NEWS

Route 66 tourism plan interests business owners

Tim Landis

Route 66 was not a factor in Becky Hargett’s business plan. Stephanie Weber is counting on the historic road.

The owners, respectively, of Becky’s Barn, between Chatham and Auburn, and the Route 66 Sonrise Donuts and Diner in Springfield made it a point to be at Monday’s announcement of an ambitious statewide plan for tourism and economic development along Illinois’ share of the road.

“We have a gold mine here in Springfield. We have Route 66, we have Abraham Lincoln, we have the presidential museum. ... We have so much to draw here, it is just amazing,” said Weber, who added “Route 66” to the name when she took over the cafe early this year.

The cafe opened in 1947 on then-Route 66.

Weber said Route 66 buffs account for only a “small percentage” of her coffee-bar and diner business, but that word has begun to spread through the Internet and Route 66 promotions like the one outlined on Monday.

Hargett, whose antique and collectibles business is on a restored section of the road off Illinois 4, said much of her Route 66 business is international.

“We’ve had people from Spain, a couple from the UK and Austria,” said Hargett. “It’s a beautiful stretch of road to take a picture, and a lot of times they’ll stop at the end of lane.”

Hargett said additional signage would help, but Route 66 traffic did not figure into her decision to open the business.

Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project executive director Patty Ambrose said it could take years to implement master-plan recommendations that range from a Route 66 visitors’ center in Springfield to statewide, digital downloads on the road history and tourism stops.

“It’s really a roadmap. It’ll be a year-by-year process that we develop this,” Ambrose said.

Federal funds paid 80 percent of the $210,000 cost of the master-plan study, and the heritage project has applied for a $475,000 federal grant to pay for the next phase of installing wayside exhibits at Route 66 landmarks.

There are about 400 miles of Route 66 in Illinois between Chicago and metro East St. Louis, as the route shifted to several different corridors from 1926 to 1977. The major corridors through Springfield include Second, Sixth and Ninth streets.

Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 or tim.landis@sj-r.com.

See the master plan highlights on the Web: http://tinyurl.com/rt66plan.