Less than 10 miles from Starved Rock State Park is a downtown with quirky shops, a popular pizza joint and even a spa.
Peru, population 10,300, is adjacent to La Salle, both of which are along the Illinois River. The towns developed because of the waterway, a branch of the Mississippi River.
Peru was long known as the Clock City, because of the company that became known as Westclox, founded in 1884 and famous for its innovative worker benefits. It closed in 1980.
In downtown Peru is a courtyard featuring a statue of Peru native Maud Powell, America’s first violinist to achieve international standing. Born in 1867, she trained in Europe with the greatest violinists.
In 1995, Peru unveiled the statue of Powell playing the violin along Fourth Street. A Maud Powell Musical Festival is held annually.
One downtown fixture is the Peru Pizza House, 1702 Fourth St., a family business that started in 1977. Twenty years later, a fire destroyed the building in 1997, closing the business for six months during the renovation.
“We’re a downtown staple,” manager John Kapetaneas said while taking a break. “People coming to town often ask how close things are to Peru Pizza House. We are a marker.”
Nothing much has changed at the restaurant since it opened; it has stuck with a formula that works, Kapetaneas said.
“We have the same recipe since 1977, and we’re running the place the same way. It’s family-oriented,” he said. “We also serve gyros and subs. We’ve won multiple awards.”
For those who want to relax after a hike at Starved Rock, Butterfly Landing Medi-Spa, 1631 Fourth St., may be a good choice.
“We’ve had quite a few people from out of town,” spa employee Mary Jo Brust said.
Founded 14 years ago, the spa offers massages, waxing, laser treatments, injectables, among other things. A sign in the waiting area reads, “Emerge transformed.”
Down the street from the spa is Groovy Dog Records, 2013 Fourth St., which opened in July. And it really does sell records, which are becoming increasingly popular after suffering a decline for two decades.
Co-owned by Bill Dvorak and Denise Stern, the shop features a variety of music — from rock to rap, from classical to punk. It has a sitting area in the front, with chairs in loud colors from decades past.
Digital forms of music, Dvorak said, compresses parts of the sounds spectrum, reducing the quality of music.
The store even sells portable record players — the kind with a handle that you can bring to a friend’s house to listen to your favorite jams.
The store attracts a range of customers, not just older types nostalgic for the way music used to be played. The store’s youngest customer, Dvorak said, is a preteen who buys records such as Al Jolson and Frank Sinatra. And many 20-somethings also frequent the shop, he said.
In Great Britain, he noted, the amount of money spent on vinyl records exceeded that spent on digital downloads. That’s a trend he hopes spreads to the United States — much like Beatlemania crossed the Atlantic in the ’60s.
“I’ve been collecting records since I was a teen,” Dvorak said. “I kept buying them, even when they went out of style.”
Beginning: Settled in 1830s
Mayor: Scott Harl
— Story by David Giuliani, photos by Tom Sistak