GARDNER – People from throughout the world came to Illinois last weekend to get their Kicks on Route 66, as the eighth-annual Red Carpet Corridor Festival got underway Saturday.
The festival is a multimunicipal destination sale that runs 90 miles along Route 66 from Joliet to Towanda. It features antique, yard, flea and craft sales along the way, with destinations handing out collectible postcards for those making the journey.
Gloria Lofton and Lianne Sarnecke of Aurora took the famed route for the first time Saturday and started in Joliet.
“The jail in Gardner is my favorite so far,” Lofton said.
Gardner Mayor Tom Wise was on hand giving out the keepsake postcard for Gardner, which features a photograph of the Route 66 Hall of Fame streetcar that originally was at the famed Riviera Roadhouse on Route 66 before it burned down.
“It’s been real good today,” Wise said Saturday. “The businesses are doing well. Having the jail and the street car helps get people to our town, and it’s good for the whole community.”
David and Carol Holmes and Tony and Tricia Holmes came all the way from England to experience Route 66 for themselves.
After spending two cold days in Chicago, they were grateful for the warmer weather Saturday to start their journey – one that goes beyond the Red Carpet Corridor that ends in Towanda. The two couples are taking the trek from Chicago to Los Angeles over the next five weeks.
“I took a cruise from Los Angeles through the Panama Canal and heard three days of lectures on Route 66,” Tony said. “I knew I had to do it.”
At the Polk-A-Dot Drive-In located in Braidwood, Tom Riccolo of Morris was entertaining a group of individuals with his replica Mayberry police car. The group was from the Czech Republic and were riding motorcycles along the route as part of the Czech & Slovak Route 66 Tour.
“Everyone is enjoying the nice day,” Riccolo said. “I always come out in the car and participate. I started in Dwight and will make my way up to Wilmington and then head back to Dwight.”
He said economically it’s a shot in the arm for all the communities that sit on the Red Carpet Corridor.
Elaine Stonich with the Joliet Area Historical Museum said there were people lined up at the door at 8 a.m. Saturday as she arrived to open the museum two hours earlier than normal.
“We’ve had over 300 people come through and it’s only 12:30 on Saturday afternoon,” she said. “Because it’s publicized, we’ve quadrupled our business today.”
Stacy Conn, project administrator with the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway in Springfield, said the organization’s goal as a nonprofit is to help the small mom-and-pop shops cater to the traveler who comes to experience Route 66 all year long.
In addition to the travelers from England, travelers from Denmark, Germany, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic and Holland signed in at the various stops along the way.
“There is something really amazing about Route 66,” Conn said. “When people see my Route 66 logo on my shirt I’ve gotten more bear hugs than I’d like to admit when they see I represent the mother road.”
Stonich said people are just drawn to the nostalgia and simpler times.