St. Charles

August 2019 View more


As St. Charles’s 2nd Ward alderman and chairperson of the planning and development committee, Rita Payleitner, 61, has a front seat
to the new construction that has revitalized the city’s downtown district in recent years.
“I like that St. Charles has a strong history, but yet we are evolving,” she says. 

Payleitner and her husband, Jay, are St. Charles High School sweethearts celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary this October. “When it came time to buy our first house and start our family, we found ourselves back in St. Charles,” she says. They put down roots in the community they’d grown up in, raising five children and also becoming foster parents for 10 newborn babies over the years. 

“To come to St. Charles, and to know St. Charles, is to love St. Charles,” Payleitner says. One of her and Jay’s favorite things to do is visit the downtown plaza and riverwalk. “You can just sit there and see the historical municipal center that is the hub, if you will,” she says. 

Illustration by Maeve Norton

Fair game
St. Charles is home to the Kane County Fairground, which hosts myriad events throughout the year, from flea markets to dog shows.

Foxy city
The city slogan is “Pride of the Fox,” a reference to the Fox River Valley, home to 1 million residents. Look for the iconic bronze fox sculptures when walking the bridge across the Fox River.

Celebrity nuptials
Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg hosted their wedding at the historic Hotel Baker in downtown St. Charles in 2014, and the couple still resides there. 

Bright lights
The Arcada Theatre opened in 1926, playing host to vaudeville shows and silent films. Today, it’s a 900-seat venue for live music, hosting more than 200 shows annually. 

Worth a trip

Mount St. Mary Park
This park on the bank of the Fox River walkable from downtown St. Charles and is a popular site for city and park district events, including Sculpture in the Park, which runs through September. “You can walk the park and do a little free art sighting,” Payleitner says. “There are always skateboarders to watch there. There’s a beautiful playground, and you could just stand there on the river’s edge.”
Prairie St. east of Route 31

Town House Books & Cafe
This café and indie bookstore hybrid, in
operation since 1974, is the Payleitners’ go-to lunch spot, which serves from-scratch soups and sandwiches. “They have wonderful food, and it’s a bookstore worth roaming,” she says. “They have attentive and community-minded owners and you really get that sense when you go in there. It’s a treasure.”
105 N. 2nd Ave., 630.584.8600

Vintage 53
“This is one of our newbies downtown,” says Payleitner of this cozy, rustic-industrial wine bar. “They have a lovely atmosphere, sometimes light live music, but we can still have a conversation.” Happy hour deals offered daily from 4 to 6 p.m. include $5–$6 cocktails, $8 flatbreads, and daily wine specials. Area musicians perform after 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
162 S. 1st St., 630.549.0423 

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant
“I gotta represent the 2nd Ward,” says Payleitner of this spacious modern casual restaurant and wine tasting room that opened in 2017 on
St. Charles’s northeast side. “If I’m meeting college friends coming into town from other suburbs … that’s a favorite spot.”
3710 E. Main St., 630.212.7898

St. Charles Public Library
“Our public library is amazing. It’s my favorite to go with my grandkids on a rainy day,” Payleitner says. “Every time I go in there, I learn something new. My husband is an author and my son’s in publishing, so we are a very pro-book family.” Payleitner also appreciates the building’s history: “The original Carnegie library built in 1908 in St. Charles is still a cornerstone and part of the functioning building of our library,” she explains. 
1 S. 6th Ave., 630.584.0076

Jazz Weekend


Mark your calendar for these three events coming up this fall in downtown St. Charles. For more details, visit 

Music lovers will dig Jazz Weekend (Sept. 12–15), a four-day event featuring live jazz performers in the downtown plaza as well as nearby bars and restaurants. 

The Scarecrow Fest (Oct. 11–13) is a classic autumn tradition in Lincoln Park (450 W. Main St.) showcasing more than 100 scarecrows created by local residents, businesses, and organizations. The 34th annual event also features carnival rides, music, and an arts and crafts show. 

Holiday Homecoming (Nov. 29–30) is the official start of the holiday season in St. Charles. The weekend begins with the ceremonial Lighting of the Lights on First Street Plaza on Friday, plus holiday carols and an appearance from Santa Claus himself. Saturday brings a free showing of a holiday movie at the Arcada Theatre and the beloved Electric Christmas Parade, where floats and cars decked out in twinkling lights roll down Main Street. 

Photos courtesy Rita Payleitner and Downtown St. Charles