Considering a move to Decatur but unsure whether it’s a place for you? If you come for a job interview, you’ll hear about Decatur’s selling points and why it’s such a great place to live. But is it true?
I moved to Decatur nearly 14 years ago to attend Millikin University as a college freshman. Upon graduating, I left the Midwest for the East Coast. One year later, I came back to Decatur, a place that had unexpectedly become my home. Here is my personal, unconventional, and honest look at life in Decatur.
Size: Small enough to run into familiar faces at the grocery store and to know community leaders firsthand. Big enough to offer a regional airport, two country clubs, Scovill Zoo, Richland Community College, Millikin University, the Children’s Museum of Illinois, live theatre, museums, and art galleries. With 76,000 people, we are neither a small town nor a big city. We are a small big-city.
Cost of Living: As far as national averages go, the cost of living in Decatur is lower than the norm. That means that groceries, utilities, and transportation cost a little less here than most other places. Where we boast the biggest savings is in the housing market. Tally up the square footage and amenities of homes in Decatur to those in other cities and you’ll quickly realize your family’s growth potential both inside the home and in the backyard.
Conveniences: When you move to town but find that your coffee fixings didn’t, we have two Walmart supercenters, Target, and multiple Walgreens and CVS locations. We also have two Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, a Panera Bread Co., and several locally owned coffee stops to get you restocked and refueled.
Shopping: You can stop into one of several department stores at Forsyth’s Hickory Point Mall, or you can experience retail charm through our locally owned shops where small-town personal service meets the look and feel of big-city boutiques. Some of my personal favorites: The Brass Horn, once a haberdashery that has expanded to include women’s lines; Giggles, a fun, unique gift shop that can personalize nearly anything; Millie and Bo’s Barkey, an upscale pet boutique complete with health-conscious pet treats baked in store; The Decanter, where our local connoisseurs impart their knowledge of imported and local wines during regular tastings.
Dining: Like most small towns, we have our share of diners and mom & pop stops. Just as cities juxtaposed by interstates have mall-chain restaurants and ample fast-food options, so do we. In the spirit of many big cities, we have a broad spectrum of restaurants: gourmet, ethnic, steak, seafood, fusion, breakfast, bakeries, and bar food. Some of the local favorites include Paco’s Sol Bistro, one of 15 restaurants in Downtown Decatur offering American/Southwestern fusion and great service; the Beach House, a locally owned seafood restaurant that sits beachside, offers lake views while dining indoors or out, and is complete with an oyster bar that is “shucking awesome”; The Wharf, located on the south side of town, is a hidden gem and true local hangout – get a horseshoe while you’re there (Philadelphia has cheesesteak – Central Illinois has horseshoes).
Healthcare: We have two hospitals, Decatur Memorial Hospital (DMH) and St. Mary’s Hospital, offering advanced sub-specialty medical care that rivals big city hospitals. DMH, for instance, offers molecular imaging for prostate cancer that is only available at one other institution in the country – Mayo Clinic. Because Decatur’s healthcare systems have such big draws from surrounding communities, it is common for our physicians to have treated multiple generations within one family, just as it is common for patients to know their physicians on a first-name basis from community involvement outside of the hospitals.
Water: We’re home to Lake Decatur, our 2,800 acre water source that is surrounded by the city. Thanks to its central location and size, you can conveniently fish, participate in the local Yacht Club, or use any of the five public boat launches to spend the day out on the water. It is a prime spot to watch the 4th of July fireworks show or listen to the annual Labor Day Pops shoreside concert put on by the Millikin Decatur Symphony Orchestra, and it makes for great views of the sunrise or sunset.
Nature: Overseen and funded by the Decatur Park District, we have over 40 parks and nature areas within Decatur. They include bike paths, paved and natural walking trails, pavilions, playgrounds, ponds, sports facilities, golf courses, and public boat launches. If you really want to get in touch with nature, go to Rock Springs Conservation Area and be sure to walk through (and breathe in) Pine Forest.
Travel: When driving through town, you can get anywhere in Decatur within fifteen minutes. Rather than stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper, gridlocked traffic, we have easy drives any time of day or night. When traveling out of town, we have a small regional airport with incredible fares. Plus, we’re located centrally within the state. In an hour or less you can drive to Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, or Springfield, our state’s capital, to travel by Amtrak. Or, you can get in your car and be on the interstate within minutes.
All in all, Decatur is a community of hardworking people who are as willing to lend a helping hand to strangers as they are to close friends. Rather than the hustle and bustle or anonymity of big cities, we offer a more laid back approach to life amongst friendly faces. If this sounds like a place for you? Welcome home.
Contributed by Jamie Muscato, Limitless Ambassador, and the creative mind behind Commode to Joy.