Rockford’s Midtown District becomes cultural center

Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 6:21 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - What once was an area of Rockford known for unsavory activity is taking on a new, better reputation.

On the eastern fringe of downtown, Midtown District has seen several changes over the years.

When Rockford was in its heyday as a major industrial hub, Midtown was a thriving business and entertainment district. When the city saw a manufacturing exodus in the 1980s, the area fell from grace. Today that’s all changing for the good.

”We just love this central area,” said Wendy Hernandez, who’s in the process of opening an ice cream shop on the corner of Seventh Street and Fifth Avenue.

But that’s not the only reason she chose Midtown. She sees what’s happening in the area.

“[There are] new little places I’ve seen down Seventh Street that are cool,” she said. “We have new places to go visit, to go eat.”

Rockford psychologist and community volunteer Dr. Chiraz Tata helps out at the Inscape Collective artisan center, the former home of Just Goods. She says the key to transforming the area is to invest in people.

“If you build relationships, take the risks and change, and want to experience the joy of meeting people you don’t generally meet and want to get to know, I think that’s the key,” Tata said.

It wasn’t long ago–about 20 years–that Midtown known was a red-light district, marred by drugs, prostitution and illicit businesses like strip clubs and illegal massage parlors the city worked hard to eliminate. Merchants have played an important role, too.

“The art gallery across the street, the pottery place over here--we are really bringing in a lot of positivity to the area and pushing out that negativity,” said Andrew Vowles, owner of Ernie’s Midtown Pub. “I love seeing all the families, all the kids, all the ethnically diverse people participating in everything.”

Tata added: “If we can build relationships with a diverse group of people in the neighborhood and collaborate with folks in the neighborhood, great things can happen.”

Some of the events held in Rockford’s Midtown District include the Midtown Market, Rockford Ethnic Parade and this Saturday’s Cars and Coffee Car Show.