Tuscola completely. Why, I don’t know?
Which era do I prefer my Rt. 36 patrol, early 1980’s or 2020? Was the Rt. 36 corridor a more attractive place then or now? I’m old so I prefer it the way it used to be and this is my reason why. Don’t misunderstand, I’m excited for the progressive movement on Rt. 36. It’s good for Tuscola today just as it was in a different economic time back in the 80’s. Why I preferred the 80’s look was because the business community on Rt. 36 was supported by the residents living in Tuscola. The residents relied on local businesses for most of their needs and the businesses needed the support of the local residents. This isn’t the case today. Business models will vie for space as close to I-57 as possible for their trade. It’s essential that income percentages be met to remain a viable business. It doesn’t matter that they make some money.
Corporation businesses require more profits than the Ma and Pa shops of my time. If my parents were feeding the family and paying the house mortgage they had made it in America by everyone’s standards…in the 1960’s. Today corporations close shop and leave an empty building behind with little concern how that might impact the area. After all it’s just business. If you don’t believe me, drive through our very own Outlet Mall. We have a beautiful property sitting here with just twenty plus businesses left occupying it. At one time there were nearly seventy businesses open for trade in our mall.
I could write you a storybook about my time spent with the planning, construction, and law enforcement details about the outlet mall. These years spent with all stages of the mall will always be some of my best and most important memories of my career here in Tuscola. Now I’m waiting for my next and probably my last big project as it concerns the economic benefit of Tuscola before I leave law enforcement and concern myself more with the next day’s temperature outside.