daveheinzel.com  Since 2000
by Dave Heinzel, February 13, 2014

Living in downtown Springfield

My lease is up at the end of the month, and I’ll be moving out of my apartment. I’ve been here for a year and a half, and I’ve learned to both love and hate living in downtown Springfield.

First, the good. The Farmer’s Market. Festivals. Joe Gallina’s Pizza. Obed & Isaac’s. The feeling, albeit tenuous, that I live in the heart of a bustling city.

There was a morning last spring that perfectly embodied everything I love about living downtown. It was the first almost-hot day of the season, and there was some sort of festival going on downtown. I had already walked to the Farmer’s Market. The apartment windows were open, warm air was gently blowing through the apartment and I was rocking out to a record I had just purchased at Recycled Records. I loaded a roll of Ilford film into my camera and headed out.

Last Fourth of July, I climbed to the roof of my building with some friends, where we had an amazing view of the fireworks. It was one of those rare magical nights that sticks with you.


I always thought living in downtown would be fun, and when I found myself looking for an apartment in 2012, I figured it was a good time to give it a try.

The apartment market in Springfield leaves quite a bit to be desired, to put it mildly. The selection seems to range from large outdated apartment complexes to small outdated apartment complexes. There’s not a lot in-between.

Downtown apartment options aren't any better. It’s as if there was an apartment boom in Springfield 30-40 years ago, and nothing much has been added or updated since. If you’re looking for stained, cheap carpeting and kitchen cabinets made out of glorified cardboard, you’re in luck. If you enjoy the unavoidable scent of secondhand smoke or old people, you'll feel right at home.

Finding an apartment in Springfield that you’re not embarrassed to show to your family and friends is difficult. That’s why I jumped when I heard that there might be an opening at the building I currently rent, and it’s why I increased my budget and pursued that lead for months until signing the lease. I’ve loved living here and would probably stay longer if it was more affordable.

But living downtown has been a bit of a disappointment in other areas. Case in point: where I sit right now as I type this blog. Today has been the first above-freezing day in a long time, and the city feels alive. I loaded my laptop in my book bag and walked to Gallina’s Pizza, where I had pictured myself spending a lovely evening of pizza, local color and blogging.

Alas, they were closed. A paper note was taped on the door.

Walking around, it was hard to find a place that would actually take my money and give me dinner. I ended up at Jimmy John’s. They make delicious sandwiches, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the most inspiring place to write. And I’m the only customer here.

The lack of open restaurants is a problem. There are several that are only open for lunch. Or on weekdays. Or when the wind blows. It is a regular occurrence to walk to a place only to find it closed. After so many times, you just stop trying and head to the west side instead.

Did you know there’s a Starbucks downtown? It’s great. Unless it’s after dark. Then they’re closed.

Downtown needs more open businesses. Open businesses need more people. It’s a chicken and egg problem, and I’m tired of feeling like an egg. Or a chicken. We have way too many vacant offices and not nearly enough quality apartments. And I don’t mean fancy. I just mean not totally ghetto. Something with nice flooring and clean paint that doesn’t feel like it’s been vacant since the Reagan administration.

Another problem is dealing with my car. My building doesn’t have a lot, so I park on the street at a meter. This is usually not a problem, since I’m at work most of the time when the meters are in effect. But it means when I have a sick day or want to ride my bike to work, I have to feed twenty quarters into the meter. Which means I don’t ride my bike to work.

And driving downtown is a joke. The few routes on which they attempt to time the lights are designed to get you through downtown as fast as possible, and it seems to be done at the expense of anyone doing business downtown. The excess of one-way streets and unnecessary traffic lights makes the city appear to have been designed for substantially more traffic than we actually have. Fortunately, I haven’t been pulled over for treating the red lights like stop signs (or yield signs) at night, a habit born out of necessity when living downtown.

Another little treat of downtown living is the symphony of train horns that echo throughout the empty streets, especially in the middle of the night. I like trains, and I’ve become somewhat immune to their sweet siren song. But good lord. Do we really need all that racket to warn the raccoon and two squirrels that a train is slowly approaching?

Tonight while searching for an open business to park myself and write this blog, I encountered another staple of downtown living: the panhandler. It doesn’t matter that panhandling downtown is actually illegal. It is rare that I don’t run into someone asking for money almost every time I'm out. It’s just disappointing that when a stranger strikes up a conversation in downtown Springfield, it usually ends with them asking for money.

Overall though, living downtown has been a positive experience. I’ve enjoyed the ample photo opportunities that walking around has provided, and I’ve met some interesting people. Downtown has come a long way since I was a kid, but it has a long way to go. I hate to contribute to its vacancy by moving elsewhere, but I will continue to support the businesses that choose to take a chance and stay open past 5 o’clock. I hope you all will do the same. We need more chickens. And eggs.


Your analogies are delicious.

Feb 13, 2014, 9:33 P.M.

AThank you for not harping on my jimmy johns! I too wish we made money at night so I could have respectable sales vs. Labor, but it is what is

david hamilton
Feb 13, 2014, 11:33 P.M.

You guys are great, and I'm glad you're open at night. I wish more people would support the few businesses that do stay open downtown.

Feb 14, 2014, 12:15 A.M.

There's a great Italian restaurant on the square - Mangia - that is open until 10 pm but the parking garage closes at 7 pm. Craziness!! Seems like the city could do something to rectify this problem. They want us to come downtown and support the businesses but don't provide enough parking. I think they could do much better.

Nancy H.
Feb 14, 2014, 12:41 P.M.