Real festivals, real food, real fun, real Woodstock.
Something is always happening in Woodstock. Enjoy the prettiest town square around. Enjoy a show at the Opera House, where Orson Welles made his debut as a director eighty years ago. Shop at the Farmer's Market (held every Tuesday and Saturday), named one of the best in the state. Enjoy berry picking at McCann's or Heider's Berry Farm.
The county seat for McHenry County, Woodstock is 47 miles from Chicago and accessible via Metra or the interstate (exit at Route 47 off I-90 and head north). Here, you will find historic charm, from Victorian architecture to Orson Welles to the birthplace of Dick Tracy. You can shop at locally-owned boutiques, dine at numerous restaurants, relax at one of our many bars, and enjoy live music indoors and out.
Find What's Real in Woodstock.
The Woodstock Farmer's Market -- Producing Local Flavor For 30 Years
Keith Johnson isn't much for attention. A key driver of the Woodstock Farmer's Market for the past twenty-plus years, he simply wants to connect local food producers with satisfied customers.
"There is so much satisfaction seeing a good product go out to people who appreciate the product," says the soft-spoken Johnson. A "producer's only market" that is recognized as one of the top farmer's markets in the state--and country--the Woodstock Farmer's Market has been connecting local farmers and makers with fresh, healthy food for 30 years.
What started as a Saturday morning market now spans Tuesday's and Saturday's from 8am to 1pm May through October. And in the winter, the market moves indoors on Saturdays from November through April at the McHenry County Fairgrounds.
Johnson got involved in the mid-90s when the market was losing money and in danger of disappearing. Along with Sue Klemm and Jean Niemann, Johnson stepped up to take on the task of turning around and growing the Woodstock Farmer's Market through the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce. Market rules were established, spaces laid out and budgets established. (In 2004, the market became its own entity.) Today, the market brings together about 40 vendors on Saturday's and about 30 on Tuesday's with hundreds coming from all over the area to buy fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, baked goods--even woolen products, flowers and hand-crafted hanging baskets.
One new vendor is Olano's Empanadas. Husband and wife duo Alex and Les Olano started selling their Peruvian treats in 2013 based on a homemade recipe from Alex's grandmother. They have taken that recipe and evolved it into 14 different flavors they now sell. "The atmosphere at the Woodstock Farmer's Market is amazing. We love the variety of vendors at the Woodstock Farmer's Market, and that everyone has to make what they sell here - not all markets are like that. Everyone has a passion about their products."
Another vendor, Van Laars Fruit Farm, has been a Woodstock Farmer's Market favorite for five-plus years, providing everything from freshly grown strawberries to tomatoes, sweet corn, apples and -- new this year -- freshly baked European sourdough bread.
The Market's only co-op vendor is Sitka Salmon based out of Alaska. Currently in its first full year at the Market, the co-op is made up of a community of family-owned fisheries. All fish are filleted, then individually vacuum-sealed and flash-frozen to -60 degrees Fahrenheit. You can find wild Alaskan king salmon, black bass, Dungeness crab, yelloweye, and more every Tuesday and Saturday on the historic Woodstock Square.
Johnson is proud that the Farmer’s Market now offers a matching LINK card program. The LINK card enables those on food stamps (people making roughly $20,000 per year or less) to shop at the Farmer's Market for fresh food with a $25 match. "I love this program because it benefits the people who need it most," says Johnson. "The poorest among us typically have the hardest time getting fresh, healthy food as a staple in their diet."
According to Woodstock City Councilman and Promote Woodstock Board Member Maureen Larson, Johnson has helped create “not just a market, but an experience."
"High quality foods, fresh fruits and vegetables and beautiful things presented by the people who make and grow them with such pride - it's the perfect antidote to the faceless retail experiences that are more typical these days,” says Larson. “A stroll around the historic Square with a cup of coffee, a hot empanada in hand and a bag full of produce for our own Farm-to-Table dinner - that's a perfect morning."
So what keeps Johnson engaged and excited? He says the plan for the Woodstock Farmer’s Market is to keep growing, bringing in vendors whose passion is to create quality products. “I like to see our vendors grow,” says Johnson. “These are hard-working families who are following a dream – seeing them succeed makes this all worthwhile.”
Niko’s Red Mill Thrives on Authenticity, Service
If you pass by Niko's Red Mill Tavern on a weekday afternoon or evening, you may notice that parking spots appear hard to come by.
It's not for lack of parking spots - Niko's has expanded the parking lot three times in six years - it's because Red Mill patrons rarely want to leave.
"Once you're here, you can easily stay until closing time in conversations with friends," says owner Niko Kanakaris. "The atmosphere here is great. We cater everyone from bikers to families to farmers; it's a diverse mix people that all get along."
Located right off of Route 47 at 1040 Lake Ave in Woodstock, Niko's Red Mill Tavern is a classic wood-lined roadhouse with great burgers and cold drinks. Want both? "The Painkiller" bloody mary comes with a mini-slider on top.
The man known simply as Niko took over the Red Mill Tavern (formerly Peg and Ted's Red Mill Tavern) in 2011, his first restaurant since the recession hit. "I owned four restaurants when the economy crashed - and I lost everything. The Red Mill Tavern was the first place where I started to rebuild myself."
Once purchased, Niko operated with the same space for a few months with little success, only bringing in around $200 per day. He decided to close the restaurant for 45 days to completely overhaul and remodel the space, and once reopened, brought a new culture to the Red Mill Tavern.
"The idea was to turn the Red Mill into an old Wisconsin bar, somewhere where you could hang out all day. Nothing fancy, just cozy and authentic with great food and service," he says.
While cozy and authentic, it also turned into a local live music hotspot with an outdoor stage that transforms Woodstock into Austin, TX on a night-to-night basis during the summer. Live music can be found at the Red Mill Friday through Sunday from May to October.
"We built the outdoor stage a year after the major remodeling. We went from having bands play on a hay wagon that rocked back and forth to an outdoor stage which can host up to 500 people for a live outdoor concert. We have acts day in and day out that play at Country Thunder and open for big country artists," he says.
"We want to be the Woodstock's version of Joe's on Weed St."
To go along with building improvements and adding live music, Niko changed how he approached the Red Mill patrons. "We make sure we visit with each and every customer that comes in, and thank them for spending their time with us. You can go anywhere and be ignored -- the extra touch and acknowledgement with your customers goes a long way."
When asked about what makes Woodstock different, Niko says, "It's the people - you get different people in Woodstock. You know everyone here. They're hard working people. And they choose to spend their limited free time to come hang out with us at our restaurant. We are very fortunate that the City of Woodstock and its great police department has given us the opportunity to build a great successful establishment in their town. Without their support , it wouldn't work."
Creativity Rules, and MATRIX 4 Grows to 50 Employees
"How do you create an environment where people thrive?"
Patricia Miller, who took over her grandfather's Woodstock-based plastic injection molding company MATRIX 4 in 2014, puts people before profit. "If you engage your people, create a purpose and a culture, it drives results and ultimately profit," says the CEO of MATRIX 4, a company with Woodstock roots tracing back to 1976.
"Manufacturing is creative," says Patricia Miller, CEO. "Every day, we are making."
Indeed, Miller is succeeding when others are struggling. Her turn-it-on-its head approach has garnered attention from the National Association of Manufacturers, which invited her to join the Washington, D.C.-based organization's board. Last Friday, Miller was at the White House meeting with President Trump as part of the NAM contingent. The message: “We are optimistic about the future; however, we know there is much work to be done, not only on regulatory reform but also on infrastructure investment, workforce development and comprehensive tax reform.”
When Miller took over the company her grandfather had started and run, the company had but a handful of employees in a 90,000-square foot facility at 610 E. Judd Street, just off Route 47. Today, MATRIX 4 makes products for well-known brands, Fortune 500 brands among others, and has grown to 50 employees running three shifts five days a week. (Miller rents 10,000 square feet to Reclaimed, which takes reclaimed wood and makes furniture.)
After the 34-year-old left San Diego after working for Eli Lilly and a biotech company, Miller returned home to her native Crystal Lake, buying the business's assets and working to reinvent the culture. "We have created a thriving environment," says Miller. "We're nimble. Scrappy. Start-up style. We developed a passion for creating, and a work hard-play hard mentality."
Miller says that, in addition to an open office environment and a design-forward office vibe, the team routinely socializes to grow the culture and promote teamwork. "We have dance parties, listen to music, have drinks, play sports, engage in Woodstock’s Keep Woodstock Beautiful day of service and celebrate the small and big wins. It makes everyone feel valuable."
Miller says MATRIX 4 is not only establishing itself as a creative "maker", it is growing quickly. Sales this year should grow to be close to $10 million in the cosmetics, automotive and healthcare segments, all with no sales team save for Miller.
Miller sees Woodstock as a "gem box". "The city has all the right elements that can be magical--the town square, an arts community, open-minded people--and a high quality of life you don't find everywhere." Passionate about Woodstock and McHenry County, Miller emphasizes the need to focus on innovation, creativity and fostering a progressive, independent culture to drive success.
“I look at Brent at Reclaimed, Mary and Sara at Ethereal Confections, Tom Dougherty at Studio 2015, Darrin and Alberto at D&A Apothecary, and what we’re doing at the high school level with our INCubator course. Those are the things I get excited about for Woodstock - the companies and individuals that are passionate about their work--and the bright future that is to come."
Down 2 Earth & Laddybuck Leather Bring Creative Streak to Square
To Nina Huffman and fiancé Jason Neveu, community starts with a simple smile.
The owners of Down 2 Earth and Laddybuck Leather on the Square are makers, craftsman, artists and purveyors of peace. "We want to change people's days for the better," says Jason.
Nina, who grew up in Woodstock, and Jason (who is from Wheaton) have fashioned an eclectic boutique that blends Native American jewelry, antiques, minerals and crystals, loose herbs for tea, handmade leather goods and unique gifts.
"We are very passionate about natural and handmade products."
Indeed, the two mine the creative streak that is Real Woodstock. Jason is a craftsman, using 19th century tools to hand make leather goods, all custom and all to order. "I love making what you want but can’t find elsewhere--aesthetically, quality, functionality of piece," says Jason. "To hand a person a wallet or belt or key chain that you just made and they look like a kid on Christmas morning, how often does that happen? That's so cool."
While the store opened September 2014, Nina had her eyes on the storefront for years. "We would come to the Square, get dinner, coffee, ice cream and sit across the street and just look at the storefront," she recalls.
"I grew up a few blocks from here and my parents had a store next to the Woodstock Theatre that sold Native American jewelry," Nina says. "So this is my spiritual center".
Adds Jason: "We try to honor our history. Irish. Native American. Woodstock. So we incorporate a bit of everything we think people will love, and we're always adding something new and different."
From two dollars to thousands of dollars, Down 2 Earth and Laddybuck Leather offer something for everyone's price point. Says Jason: "For people to spend the money they spend here and so thankful and smiling the whole time, that feels great."
The two are proud to call Woodstock, and the Square, home. Says Jason: "I have traveled all over. There is a sense of community here. It’s like family. On the whole, if you need help from someone here you have it. You can count on your community. That’s what makes Woodstock special."
Lighting of the Square
A Family Holiday Tradition on the Historic Woodstock Square
Real Woodstock is about enjoying the holidays with family and friends in one of the prettiest towns anywhere.
Woodstock's annual family holiday tradition, the Lighting of the Square, takes place on Friday, November 25 on the historic Woodstock Square.
At 7:00 PM, the flip of a giant switch will illuminate thousands of festive lights on the charming Woodstock Square, heralding the true beginning of Victorian Christmas and holiday celebrations in Woodstock.
Come enjoy family holiday festivities beforehand; there will be caroling, Santa & Mrs. Claus sightings, a Gingerbread House Walk at the Old Court House Arts Center, hot drinks and treats at the fine restaurants and shops on the Square, and more.
Woodstock Harley-Davidson Fosters Independent Culture
Real Woodstock is about embracing your independent streak. Freedom. Passion. Sounds a lot like the Harley-Davidson brand.
It’s hard to find anyone with more passion for motorcycles than Doug Jackson, co-owner and general manager of Woodstock Harley-Davidson (located at 2235 S. Eastwood Dr. off Route 47).
Along with his partners Arnold Horwich and Tracy Lancaster, Jackson believes the Harley motorcycle and brand create community.
“Most people want to be a part of something cool, raw and authentic,” says Jackson, who has been in the motorcycle industry nearly 40 years. “Harley riders bond over having that independence, that free spirit."
Jackson says Harley and Woodstock share such qualities as an independent streak and a strong customer service ethic.
When he and his partners made the decision to move to a new location just south (and across the street) from their old home on Route 47, he says the city was "nothing less than terrific helping us with this building." At 100,000 square feet, the new location is three times the size of the old spot on 47 and Route 14.
"Woodstock has a small community-type feel. It's hometown. You can call the mayor and the city manager and they're great people," Jackson says. "There is a passion in this community you don't see everywhere.
"It's the way I want our customers to feel when they come in. We made a bigger investment than most would. We're out in the country with a big building that has a country feel like Woodstock."
The dealership has grown to be one of the country's most successful, consistently ranking in the top 20 dealerships in bike sales, and in the top five in service year after year. The secret: the relationships they forge with their customers.
“We draw customers from really far away because of our service department; If you do a great job servicing the bike, you earn the opportunity to get people to buy another bike from you. You earn their trust and respect.”
Jackson emphasizes that the relationship doesn’t end with buying and servicing a bike from Woodstock Harley; they have created a culture that brings the motorcycle community together at their monthly events. Events draw big crowds and enthusiastic participation, such as Little Angels Annual Pledge Run, a motorcycle ride fundraiser for children and young adults with severe disabilities and complex medical needs, and the Annual Patriot Ride, which benefits Honor America’s Valor and the Marine Corps League of IL.
Woodstock Harley’s upcoming “Open House For Law Enforcement” on Sunday, November 6 will take place from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Designed to show support for law enforcement, the event includes car safety checks, a K9 demonstration and more.
“We have added events and group rides that support great causes meaningful to Woodstock and the motorcycle community. That’s what is awesome about motorcyclists – they are real authentic people. It’s as raw as it gets.”
Jackson loves Woodstock and the connection between Harley and the community. "You go to the Woodstock Square and the people are welcoming – you don’t see that everywhere.”
“You can actually feel and see the energy in the community. It just feels right.”
All Seasons Orchard Grows Into Woodstock Fall Favorite
Real Woodstock is about making your dreams become reality.
More than twenty years ago, James and Sue Hong discovered a 150-acre corn field that was for sale in rural Woodstock, IL. They jumped at the opportunity to farm this land and moved their family from Arlington Heights to Woodstock.
Teaching themselves about farming by trial and error, the Hongs planted evergreen trees, various nursery stock, and 30 acres of apple trees. It took nearly seven years for the Hongs to harvest their first crop of apples. Gradually, the farm evolved into a thriving orchard attracting visitors from all over the Chicagoland area each fall.
Now in its 10th season of picking apples, All Seasons Orchard has over 14,000 apple trees and 12 varieties of apples including the area's largest supply of the very popular Honeycrisp apple.
"Every year something is added to the orchard," says James' son Eddie, who now works alongside his parents and sister, Esther, at the orchard. "At first we just had apple trees, then we added a small gift shop, then a 10-acre corn maze and pumpkin patch, and eventually a full kitchen so we could serve food."
The Hongs recently completed a new building where they can press their own apple cider, complete with a full service bakery. "It's unlike anything we've seen anywhere," says Esther, "Everything is visible -- you can see us press the cider, bake the apple pies and apple cider donuts, and make caramel from scratch."
All Seasons patrons can also find a petting zoo, a pumpkin patch (complete with a pumpkin cannon, pumpkin bowling and checkers), wagon rides and many other family friendly activities. They even host a number of weddings throughout the year.
All Seasons Orchard is one of six apple orchards in Woodstock, which is more than any other town in Illinois. Autumn lovers can spend a fall morning picking fresh apples and pumpkins, then hit the historic Woodstock Square for shopping at one of the many boutiques and for a show at the Woodstock Theatre.
"We have grown in our 20-plus years mostly from word of mouth," says Eddie. "People come out from the City and spend a fall day in Woodstock picking apples and visiting the Square. On Monday they're around the watercoolers at work telling their co-workers how much fun they had in Woodstock."
Gavers Barndance - A Big Party for a Great Cause
Steve Gavers loves a good party. So do 2,500 of his closest friends.
On Saturday, July 16, you can be a "friend of Steve" at the 17th Annual Gavers Barndance, held under a massive tent at Woodstock's Emricson Park.
"We are 'country' in Woodstock. This is how people met and talked in a rural era. This event is a throwback," he says. "We couldn't find a barn big enough to hold everyone, but people seem to have a great time."
Gavers, a local entrepreneur who took over the family contracting business from his father, hit upon the Barndance idea as a way to build community--and to give back after he was diagnosed with cancer 22 years ago. "I was lucky because I was cured," he says. "But I don't want anyone to go through what so many go through."
Over the years, the Barndance has raised over $6 million for cancer research.
Gavers, though, just wants people to have fun. No stuffy gala is Barndance. No rubber chicken is served for dinner. "The Barndance is just a rocking good time for one night," he quips. "The other 364 days is when the work gets done to find a cure for cancer."
For $50, "friends of Steve" are treated to live music (including a surprise special guest band), dinner, cold beer and dancing.
"What makes this unique is our relationship with Woodstock," he says. "We work with the city to make this happen. A thousand thank you's isn't enough. They put a lot of sweat and back power and there is no quit, from the mayor to the police department to parks and recs to the city administration helping--this is what we are all about."
"In Woodstock, we are all about working together to overcome a negative. We could have given up. We didn't. And we want others to believe that."
Gavers is a reflection of what Real Woodstock is about – bringing together the community with passion, creativity and charm.
"Why Woodstock? It's my home. It's where I was born and raised. Played Little League here. Spent Friday nights on the Square going to the movies. It was a time of innocence that has deep roots in me and the people here. Everyone wants to make your town as special as you can."
Says Gavers: "I am Woodstock through and through."
Grace Farm Studios Brings Woodstock Back to Nature
One is a surfer, the other an attorney. One is a craftsman, the other an artist. Both are now farmers.
It's been about fifteen years since Mike and Ann found their three-acre farm--complete with a circa 1851 farmhouse and barn--and settled into a small town, rural way of life.
Today, "Farmer Mike" and "Farmer Ann," as they're known by their customers, own Grace Farm Studios, an organic u-pick berry farm that encourages visitors to relax and connect with nature.
Ann, the attorney, is originally from North Carolina. Mike grew up surfing in Virginia and built custom homes. The two met and married in Chicago, "spending a fortune on rent," according to Ann, in Wrigleyville, until they discovered the restful countryside of McHenry County and Woodstock.
Visitors to Grace Farm are treated to a relaxing, back-to-nature experience just five minutes from the historic Woodstock Square. "We grow more than berries," says Ann. "We promote conservation with our farming practices. We try to complement – not compete with – our neighbors and fellow farmers.”
Adds Ann: "People want to be more in touch with the whole of nature. They don't come here to just pick a raspberry."
Working with grant funding from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mike and Ann developed a formal "conservation plan" that intentionally preserves features of the savanna prairie, such as the farm's rich soil, native grasses and forbs, wildlife habitat, and groundwater. "We have implemented a comprehensive integrated pest management plan, a really refined plan, which essentially is at the core of the farm and has become a destination/business driver in itself," says Ann.
The 2009 NRCS grant allowed Grace Farm to pilot test high tunnel raspberry production. The three-year pilot test was so successful that an additional custom block of high tunnels was installed in 2013. More recently, Grace Farm has invested throughout the property in an "edible landscape" of aronia berries, gooseberries, native hazelnut trees, elderberries, service berries ("saskatoons"), red currants, and small fruit trees. This year, Mike and Ann planted arctic kiwi vines and five varieties of lingonberries, both of which are well suited for the Woodstock area environment.
In addition to farming, Ann creates fiber art using wool from the farm's flock of Icelandic sheep, while Mike designs and builds rustic furniture with locally harvested hardwoods. Both are inspired by the natural beauty of the area and the strong community that took root here in the early 1800's.
According to Ann, five years ago their barn became the first "quilted" barn in McHenry County and was a featured stop on the Northern Illinois Quilt Fest and tour sponsored by the McHenry County Historical Society. Then in 2012, Ann and Mike hosted the first annual "Rustic Decorative Arts Exhibition" in their barn with Robert Blue and Susan Galloway of Blue Eagle Pottery (just down the street from Grace Farm) and Scott and Sue Csanda of Ohana Farms (on Millstream Road). The 2016 Rustic Decorative Arts Exhibition is planned for the weekend after Thanksgiving at Grace Farm.
Visitors to Grace Farm often bring blankets and picnic baskets to create an afternoon experience. And with the Woodstock Square just a five minute drive from Grace Farm, a day in Woodstock is an easy experience to plan.
"When you come up to our place and get out of the car, you are our guest. You feel like you come to our home and you are welcome here. We are kid friendly. When you are out back you feel like you're in your own private paradise," she says. "There is a limit to our capacity for people and we try to live within that limit. We don't want to be overrun."
Of Woodstock, their adopted home, Ann says that she and Mike have been welcomed in Woodstock. "Woodstock is genuine. Authentic. Inclusive. Forward thinking."
"We love it here."
Grace Farm is open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and is located at 2719 Franklinville Road in Woodstock. To learn more, go to www.GraceFarmStudios.com.
Read Between the Lynes
Real Woodstock is about embracing creativity and finding your independent streak.
Local independent bookstore Read Between the Lynes captures the quaint, inviting hometown atmosphere of Woodstock from the moment you step in the door. Owner Arlene Lynes founded the store in 2005 on the Woodstock Square, and has grown into one of the most unique, successful independent bookstores in all of Illinois.
Read Between the Lynes isn't your ordinary bookstore; in addition to housing 7,000 books (best-sellers and local favorites), Lynes also offers educational children's toys, coffee, ice cream and a candy counter (a nod to the store's former tenant, Seasons by Peg), and hold numerous author meet and greets each month. RBTL is also home to the Real Woodstock Visitors Center, where locals and tourists alike can go to learn more about the great things to do in Woodstock, Illinois.
Stop in to Read Between the Lynes on your next visit to Woodstock - here you'll discover Woodstock's charm in the people you meet, and in the books you discover.
You can learn more about upcoming events on their website: ReadBetweentheLynes.com.
Dougherty Provides "Creative Energy" to Woodstock
At a time when most people are staring at retirement, Woodstock entrepreneur Tom Dougherty is just getting rolling. The owner of Studio 2015 and Dougherty Enterprises is in the midst of an expansion boom. In February, Dougherty, 66, bought a company, relocated its twenty employees to Woodstock and is in the process of buying a building in Woodstock to double the size of his jewelry design and manufacturing operations.
His passion for creating jewelry goes back forty-plus years. Dougherty took a metals course as a senior at Northern Illinois University, and became a high school teacher for 11 years before deciding to go into designing and making jewelry full-time from his 9x17 workshop.
In 1992, Dougherty bought the building at 110 Benton on the Woodstock Square, then bought 112 Benton. "We sold jewelry I designed and made," he recalls, "and over time we grew while the Square lost one, two, then three jewelers." Dougherty began manufacturing jewelry, too, and eventually he moved the manufacturing business into a building on the west edge of Woodstock, while the retail business moved to 11701 Catalpa, near the intersection of Routes 14 and 47, in 2007.
With 56 employees, Dougherty Enterprises designs and manufactures as many as 3,000 pieces of jewelry per week, and the company has grown into the country's leader in bereavement jewelry. One brand, Thumbies, makes keepsake jewelry designed to honor a loved one. Funeral homes collect fingerprints of a family's deceased loved one, which Thumbies turns into a metal pendant, charm, ring or cuff links. Dougherty plans to expand internationally in the Philippines, New Zealand, and South America.
A passionate advocate for Woodstock, Dougherty sits on the board of Promote Woodstock, the one-year-old public-private partnership that developed the Real Woodstock brand.
"Woodstock is in this wonderful transition and if we can keep the momentum and keep people's minds open to new concepts, nothing should stop it from becoming an even greater place to live," he says. "I am banking everything I own on Woodstock."
"I love the creative energy here," he adds, "We design, manufacture and build. I wouldn't be putting an investment into Woodstock if I didn't believe in it. We all need to pull and push together."
If so, Dougherty believes this 172-year-old community will continue to grow and prosper for another 172 years.
Woodstock Farmer's Market
Real Woodstock is about sharing fresh and locally grown food with friends and family.
Woodstock is home to the top-ranked Farmer's Market in Illinois. From May to October, come visit the Farmer's Market on the historic Woodstock Square on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 am-1 pm. Here you will find the freshest produce in the state, baked goods made daily, handmade arts and crafts, and beautiful greenery all year long.The Woodstock Farmer's Market is a producers only market, meaning everything you purchase is grown or produced by the vendor. Learn More
Learn more about the Market's vendors, live music performances, and weekly updates at www.WoodstockFarmersMarket.org.
Woodstock's King of Barbecue Driven to Perfection
It doesn't take long to figure out Jason Szmurlo is driven.
One conversation is all you need to know Szmurlo aims to be the best. The owner of BBQ King Smokehouse--just off the Square in downtown Woodstock at 125 East Calhoun Street--pursues perfection with a relentless zeal, whether it's the preparation of his soon-to-be-famous barbecue to the food presentation to the cleanliness of the washroom. "My Dad always taught me that whatever you do, do it right," Szmurlo says. "I want things done the right way."
The Woodstock resident (he came to Woodstock in the eighth grade) and fire fighter opened BBQ King four years ago to high praise. His ribs (St. Louis-style and Baby Back) have won awards, and his beef brisket, pork and smoked sausage are favorites. "We start with great meat and build on that flavor profile," he says.
Szmurlo uses only hickory to smoke his meats, and the sauces and dry rubs at BBQ King are Szmurlo's recipes. He even makes from-scratch soups using his own recipes.
Self-taught, Szmurlo pushes the boundaries with his menu. The Brisket Cheese Steak with onions, peppers and provolone is a customer favorite, as is his Fried Potato Salad, which sports bacon and mayonnaise on top of fried potatoes.
He also offers Woodstock Fries, smothered in your choice of meat, cheese sauce and barbecue sauce.
Open six days a week (forget Tuesdays, he is closed), BBQ King is quaint, charming and casual with a creative flair, perfect for Real Woodstock. It's also a family affair, as his wife and brother work alongside him at the restaurant.
"It was hard getting started," he recalls. "I remember where I came from, working 20 hours a day. I didn't know this would make it. We had to borrow $1,200 from a friend and hope to God it would work."
The year they opened, Szmurlo says, he would often be at the restaurant until 3am, then be back at 6am.
Now, with his systems in place and consistency achieved, Szmurlo is looking to expand. By end of 2016, he could have two more stores in the Chicago area, with another planned for 2017. While he declines to disclose the locations of his expanding BBQ king-ship, he pledges to tell folks he is proud to be from Woodstock, Illinois.
"Woodstock is my home," Szmurlo says. "It's great to be able to say we're from Woodstock."
Studio 2015 Jewelry
Studio 2015 Jewelry exemplifies Real Woodstock.
Located at 11701 Catalpa Lane in Woodstock, Studio 2015 Jewelry continues to be the most innovative retail jewelry store and design studio in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. With over 6,000 square feet of retail space, Studio 2015 offers a large inventory of diamonds, karat gold, platinum and silver jewelry, in addition to pearls, designer collections, watches, consignment pieces and more. Studio 2015 is open 6 days a week, but you can also shop extended inventory at www.studio2015.com anytime! Studio 2015 prides itself in offering “One of a Kind” custom jewelry, created at its independent jewelry manufacturing facility (also in Woodstock). If you can dream it, they can help you design it!
In addition to its retail store, Studio 2015 offers a unique event center; Facets Event Center is the perfect place to bring friends & family for your next gathering. Whether it be to celebrate an anniversary, a birthday, an upcoming wedding, the arrival of a new baby, a retirement or graduation (or anything else you can think of!), Studio 2015 has a unique and creative environment that is sure to “wow” your guests! They offer many attractive amenities, including over 1,500 square feet of event space (comfortably seating 80 guests), a gorgeous bar area (offering seating for an additional 20 guests), a custom wood fired pizza oven and commercial kitchen sure to satisfy your caterer's needs. Contact Studio 2015 for more information (815-337-2015).
Lovely Candy Offers Woodstock a "Smart Indulgence"
Of all the names one could pick for a candy company, why name it Lovely Candy?
"Well, it's named for my wife," says CEO Mike Nakamura.
Well played. The Crystal Lake resident started Lovely Candy in 2013 with his wife Jackie in response to her food allergies. "She loves red licorice, yet she couldn't eat it because of the gluten".
The 15-minute conversation at the kitchen table became a business six months later. Today, Lovely Candy offers its "smart indulgence" products to consumers via Target, CVS, Walgreens and other national retailers. Priced at retail from $1.49 to $4, Nakamura keeps the product ingredient profile "short": no preservatives, no soy products, gluten-free, non-GMO, no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial colors. "And some products are vegan," he says.
In addition to licorice, Lovely offers caramels, fruit chews, and fudge rolls. "The brand is built on better tasting confections with better for you ingredients," says Nakamura.
A serial entrepreneur, Nakamura also started and runs BEM Wireless, which produces consumer wireless products sold at such retailers as Sam's Club, Best Buy and Target.com. Both businesses are located in his building in Woodstock.
As for the future, Nakamura would like to see a Lovely Candy store on the historic, charming Woodstock square. He is also passionate about building community-driven businesses in the technology and food arenas and has joined a committee established by the McHenry County Economic Development Corp. "McHenry County has a tremendous upside," says Nakamura. "In Woodstock and McHenry County, we can be known for creating ideas, starting businesses and attracting talent and investment."
Woodstock Theatre a Part of Town's "Resurgence"
To Willis and Shirley Johnson, The Woodstock Theatre is like one of their children. One of thirteen “children" to be exact, including the Tivoli in Downers Grove, the Lake in Oak Park and the Lindo in Freeport. Like the Woodstock Theatre, they are classic downtown movie houses with charm and character.
Yet, while Shirley says they play no favorites—“That’s like asking which of your children you love the most” —it’s clear Woodstock and its theater just off the square holds a special place in their hearts.
“Woodstock is coming alive again,” says Willis, who bought the theater in 1988 with his wife and son Chris to be part of the Classic Cinemas stable. “It’s waking up, and we see the Woodstock Theatre as a key piece of the resurgence of downtown and the Square. You have the bookstore (Read Between the Lynes) doubling its space. New restaurants. And Woodstock is starting to tell people about this special place. You have to do that to grow.”
The Woodstock Theatre has eight screens, the largest featuring a resplendent dome—dating from the 1920’s--painstakingly restored by the Johnsons. In addition to showing the latest releases, the theater encourages family birthday parties with its dedicated party room along with an 31-seat screening room (or boutique auditorium) complete with reclining leather chairs.
The Woodstock Theater is also home to the Woodstock International Film Festival each fall, and March 13 to 15 will host a Harold Ramis Film Festival by screening Ghostbusters, Animal House and Stripes to honor the filmmaker who created Groundhog Day, which was filmed in Woodstock—and in part at the Woodstock Theatre. (On January 30 and 31, the Woodstock Theater will have a free showing of Groundhog Day at 10am as part of the City’s Groundhog Day celebration.)
“We try to be an anchor for downtown and a cultural hub for the community,” says Classic Cinemas marketing director Mark Mazrimas, who notes the theater is available for rent and hosts school groups, businesses and organizations. In November, the Woodstock Theater hosted a special screening of the Woodstock-produced documentary on Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould, who called Woodstock home.
To Willis Johnson, a movie theater is a wonderful blend of economic development, tourism and community builder. “We invite people downtown, and that helps during the day, the weekend and evenings,” he says, adding: “Downtown theaters are important. First dates. First kiss. First job. People need to be reminded of that and we need to be champions of downtown.”
Though the Johnsons don’t live in Woodstock, their energy, passion and excitement for Woodstock shines daily. “We love Woodstock and its charm, history and opportunity,” he says. “We’re your hometown theater.”
Woodstock Square 'Perfect' Setting For Dave's Woodstock Music
Why do small businesses matter?
To Dave Schmidt, owner of Dave’s Woodstock Music, it’s the combination of quality, value and a personal touch that makes for a personalized and special shopping experience at a small business.
Schmidt calls his two-year-old music store on the historic Woodstock Square the “Floyd’s Barber Shop of music stores”, a reference to the community-minded hangout on the old Andy Griffith TV show.
The spacious Dave’s Woodstock Music store features a comfortable couch, a number of stools and a Persian rug, all designed to make the store inviting. “I want people to feel comfortable and hang out here,” he says. He also offers free coffee, apple cider and hot chocolate to customers.
Schmidt’s store is also different because he carries brands not found in every store. “The big box stores carry whatever moves,” he says. “I spent years researching the best guitars that also provide great value”. Larrivee, an acoustic guitar maker, is one such brand, he says. “It’s a very high-end guitar handmade in the U.S. They’re the only guitar maker that has its own lumber mill and makes guitars from the finest wood, and sells the rest off to several major builders.” Dave’s Woodstock Music also carries brands G&L, Eastman, Schertler and Ibanez, among others. He is consistently one of the top sellers of these brands in the country.
In addition to selling music equipment, Schmidt offers guitar lessons (by area resident Dave Dalton) and Saturday piano lessons from local teacher Charlene Conklin.
Two years in, Schmidt says business continues to improve and that the Square is a “perfect setting for a music store because of the rich musical tradition in Woodstock”.
He stresses the importance of the personal touch that he, and other small business owners, offers, and welcomes beginners to experts at his music store. “I see a renaissance of people wanting to buy local, and we’re getting back to the importance of the personal touch. I love helping people find the song in their heart”.
Mary Ervin and Sara Miller are aiming to put their chocolate, and Woodstock, on the map.
The term “Real Woodstock” is more than a headline or a marketing theme. It represents a spirit of creativity, of independence, and an authentic sense of community.
The owners of Ethereal Confections, Mary Ervin and Sara Miller, are terrific examples of “Real Woodstock”. Not only do they celebrate “local”, they are spreading their chocolate—and the Woodstock name—around the world. More than 200 stores across the U.S., Canada and Mexico sell their product, and they ship all over the world via their web site.
Says Ervin: “Our long-term vision is to be a positive force, and to bring delicious and sustainable products to the world.”
The chocolatier opened on the Woodstock Square nearly five years ago with the goal of creating foods that are fresh, flavors that are versatile, and chocolate that is crafted by hand. Today, their café, located across the square from their first shop, is a community gathering spot morning, noon and night. In addition to the chocolate—made by hand on premise—Ethereal offers coffee, tea, baked goods, small appetizers, lunch, and cocktails, beer and wine in the evening.
Ethereal’s chocolate, which includes such varieties as truffles, bars, barks and meltaways, is made with the freshest ingredients; Mary and Sara import chocolate cocoa beans from Central and South America. Ethereal Confections’ chocolate is roasted and uniquely prepared, creating flavors that no other chocolate store can make.
“We strive to only use organic ingredients in our confections, purchasing these locally whenever possible. In this way, the greatest thing we do is make real products from genuine ingredients while at the same time, supporting our local community and other small businesses,” says Miller.
Ethereal Confections is open Sunday-Tuesday from 7am-10pm, and Wednesday-Saturday 7am-Midnight. Visit Ethereal’s website to learn more about their products and events.
The Legacy of Dick Tracy
On October 4, 1931, “Dick Tracy” first appeared in the Detroit Mirror, one of the Tribune owned papers, then in the New York Daily News, then the Chicago Tribune, and on and on, taking the country by storm. So popular was the strip that it appeared on the front page of the New York Daily News for 45 consecutive years, and continues to run today. After "Dick Tracy" shot to fame, Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy, made his home in Woodstock where he would spend his years writing on his farm and commuting to Chicago.
In 1992, people came to town and roped off the picturesque city square, moved all sorts of equipment into the park, and started playing the Pennsylvania Polka as Woodstock became the set of the cult classic film Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Andie MacDowell.
Now every year on February 2, the community of Woodstock and visitors from around the world come to celebrate Groundhog Day, as well as the filming of the cult classic film Groundhog Day in Woodstock, an iconic moment in the city’s history. The “Groundhog Days” Festival includes FREE film showings, tours of filming locations, trivia challenges, and of course, Woodstock Willie’s annual prognostication.
Orson Welles Festival
Widely considered one of the greatest filmmakers, Orson Welles called Woodstock home. It was here that Welles spent his formative years at the Todd School, and here that he first performed on the stage of the Woodstock Opera House. By the time he left the town in 1934, he was ready to embark on a radio/theater/film career that would lead to his direction of what is widely recognized as one of the greatest films of all time, Citizen Kane. Woodstock celebrated 100 years of Orson Welles in May 2015 with a month of screenings, speakers, and exhibits. Welles was a director, actor, and a creator, and it all started here in Woodstock.
Liquid Blues is one of 15 exciting bars in Woodstock. It's a psychedelic gem filled with lava lamps, beaded curtains, and live bands raising the roof night after night. It’s this distinct and youthful feel that has ranked Liquid Blues in the Top 12 Bars Outside of Chicago by Thrillist. Experience the awe of the '60s at Liquid Blues.
Woodstock Town Square
The historic Woodstock Square is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its two iconic features: the Woodstock Opera House and the Courthouse Complex. The 19th century charm and brick streets make the square the perfect spot to listen to music in the park, shop at the square's boutique shops, stop at one of the many square restaurants, or wander through the weekly farmer's market. There's always something going on in the beautiful, historic, and charming Woodstock Town Square.
Historic Opera House
Woodstock's historic, intimate and world-renowned Opera House was built in 1889 to house the library, council room, justice court, fire department and second floor auditorium for the City of Woodstock. It debuted its halls with an inaugural performance of Margery Daw in 1890 and has been showcasing art ever since. From traveling circuits and music festivals, all the way to broadway performances, the Opera House continues to be a venue for top national and international acts. It remains a home for local performers and a training ground for many new talents.