Happy Thought Coffee named in magazine

Marianne Gillespie
Sarah Williamson stands in Happy Thought Coffee with an enlarged copy of Midwest Living’s September/October magazine, which mentions her shop as a stop along the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway. To the left is a recipe book correlating to the byway.

It all happened late one afternoon about a year ago.

Zach Murphy, a co-op student at Happy Thought Coffee, was manning the shop while owner Sarah Williamson was in the back baking.

A lady popped in and began asking lots of questions. And while Murphy knew most of the answers, he asked Williamson if she would like to talk to the visitor.

He handed her the woman’s business card — Barbara Morrow, deputy editor of the magazine Midwest Living.

“Oh, yes, I think I have time to talk to her,” Williamson recalled with a chuckle.

Morrow told her she was writing a story about the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway and after staying the night at Mission Oak Inn in Henry, they told her to stop by Williamson’s shop.

“I love your store. This is so neat,” Williamson said Morrow told her. She took photos of the shop’s muffins and looked around.

“Frankly, I don’t remember much because I was so stunned,” said Williamson. Morrow told her she did not know if the magazine would use any photos of the shop or not.

“Then I was afraid to tell anyone,” said Williamson, unsure if her business would really be mentioned. She told her close family and her sister in North Carolina.

Magazine officials called two months ago to reconfirm information, and she added the store’s new website, www.happythoughtcoffee.com, which is highlighted at the end of the article, “Down by the River,” for where to eat.

The rest, they say, is history, but the exposure of the September/October 2010 edition is keeping Williamson’s door open to visitors from California, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and lots of travelers from Chicago and the suburbs, Williamson said of the visitors that she knows where they hail from.

The brilliant fall colors in the magazine illustrate the byway’s attractiveness to people wanting to stretch their legs with some hiking or take in the scenery by car.

“The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway is one in a collection of 150 America’s Byways® designated throughout the U.S.,” said Anaise Berry, director of the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway.

“This elite designation has helped to put our region ‘on the map,’ giving us national exposure and access to federal funding that we’re using for marketing and development in order to enhance the Illinois River Valley and grow our region’s visitor-based economy.

“Byway travelers and nature tourists enjoy these unique roadways that take them ‘off the beaten path.’  These visitors enjoy dining and shopping in local, authentic establishments, and learning about the local culture and history — it’s all about experiencing authentic America.

“The program and marketing surrounding it give supporting byway communities an opportunity to showcase local history, attractions and authentic business.”

“Down by the River” not only is giving a boost to Williamson’s business, but also highlights the entire byway’s 291-mile loop from Havana to Ottawa.

“Midwest Living reaches four million adult readers in a 12-state region,” said Berry.

“Their unbiased coverage of the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway has given us tremendous exposure as a weekend destination. Visitors to www.illinoisriverroad.org reached an all time high of nearly 8,000 visitors in September, and we’ve had a record number of requests for information about the region from Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Indiana. I’ve had countless people living

in this region who have read the article and said, ‘Wow, this really is a beautiful place to visit. I had no idea!’”

What do the visitors want when they stop in? Along with having a muffin, they want her muffin flower-pot cups, which she is not selling. They also want the little vases created by Chuck Flagg of Flagg Pottery that add a little something to each table.

They also purchase “Recipes from the Illinois River Road.” The 146-page cookbook for $17.95 includes information about all the stops along the way and recipes.

“Overall, I think it’s the atmosphere,” said Williamson of what people want, pointing to the family atmosphere with her small grandchildren at the shop. “We’re just smalltown, hometown.” Morrow noted in the article she seeks out old business districts to see what is available in them.

While residents may think fall would be the busiest season for the byway, Berry said three of the four seasons are the busiest, but all four may be a good time in their own right.

“Spring through fall are the most popular seasons for travel and exploration along the Illinois River Road, but we are working to attract winter visitors as well,” said Berry. “In addition to winter activities such as ice fishing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, eagle watching is a tremendous draw. Most people don’t have any idea that we have a significant number of wintering eagles in the region.”

After 12 years of being in Chillicothe, and receiving good reviews in the area, and now a national magazine, Williamson said, “That’s so cool.”

The exposure may even spark something in the downtown.

“It’s a beautiful city in a lot of ways. I wish we’d take what we have and run with it,” she said of Chillicothe, adding her vision of flowering baskets on every other

decorative light pole.

For more about the scenic byway, visit the website www.illinoisriverroad.org.