Every small town has a “hub” from which all real information flows. In my central Illinois hometown, circa 1970’s, it was the local diner, Kathy’s Kitchen. The grain elevator was another hotspot for local news, and I got to witness this firsthand during the summers when I worked for my Dad, who managed the elevator, and my cousin Rita, who managed the office help. Farmers would come in every day to “check the grain prices” but I suspected another reason they stayed and visited with each other so long was the desire to “check the latest chatter” going on around town.
In Long Grove, the undisputed central source of information is Mel’s, our crossroads gas station. Originally owned by long-time residents Mel and Dee Towner, the station is built on family property that dates back to the 1920’s and includes the open area now known as Towner Green. The station is currently managed by Mel’s sons Randy and Wendall, who run a mini mart in addition to the traditional gas pumps. Nothing much happens in Long Grove that Randy has not caught wind of almost immediately. When I truly want to find out what is going on in town, I go fill the car up, or better yet…send my husband to find out the latest report. Aaron loves to come home and inform the Village President what information hasn’t yet made it to Village Hall. And if I ever feel the need to verify the advance intelligence, it always checks out.
It helps that Mel’s also provides a tow truck for use in emergencies, so communications with the Lake County Sheriff officers are frequent. Case in point: recently a local youth drove a car into a neighborhood pond, and one of my Trustees happened by the scene as the rescue was in process and phoned me. I felt like I had some breaking-news information to tell my husband as he walked in the door, only to have him fill me in with even more details gleaned as he was getting gas for the lawnmower.
The Towner family has long held a role in helping our community prosper. Mel Towner served 44 years as a volunteer fire fighter, and Dee Towner’s father donated the land to build our first fire department. The gas station today is a touchstone to our roots as a rural community. If a business in the historic downtown is closing, or a new store opening up, 9 times out of 10 I will hear the news from Randy first. I think it is great that we have a hometown merchant who provides a place to check in and take the pulse of the community; a place where you can experience both a friendly greeting and some local flavor. Mel’s is located at the heart of our crossroads and is in a variety of ways the center of what keeps many of us in Long Grove connected.