Believe it or not, there’s actually more going on in the sprawling terrain between Chicago and St. Louis than dairy farming and cow tipping. Decatur, located three hours southwest of the former city and two hours northeast of the latter, has a metropolitan population of more than 100,000 and boasts a surprisingly booming economy. Factor in a refurbished downtown area, and a variety of cultural and historic attractions, and Decatur is clearly more than a blink-of-an-eye Midwestern cow town.
Unlike some “small” towns whose neighborhoods essentially mirror each other, Decatur looks and feels much different in various areas (so be sure to spend plenty of time in a neighborhood, gauging its vibes and chatting up its residents before signing a lease). Generally, the more suburban apartment complexes and single-family homes are located in South Shores, in the northern districts near Forsyth, and in the outlying neighborhoods near Mt. Zion, Harristown, and Oreana. The downtown area, meanwhile, has experienced a renewal in recent years and boasts some spacious lofts and apartments with top-notch amenities.
Popular destinations in Decatur include roughly 50 parks covering 2,000 acres, a variety of golf courses, trails, and lakeside beaches, and numerous art/history museums, theaters, and festivals. Decatur was a regular stomping ground for Abraham Lincoln, and the city is dotted with Honest Abe historical sites that are definitely worth a visit. Bottom line: Decatur has much more to offer in terms of culture than many outsiders assume, even if you have to make a conscious effort to find it.
For night owls, meanwhile, the downtown area serves up an array of pubs, clubs, and live music venues, while dive bars and sports pubs are a dime a dozen throughout many other parts of town. It’s not Miami Beach by any means, but Decatur is more buzzing after hours than you might initially think.
The Decatur Public Transit System buses and trolleys service much of the city and the surrounding communities, but the automobile remains king of the road in Decatur. Very few parts of town are biker/walker-friendly, so you’ll need your own set of wheels to work, shop, bank, play, and socialize conveniently. Fortunately, traffic is minimal (the average daily commute to work is a mere 17 minutes), and even during rush hour, your commute will only be a few minutes longer than usual.
A few things you should know to help make your apartment hunting adventures as smooth as possible:
Only 3 percent of residential buildings were constructed post-1995, and even the “new” apartments in town are well established. Obviously, older apartments present some risks that newer units don’t, so take the time to make sure your heating and cooling units are up to par, your water pressure and temperature is adequate, and your pipes, sinks, drains, toilets, showers, appliances, fans, windows, and locks function properly before moving in.
There’s generally no such thing as a “waiting list” for apartments in Decatur, and most complexes have vacancies year-round (more than 8% of rentals are currently unoccupied), so take your time and scour the market carefully before choosing your homestead. Renting prices remain low year-round, and they don’t generally fluctuate during different times of the year, meaning you don’t have to worry about playing the waiting game to score the best leasing deal.
Most apartments in Decatur are pet-friendly and most landlords have no problem with multiple tenants living in an apartment, but be sure to read your lease carefully anyway to make sure you understand all the particulars. Also, be prepared to show proof of income, banking account info, and a respectable renting history when you’re ready to submit a leasing application.
And now it’s time to scour the web and hit the streets of Decatur in search of the apartment of your dreams (you dream about apartments, right?). Best of luck, welcome to Decatur, and happy hunting!