“Chicago tonight” in your neighborhood: Joliet | Chicago News


Residents call the Joliet area a mini Chicago. There is a large train station; some colleges; a theater, the Rialto; a baseball team, the Joliet Slammers minor league; and a successful football team at Joliet Catholic High School.

Plus, something Chicago doesn’t have: a casino.

Interactive map: More from our series of community reports

Joliet also has a rich history, said Mayor Bob O’Dekirk.

“Joliet is a big union town. A lot of history in this city, a lot of character, a lot of neighborhoods, ”said O’Dekirk. “It’s like a mini version of Chicago where Joliet was his own town, different parishes all over town. It was really built on steel mills, steel factories. railways, quarries and of course the river … heavy industry, heavy blue collar workers.

Doug Pryor of the Will County Center for Economic Development says Joliet’s history has turned into tourist attractions for the area, from Route 66 to the Old Joliet Jail.

“There are community assets that have been in place for a long time that still have a draw. In terms of an economic engine, they bring people to the region who wouldn’t be here otherwise. It allows interaction with the region, the restaurants. It’s a really cool draw.

Video: Watch our full interview with Doug Pryor

The prison rose to fame, in part, in the 1980s when ‘Joliet’ Jake Blues – also known as John Belushi – stepped out in the opening scene of the Blues Brothers movie.

The prison is now closed, but the city rents it from the state and organizes tours. The old part of the prison that housed the incarcerated women has just opened like a haunted house.

“From the minute you get there, you see how much history is wrapped up in it,” said Bryan Kopp, senior general manager of Old Joliet Haunted Prison. “It’s going very well, the shows put on are terrifying, fun and unique. It’s nothing else like that. There are plenty of other incredible ones, but this is the only one in an old abandoned prison. It is a unique experience.

Video: Watch our full interview with Bryan Kopp

Yet the Statesville Jail is near Joliet, and there is the Will County Jail.

A major problem in Joliet now lies at the front of the criminal justice system.

There has been turnover in the police department – the last chief having been fired after seven months on the job – and last year a 37-year-old man, Eric Lurry, died in custody.

That prompted an unprecedented move: Last month, the Illinois attorney general’s office announced an investigation into the police department.

Local police union president Michael DeVito said at first it was a shock. But he said the attorney general’s office had confirmed it: the investigation did not involve any incidents or members.

“We’re good at what we do,” DeVito told his members. “The men and women here are doing our job, we are doing it well. We are a respected agency. Just because they’re here looking at us doesn’t mean we’ve done anything wrong. I express to them that we must cooperate fully with this investigation and that we must continue to do the job exactly as we always have. “

The mayor said he and several other city council members contacted the attorney general after the Lurry incident – although the current investigation does not specifically address this matter.

“I had conversations and meetings with him,” O’Dekirk said. “It seemed clear to me that they were happy with the changes we made in Joliet, the changes at the top of the police force. The state review said there was merit to our city that we did this without being coerced or asked to do so. I think things happen, things go wrong, but you have to be responsible when you’re in charge, take responsibility and take control, and that’s what’s happening here in our city.

The impact of COVID on Joliet

It’s been tough on local businesses, including the group of racetracks just off the old Route 66.

The Speedway lost a NASCAR race to Wisconsin, and the Dirt Oval 66 track – which hosts monster trucks and demolition derbies – was closed for 20 months.

It’s their last weekend of the season: and it’s a special Halloween event: the eve of haunted destruction. There will be lawn mower races, kids’ wheel drive races and school bus races. The track president herself can be behind the wheel.

“We’ll have 12 school buses, and they’ll run in a figure-eight style, so they’ll basically run in a large area, and then cross through the middle in a figure-eight style. The first to run 10 laps will win. A lot of people are scared because they are so fat, but they are safe. I mean, think about it, we put kids in it, so they’re really safe to drive. It’s fun to watch, we’ll decorate and paint them all in different themes, Halloween themes, movie themes like that, ”said Sherri Heckenast, owner of Dirt Oval 66.

Restaurants are another industry affected by the pandemic. Seven Joliet restaurants formed an alliance earlier this month – the Joliet Region Food and Beverage Association. Sue Schultz, co-owner of Cemeno’s Pizza, says they are swapping supplies and, due to staff shortages, are sharing workers.

“We have different distributors, so we are able to share information, to link together,” said Schultz. “Competition is not like when everyone was fighting for their piece. Now we have to come together and help each other because we are a family, the restaurants, we are all in the same community.

Cemeno has been passed down from generation to generation. Schultz has been serving in his family restaurant since the age of 12.

Meanwhile, Agape Missions has helped residents throughout the pandemic. The social service agency offers HIV / AIDS care and prevention programs and helps people who have been incarcerated to reintegrate into society.

Corrections medical case manager Sandy Weinstein visited a jail Thursday afternoon.

“Some of the things that could be really stressful for them, you know we’re kind of like, put that on us, let us take care of things that might seem impossible to you right now,” Weinstein said. “We have client-centered goals to help them overcome these barriers so they don’t end up returning to a correctional system. “

Weinstein said Agape continued to serve his community throughout the pandemic.

Community Report Series

“Chicago Tonight” Expands Community Reporting. We take to the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. Find out where we’ve been and what we’ve learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in Red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.

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