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Shopping in unspoiled Princeton

by Shirley Calby, editor
St. Charles Chronicle, December 14, 1988
I took one of my remaining vacation days last Friday.
It was a beautiful day so my friend, Jean, and I decided to indulge in some reverse tourism.
Instead of fighting the crowds along Geneva's Third street or in the Piano Factory in St. Charles or heading for an overcrowded shopping mall, we headed for Princeton, Ill. 
Princeton is a town of around 7,500 about an hour south and west of here.  It is a pretty town.  Quaint Victorian houses, attractively painted, line many of it's streets.  It reminds me of New England where I grew up.
We stopped for breakfast in a small restaurant on Main Street.  We had two scrambled eggs, two pieces of toast with homemade apple butter and all the coffee we could drink.  The tab was $1.40 each. 
Princeton is not without an eye for tourism.  The town is long on antique shops.  It's proud of it's covered bridge which is one of only five remaining in the state.  And Princeton holds several seasonal celebrations during the year including a Homestead festival.
On this particular Friday, however, it seemed as if Jean and I were the only tourists in town.  Princeton, we decided, was like St. Charles used to be 10 or 15 years ago.  If your face wasn't familiar, you must be a visitor.  Friendly people asked you where you were from and a conversation would begin.
Jean and I discovered that several of the peo

ple we talked with in Princeton were from around these parts.  They had fled the tentacles of urban sprawl.
There's only one shopping mall around here and it's a ways away, the waitress in the coffee shop pointed out.  There's nothing wrong with that.  I fear that some day soon the tri-cities are going to be "malled" in. 
We shopped in Princeton all day, far from the maddening crowds thronging about the tri-cities this holiday season.
There were other shoppers in Princeton, but they appeared to be natives.
We were waited on by helpful, unharried salespeople.  Free gift wrapping was graciously offered.  And we found bargains.
We never had trouble finding a parking place.  There always was one right near where we were going.
A five o'clock we drove straight through town.  There was no bumper to bumper rush hour.
It takes as long to get from here to Princeton as it does for those crowds of tourists to get to the tri-cities from Chicago.
I have a feeling that towns like Princeton may be the next outpost for Fox Valley residents in search of a leisurely shopping day in the "suburbs".
I confess that when I moved here 18 years ago from Philadelphia, I protested the area's provincialism.  progress is wonderful, but now I admit a nostalgia for the Midwest ambiance of a town like Princeton and the way we were.