Saturday mornings typically are pretty peaceful outside The Locks in Rock Island.

But one weekend morning earlier this month, the screaming of go-karts and stench of burning rubber slowly entered the third-floor loft that I moved into in June.

My two roommates, an accountant and a college student, were already awake and were watching from our balcony what I was listening to and smelling from my room on the floor above them.

While the consistent buzzing from the Rock Island Grand Prix got to be a little much by the end of the weekend, the event reminded me why I chose to live downtown; there’s always something — from go-kart races to reggae concerts — happening in my neighborhood.

I call it a neighborhood because it feels like one. My roommates and I — all former Augustana bubble dwellers — find ourselves surrounded by a diverse group of neighbors. From Quad-Cities River Bandits players to retirees, everyone is friendly and it feels like home.

Take Linda Golden, for example. My neighbor across the hall, who has a sign on her door that reads, “mi casa es su casa,” lent me a bottle of syrup one recent morning when I realized I didn’t have any for my stack of lemon ricotta flapjacks.

Golden, a Rock Island native and retired school teacher, whose apartment overlooks the Mississippi River, moved downtown with Mark Pealstrom to live “where the action is.”

My balcony, perfect for a cup of coffee in the morning or a post-work beer, sits above Metro's new District Station.

The Locks' easy access to bus transit and miles of riverfront trail marks the city’s first transit-oriented development, an $8 million project.

If I want to venture out of my neighborhood, which abuts The District of Rock Island and restaurants galore, I can bike east to Bierstube or Bent River Brewery in downtown Moline, or head north across the Government Bridge to Great River Brewery or the Freight House in downtown Davenport.

Thanks to the riverfront trails, downtown dwellers have myriad avenues to explore on foot or bike in the Quad-Cities.

At this point, the sole downside to my quality of life downtown is the lack of a grocery store.

For me, the closest grocery store is nearly two miles away. While I could still walk or bike there, it’s a bit of a stretch if I’ve got a long list of items to buy.

Although Golden, who spotted scores of eagles from her balcony all winter and watched barges launch fireworks on the Fourth of July, describes her spot as “heavenly,” she also craves a downtown grocery store.

“It doesn’t have to be a full-service store,” she said. “Just a place you can get one egg.”

Beth Payne, administration director of Renaissance Rock Island, the umbrella organization over the Development Association of Rock Island; Rock Island Economic Development Growth Corp; and The District, said residents have wanted a grocery store downtown for more than 20 years.

While Payne noted the city is “aggressively” looking at the feasibility of bringing a grocery store downtown, nothing is planned at this point.

For others, including Jon and Rhadonda Sedgwick, my newest neighbors who refer to themselves as “middle-aged hipsters with vintage style,” The Locks’ heated garage and riverfront access drew them to Rock Island from the Sterling/Rock Falls, Ill., area.

“We just fell in love with it,” Rhadonda told me.

In December 2013, when I first moved back to the Quad-Cities — about seven months after I graduated from Augustana — I didn’t want to live in Rock Island, where I spent my college days.

At the time, a lot of my buddies lived, worked and played in downtown Davenport, and I wanted to join them.

Deterred by the higher cost of living there, however, I moved into a one-bedroom spot atop the Perry Street hill on Palmer College of Chiropractic’s campus.

After six months of living on my own, I moved back to Rock Island near the College Hill district on a mission to split rent with roommates and save money.

Following my year there away from the urban setting I enjoyed in Davenport, I felt determined to bite the bullet and spend more for a downtown apartment.

After a thorough search, I found my new home. Thanks to The Locks’ affordable monthly rent, I didn’t have to move far.

Rock Island is where my heart’s at.


Jack Cullen is a reporter uncovering offbeat stories about people and places in the Quad-City area.