Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.
Down 2 Earth
107 E. Van Buren St., Woodstock, (815) 527-5300
When she was younger, Nina Huffman worked part-time in her parents’ store, Bison Trading Post, which was a Native-American and western shop in Woodstock. “I loved working there,” she says. “That was the inspiration to open my own store one day.”
That’s what Huffman did in 2014, when she opened Down 2 Earth on the Woodstock Square. “We focus on natural and handmade goods,” she says. “We sell Native American-made jewelry, pottery and artifacts.” Huffman’s fiance, Jason Neveu, does custom leather work in the shop, making items such as wallets and belts to sell.
Huffman gets her products from sources all over the country. Twice a year, she buys Native-American jewelry from a couple who makes the trek from New Mexico. A local woman makes homemade goat soap, and Huffman visits garage sales and antique stores hunting for unique items such as old trunks, barrels and wall hangers.
“We have items from the 1690s to vintage 1970s,” she says. “You just never know what someone may walk in with.”
Winter Hours: Tues.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Fri. noon-7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The Gift Box
310 W. State St., Geneva, (630) 232-4151, genevagiftbox.com
The Fox Valley is steeped in Scandinavian culture. A good reminder of it is found in The Gift Box, a Geneva-based Scandinavian shop that’s been in business since founder Edythe Anderson opened the doors in 1947. A few years later, she sold it to a relative, Lennart Jonsson, who moved to the U.S. from Sweden.
Lennart’s children, Maria and Hans Jonsson, carry on the legacy by selling unique items from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
The Gift Box offers a variety of items, including handcrafts, Dala horses, linens, candles, gourmet food, clothing, Swedish and Finnish crystal, cookware, jewelry and more. The Jonssons continue to make annual trips to Sweden in search of new products. The Gift Box also participates in Geneva’s Swedish Days, a popular event held downtown every June.
“It’s fun to keep the business going,” says Hans. “We grew up with the business and it’s part of who we are. When dad passed away in 2013, my sister and I didn’t hesitate to keep it open. We enjoy talking to customers who share stories about their parents and grandparents shopping there. We appeal to Scandinavian-Americans and their descendants who are interested in their roots. We want to see that excitement continue.”
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
200 Applebee St., Barrington, (847) 277-1381
40 S. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights, (224) 347-2699, tootsiesshoes.com
Douglas Pekarek knows shoes. After all, he’s been in the business for 37 years. In 2003, Pekarek bought Tootsies, a shoe store that sells women’s and children’s brands, with locations in Barrington’s Ice House Mall and Arlington Heights’ Dunton Court Shopping Center.
Tootsies Shoes carries a variety of brands for everyday living, including Bernie Mev, Clarks and Merrell. This fall, Pekarek plans to open a small men’s gift shop that features ties, wallets and slippers.
“We sell happiness,” says Pekarek. “We carry trendy brands that offer comfort. We try to make life easier for our customers.”
For Pekarek, customer service is what the shoe business is all about.
“We have five employees who have prior shoe experience,” he says. “One person has worked at Nordstrom as a buyer, and another has a father who owned five shoe stores. We become the customer’s confidant, advisor and mentor. We’re people born into shoes.”
Barrington hours: Mon.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Thurs. 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. noon-4 p.m.
Arlington Heights hours: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Gilbertson’s Stained Glass
705 Madison St., Lake Geneva, (262) 248-8022, stainedartglass.com
Ed Gilbertson’s world is surrounded by beautiful custom stained glass.
He’s the owner of Gilbertson’s Stained Glass, a Lake Geneva-based studio that designs and creates custom stained glass windows, lamps and unique art pieces for residential, commercial and liturgical clients around the world.
“We restore and repair any window – historic, antique or church,” says Gilbertson, who moved to Lake Geneva from California in 1982 to help run the business with his father, who has since retired. “We give customers analysis of their windows and guidelines in terms of what type of things should be done. We’re passionate about new projects, but we’ve also done some amazing restoration projects for our clients.”
Gilbertson’s staff consists of four artisans who design and fabricate each window. They come to the table with plenty of experience and techniques, using hand-painted and -fired glass, etched glass, custom beveled glass, and wheel and diamond engraving, to name a few.
“What we’re creating is art,” says Gilbertson. “What I enjoy most is looking at a finalized piece and it takes my breath away, even after all these years. Even the customers get emotional.”
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-1 p.m., or by appointment.