Reviews & Comments
East Peoria, ILIffy future; great region if it can ever recover
East Peoria is across the river from Peoria, the latter of which is the anchor of the entire "Heart of IL" region. Though the two share part of a name, they are separate cities. If you choose the right location, this can be a very quiet place to live that's close enough to what Peoria offers, but still rural enough on the outskirts to raise a family or retire. To talk about this area is really to describe the overall region, because a metro this small is more collective than most large cities I've lived in.
The Peoria metro is not bad, it's just not exciting. We have some great entertainment come through the region to the Peoria Civic Center. There's not a great deal of art, but there is actually a strong community that both creates and supports the arts like sculptor Preston Jackson. The riverfront (on either side) can be fun. While E. Peo is mostly overrun with chain restaurants right now, the other side of the river have some clever venues for food and drink. It feels like it's a town waiting for hipsters to discover it and make it over, because while it's not as quirky as Portland, it is full of potential if some young, original thinkers tire of higher cost of living areas and want to shape the region to their liking. Bloomington/Normal (45 mins away of so) has already started to do this to some degree, with small businesses popping up to appeal to that region's two Universities and two junior colleges. E. Peo. has only ICC (a community college) but Bradley is a short drive away in Peoria.
I grew up in Germantown Hills, not far from here, so this was one of the go-to places for shopping and food when I was young. It's not a bad place and has had considerable development in the way of shopping and some chain restaurants, but the future for this whole region is on increasingly shaky ground.
CAT moved their headquarters from Peoria, up to Chicago in 2017. That company has been the anchor for all of the other businesses in the whole metro area--including Peoria, East Peoria, Germantown Hills, Washington, Morton, and so on. Given that this was one of the larger employers that offered jobs with great pay and benefits for the size of the city, I expect a decline in the region will follow, which is quite sad. From the mid-90s on, automation in the building process lead to fewer and fewer jobs in the CAT plants, as robots replace humans, so it's been a slow slide for finding great blue collar jobs too. As it is as of today, we can live on one income and easily save about half of my husband's wages here and retire early.
All of that taken into account, I'm still rooting for this region. I still have family and some friends in Germantown Hills and some in the surrounding small towns. As this region of IL goes, it's a very pretty place, with rolling hills and (in many places) great river views. There are a lot of well educated, highly talented people in the P-town region, so I hope that another company or two will make their way here at some point. The tricky bit is that IL (in general) is a hot mess. Four of Illinois' last seven governors went to prison and we've not much improved it since. Because of the high taxes and shrinking jobs, the whole state's future is questionable outside of Chicago. Even so, if MI can make a comeback, perhaps this state will too.
Should you move here? Maybe. If you are offered a job and can hold the funds to move out if need be later on, go for it. The cost of living is rather low in comparison to the decent pay you can ask for with the what remains of CAT (mostly in Mossville IL now) and other remaining employers. In fact, when looking at how my husband's pay stacks up vs. other cities, Central IL is still one of the best places. Though many of the district 150 schools in Peoria proper are terrible, there are quite a few great schools in a lot of the smaller cities. The people here are very, very Midwestern: friendly for the most part, willing to help a neighbor, and so on. Illinois State University is not far away in Normal IL, so it in-state college tuition is a bargain and you can keep them at home and have them commute.
re: As Conservative as Chicago is Liberal
Not really. I'd say this is a "purple" city, with even the conservatives leaning to liberal on many things like LGBTQ rights. Hotels likely cater to the conservatives paying for rooms, not to reflect the local population. I've lived in both Chicago proper (312, not the 'burbs) and Bloomington and I'd say they are very similar in terms of what people are like. We get a lot of Chicago transplants down here, as a matter of fact.
Bloomington, ILTen + years, a review of TWO cities: Blo/No
If you're not from here it might be hard to figure out that Bloomington and Normal are actually one city mushed together, so make sure you look up info on Normal, IL too. Locals call it Blo/No and, often, it's hard to tell where they overlap unless you pay attention to street names, which switch from side to side in places.
Now, I'll begin by saying that I grew up not far from here in an affluent small town outside of Peoria, IL and lived in Chicago for almost 13 years. As small cities go, this is not such a terrible place, though it's not a terribly exciting place either. If you're 20-something looking for a wild nightlife and big clubs, this is not it, though I think most people could make a niche if they move here and make friends too. If you're single you might have to resort to online dating, but heck, even my friends in huge cities do that these days.
If you're nerdy and bookwormish, we do have a table top gaming shop, a legit record store, comic shops, and geek-friendly entertainment. It's not an overtly friendly place only because many people have lived here most of their lives and we're used to college students who come and go. Talk with us. We're nice, honest! If you're a hipster who's not into big cities, I think this town might be a decent fit and, because the Amtrak goes to and from Chicago regularly (a 3-4 trip each way), you can take a day trip up to Chi-town to keep it interesting.
If you're considering a move here and have a family to raise, go for it. I'd rate it at very safe. Most of the violent crime is fairly insular (kids trying to be thugs, small time drug deals gone wrong, occasional opportunists robbing drunk college students waving around money in the bar areas), it's rare to hear about gun violence, and exceedingly rare that we have violent crime of any type that's news worthy.
I lived in a "bad" neighborhood while I was back in college here and never once felt unsafe. The bad neighborhoods here are generally like a kiddie pool compared to a real city with crazy gang violence. We're even able to walk around one of the larger parks here (Miller Park) for evening walks and never worry. That would never happen in a city like Chicago, no matter how yuppie the zip code. We have a couple of friends who moved here from the East Coast and it's so safe compared to where they were (slightly larger cities in NJ and ME) they think they're in heaven.
The school system on the Bloomington side is not as well rated as Normal, but it's still better than the Peoria area and puts all Chicago public schools to shame. If you have teens they can find trouble, but they have to look for it, for the most part, unlike some places where it'll surround them (this is why our friends moved here, actually).
Culture: believe it or not, there *is* some culture here, but it's low key and you have to look for it. The bars mostly cater to college students and, since we don't really drink, I can't speak to that scene. There are some small theater things going on, some spoken word, and even some OK live music if you pay attention. If you like the blues and American roots music, WGLT (local NPR) hosts events that bring in well-known acts. The large concert venue gets some OK big acts, though most of the time we're about 10 years behind the times on who's turning up here.
If you come here, Veterans Pkwy will have all the yucky chain stores and boring food an suburbanite could want, BUT we have TWO old-school downtown areas that are pretty sweet: one in Bloomington and one near the college in Normal. You'll find lots of art, some funky boutiques, and decent, locally owned restaurants. We have a decent food truck thing going on, a fab pop-up restaurant (Braize), and fair small-biz kind food of all kinds (bakeries, tapas, etc).
We have 2 extremely excellent, locally coffee houses that are locally owned. In fact, I will miss one so much, I may order the coffee the roast in-house when we leave. There's a regular farmers market in downtown Bloomington most of the year and you can by amazing local produce. Quite a few of the small restaurant owners here use only locally sourced food.
The city is not as ethnically diverse as I'm used to having come back from Chicago, but it's not terrible either. If you're South Asian, you'll be happy to know we have quite a few groceries and restaurants that specialize in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. It's not as concentrated as Devon Ave. in Chicago, but it's easy to find.
What else? We have Constitution Trail if you enjoy biking and the city has been working on making it easier for cyclists to commute. The bus system does not run on Sunday and is fairly limited, so it's a car city for sure, but parking is pretty easy. If you *have* to use the bus, just choose you housing based on that. State Farm even has shuttles for workers. Traffic? What traffic? Rush hour here is like a typical day most of the day/night in a city like Chicago. You can get from one side of town to the other in 15-20 mins most of the time.
We're 40-ish minutes from Peoria and the commute is pretty easy (in case you have an SO moving with you). Peoria is bigger but scattered and way too spread out. Decatur is also about as far, though it's been on economic tough times for a long time.
The bad: housing caters to students above all else. This means the rents are pretty stupid if you want a one or two bedroom that's not surrounded by drunken kids. You can find places, but if you think you'll be here more than a couple three years, it may be worth it to buy, since you can find pretty nice houses for a reasonable price if you take your time.
Bloomington has most of the homes with real character; look around the Weslyan area for gorgeous, huge bungalows and Victorian homes (most professors seem to live there from all the colleges). Look around Miller Park and South Hill for a mix of pre-70s NON-cookie cutter homes. Both Bloomington and Normal have some great MCM ranch homes that have been well cared for if you like those styles as well.
If renting, Craigslist is your best bet, but holy cow, prepare to be annoyed that everyone lists rents as PER bedroom, so the $500 is actually 1,500 in many places. If you're a young professional, look to rent off of Veterans if you want to drive or be brave and rent around downtown Bloomington (not Normal, which is over priced) if you can handle a quaint, older apt in a building that was once a giant house that's divided into apts.
State Farm is THE big employer here, but they have shifted to using a lot of "externals" brought in by Randstand. Randstand does it's best and will keep you employed as best they can, but you will *always* be treated differently as an external by the majority of State Farm's management. Still, it can be a good way to start, since Randstad does have locations they can send you to all over the country if/when you want to move on. We're moving only so my SO can move up in his field.
Another person mentioned they'd been asked about church. I've never been asked that once and had more door knockers in Chicago than here, so I don't know if they lived in an oddball area or what. The city is leans to the right because we have so many "monied" people who still believe Reagan was a saint, but for the most part, it is a very socially liberal, live-and-let-live city. My niece and her girlfriend have stayed with us extensively and they are a gay, interracial couple. No one even pays attention to them or singles them out as different, so that says a lot about the political/religious climate to me. Most people here have the outlook that religion and politics are something to discuss only with people you know pretty well.
Weather...it is what it is, but I like temps from 50-70, so I'm the wrong person to ask. The Midwest is extremes: really bone chilling cold when it's bad, suffocating hot and humid when it's hot. Bring layers for winter and AC for summer.
Well, that's a lot, but I know picking a place to live is nerve wrecking, so I hope this helps. Should you move here? If you have a job offer that seems solid, go for it. You could certainly do far worse and you can always move out again.