The village of Palatine, Illinois, isn’t much worth knowing about unless you live there. A relatively contemporary Chicago suburb today, the community dates back more than 150 years, though it was best known for most of its first century as a lightly used rail stop utilized mostly by local farmers.
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Like most Chicago suburbs (and Chicago itself), Palatine falls under the jurisdiction of Cook County, a governance that brings notably higher taxes, but also a certain amount of order, safety, and general homogenization.
But as Palatine is situated at the extreme northwest corner of the county, village residents are just minutes from the lawless badlands that are unincorporated Lake County.
Route 12—known locally as Rand Road—was once the primary artery connecting Chicago to Wisconsin. Route 12 pierces Palatine on its north end, and weaves a northwest course into the wilds of Lake County, eventually reaching the Dairy State.
When my family moved to Palatine in 1973, the strip of Rand Road just outside of Palatine was thick with windowless taverns, gentlemen’s clubs, and adult bookstores. Signage for these establishments, as I recall, was limited to the painted plywood fasciae of the establishments, and a few of those rolling impermanent billboards with big neon arrows on them that get towed from business to business.
Intermixed with the venues of vice were the occasional big-truck repair shop, a few unbranded service stations, and a law-enforcement nightmare called the Rand Motel. Also found on Rand Road was a collection of used-car dealerships—none of which was branded, and none of which ever had more than a dozen vehicles in inventory.
As Lake County came into its own, the government—and likely the residents—worked to move the seedier businesses off of Rand, and by 1990 or so, only a single strip club remained.
What was left were the repair shops and the used-car dealers. Indeed, the car stores flourished, having found an otherwise neglected customer base to service: Spanish-speaking Palatine residents.
For years, these stores concentrated their retail efforts on high-mileage late-model pickup trucks, often marketed under the shady “buy here, pay here” plan.
Times have changed, however, and Palatine’s Hispanic residents have developed transportation tastes not unlike the general population. Thus, the Rand Road dealers today mostly stock late-model crossovers, but there are still pickups to be found, as well as the occasional high-mileage luxury sedan.
These stores aren’t as seedy as they once were, but there’s still a whiff of the plaid-jacket-style hucksterism that once permeated the Rand Road dealer row.
I wish I had taken it upon myself to photograph this area ten years ago, as the character of the area is slowly being sanitized away. In fact, an enormous new Toyota store now dominates that stretch of road. For what it’s worth, here are a few recent photos of what’s left of Palatine’s once infamous Rand Road area.
If you live near a stretch of small, unbranded used-car lots, tell us about it. The place to leave comments is down below.
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