“Just Like Granma’s House” | Exploring rural Jackson County, Illinois

Lindsay + Tim Stockhecke


“It smells just like Grandma’s house!” our eight-year-old proclaims as we enter Ava Food and Family.

We opted to spend a slow day exploring the western side of Jackson County on a toasty summer afternoon, keeping our agenda open-ended to allow for unexpected roadside delights. Southern Illinois is the perfect region for this type of adventure, as many small businesses in rural communities never make their way to Google business or social media. This creates the sense of slow excitement we have come to know and love. It takes patience and understanding that while we may not create the picture-perfect moments this day and age seems to thrive on, it allows us to seek out the anomalous, what makes the place we call home unique. In rural communities, particularly those whose pasts are riddled with adversity, these stories often don’t make headlines or into the tourism brochures.

Harvey, the owner of Ava Food and Family, shared some of these stories. Describing the years following his 1975 purchase of the building, he fondly recalls lines out the door and shoppers filling their carts with fresh meats, cheeses, and produce. While he still has the necessities for those unable to travel out of town and processes meats frozen in the back, most of his shelves are lined with things of days past, things looking for life to be breathed back into them.

As we peruse the shelves slowly and fondly we enjoy what was with excitement of what could be. We laugh and admire and reflect and when we find something just right we purchase it and bring it home with us.

People often view antique stores as a place for older generations but we have always found that the kids enjoy it as much, if not more, than we do. They inquire about unusual pieces they have never seen. Electronics or gadgets from years before their time. It provides a time travel of sorts to how we came to be who we are today. We love taking our kids to antique shops and encourage others to as well.

Our Slow Saturday Itinerary

  1. Coffee at Penny’s Perks |
    • We started this particular day out at Penny’s Perks. Although they have a speedy drive-thru, we opted to go inside and enjoy coffee and a snack. They have an inviting indoor space with a full breakfast and lunch menu. Additionally, they have outdoor patio seating with umbrellas and cafe lighting and an award-winning staff that provided a variety of feedback on menu favorites
      • Hours of operation
        • Monday-Friday 6am-5pm
        • Saturday 1am-3pm
  2. Antique Shopping at Ava Food and Family and The Cellar |
    • Located directly next to one another, both of these antique shops have several rooms full of goodies. Well-organized and reasonably priced, both owners were very warm and welcoming. We found this particularly enjoyable as occasionally staff can be skeptical of kids around breakables. Due to this we always prepare our kids to look with their eyes not their hands(although as they have gotten older we do allow handling when appropriate) and ensure they know to be aware of tighter spaces, glassware, etc We also expect and adhere to the ‘you break it, you buy it’ policy.
  3. The Brick Wall Boutique |
    • With a variety of trendy women’s and childrens clothing and decor, this boutique is an adorable stop when visiting Ava, Illinois. Cassidy, who took over ownership shortly before COVID, described the excitement she gets from visitors from out of the area stopping in and shopping. With a new salon, Sass, located in the back this female-owned business is one I look forward to returning to.
      • Hours of Operation
        • Wednesday-Friday 12pm-6pm
  4. Brunzeez Cafe |
    • With original plans to eat lunch at Crazy Joes Fish House we had to pivot after realizing they weren’t open until 3 pm. Loving a good pivot, and remembering a recommendation from the sweet staff at Pennys Perks regarding bacon brussel sprouts, we made a stop at this unassuming diner located right across from the boutique and antique shops. We took their brussel sprout recommendation as well as a nudge from our server that the fried mushrooms were not to be missed and left full and satisfied. While not on the agenda for this adventure, another great food stop nearby is Gabby’s on Main.
  5. Bronze Plaque Historial Walk | We snagged a brochure in one of the antique shops that gave an overview of the history of Ava which we read through as we walked the Historic Bronze Plaque Walk down the center of town. Lined with shade trees, manicured grass, and aesthetic street lamps, this paved walk through town transports you to simpler times. Although unmarked, I would guess this walk to be approximately a mile round trip and while the bronze plaques don’t provide much information beyond a historical image it was an enjoyable stroll before lunch.

**and for the more grammar-inclined folks, we fondly refer to our grandmother as Granma**

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