It's been 20 years since I stepped foot in the Crown Point square. I was three years old, bouncing down the sidewalk toward my first ballet class, tutu and mother in tow. Surely the only thing more exciting than my class was the treat my mom would buy from our friend, affectionately known as the “Hot Dog Lady”. She was a Crown Point legend back in the day.
Looking at the square now having been gone for twenty years, it seems that nothing and everything has changed. The old hometown feeling and soul of the town still exists but the building facades have changed a bit. Being born in Crown Point allowed me to enjoy the downtown area when I was very young, but after moving to Connecticut with my family at age four, walks down memory lane were few and far between when we would take trips back to the region.
Recently I moved back to the area with my family and I have been immersed in old memories, people and places since the minute we pulled into our new driveway. Reacquainting yourself with a new place is no small task. The constant feeling of déjà vu follows me when I pass grocery stores and parks and especially when I took a day trip to the Crown Point square with my niece. Apart from the courthouse and the antique mall, the facades and storefronts of the square are all new to me. Looking to feel something familiar, I was drawn to the Crown Point landmark, Old Lake County Courthouse, and the shops that are tucked away in the basement.
Old Lake County Courthouse
After standing in awe of the high arched marbled ceiling at the center of the building, my niece Alannah and I headed downstairs to explore the shops. Set in a dimly lit brick basement, the ambiance of the old lock-up hits you the moment the elevator doors open. The cold smell of basement air mixed with brick and metal set the tone as we stepped out.
The doorway to each shop is a tiny brick archway that makes you feel as if any moment the cell doors will swing closed and lock you in. The chilly backdrop of the shops are only offset by the welcoming smiles and friendly disposition of all the shop owners that greet you when you walk by. You can’t seem to walk by Mike’s Antique Vault & Records without hearing a classic album being played through the hallway or hearing a friendly hello as you walk past.
The further you walk down the hallway the more the atmosphere changes, the music fades and the smell of rosemary focaccia bread fills your nose and makes your mouth water. Once the smell hits, you almost seem to float into Noka’s Cafe to find the source. After making friendly small talk with the waitress, my niece and I each ordered a piece of focaccia bread to-go, dying to try whatever could possibly smell that good. After practically tearing the paper bag open the bread was devoured in record time, only leaving us to wish there was another piece inside. It really doesn't get much better than a fresh, warm piece of rosemary focaccia bread and butter from Noka’s. Trust me. After stuffing our faces on a bench outside, we decided to check out the countless boutique stores that line the square.
With a snack in our stomachs, Alannah and I were ready to turn our focus to the task of digging through antiques. Our first stop was Camille’s Antiques & Collectibles, which boasted a wide variety of jewelry, clothing and a full basement with posters, furniture and wall decor that tempted me with their rustic charm.
The next store that stole my heart was Antiques on Main and Curiosities. Their front room, filled with a mix of antiques and rustic pieces of furniture, captured my attention from the moment I walked in. Seriously, I almost bought an ornate wooden door from India... who needs that? But if there’s anything I’ve learned about antiquing it’s that buying what you need isn't the goal, it's about finding the once loved raw material and creating something of your own.
You’d think digging through rows and rows of antique booths would get old after a while but the seemingly endless store continued piquing our interest the more we searched. Old frames, bedside tables, jewelry and antique comic books were in full stock that day as each booth had their own particular vibe. I even ran into a teenager in a jewelry booth who asked me for help picking out a necklace for his new girlfriend.
I found that part of the charm of antiquing is getting lost in the stacks of random stuff, even if you’re looking for something specific. My niece and I even developed a funny whistle we’d use to find each other in the store if we wandered too far. Cell phone service in an antique store basement isn't always reliable, but it’s part of the experience that immerses you in your findings and in the world they came from.
Aside from the amazing complementary peanut butter cookies (greatly appreciated... shopping is tiring work) I managed to find an antique beaded door hanging and the perfect miniature version of a treasured antique gold-framed mirror I have at home. Along with a metal straw, an incense holder, and a tiffany lamp, Alannah and I rounded out our antique store haul.
Sip Coffee House & Artisan Cafe
Shopping works up quite an appetite, so our choice for lunch and a mid-afternoon cup of coffee was Sip Coffee House & Artisan Cafe. Outdoor seating and a perfect view of the west side of the courthouse topped off the quaint little coffee house feel. Walking inside, the cool burst of air conditioning was a welcomed relief, accompanied by the sweet smell of roasting coffee and warm panini bread.
Local art covered the walls, tempting you to fall in love and purchase one. The furniture was cozy and the multicolored sofas and chairs looked like they were just found in an antique store down the road. A friendly young crowd and staff added to the casual and comfortable feel you got as we sat down to have our order taken.
With a growling stomach, everything on the menu looked absolutely unbelievable, so we ordered with suggestions from the waitress. Not even forty-five minutes later, our stomachs were full of grilled chicken clubs, pasta salad, killer peach iced tea and the most delicious iced coffee called the Honey Bee to top it off. Their fresh variety of sandwiches, salads and other feel-good foods leaves you wanting to order multiple lunches at a time just to try everything on the menu faster. Don’t even get me started on their drinks, that list of need-to-try’s is even longer than the food. It’s safe to say Sip will be one of my regular stops.
To finish out the afternoon we took a stroll around the newly completed Bulldog Park. Perfectly contrasting our day of rummaging through antiques, this fresh new park is a modern centerpiece for family fun downtown. The splash pad was full of kids yelling and playing with each other while the adults could sit back in the shade of the pavilion and enjoy the beautiful weather. I even made a fool of myself lip synching to Bruno Mars on the amphitheater stage as it echoed through the sound system around me. There’s something for everyone.
From walking past my old ballet studio to spending the afternoon with my niece, the day came full circle for me when I was walking back to my car and stopped to meet the new employees at the timeless hot dog stand. From age two to twenty-two, the same smile spreads across my face when I pass that stand on the corner and remember all the history, memories and lives that are touched by the community that is Crown Point. It just proves that I couldn't have chosen a better place to come home to. Living life as a Hoosier once again, I feel like I get to pick up where I left off twenty years ago, and what better place to start than square one.