Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.
Furniture by Jason
3314 Pearl St., McHenry, (815) 403-2020, furniturebyjason.com
When Jason Rodrigue saw a building for rent in downtown McHenry, he imagined a space in which his furniture sketches could come to life. Since June 2015, the self-taught furniture designer, fabricator and artisan woodworker has been channeling his creativity into producing the one-of-a-kind, handcrafted furniture found in his McHenry shop.
“To me, furniture-making is an art form, and like art, it is constantly evolving,” he says.
Rodrigue creates each of these handcrafted pieces, such as cutting boards and shelving units, tables and bed frames.
But Rodrigue’s real passion is creating made-to-order furniture, which enables him to mix his creative designs with the client’s aesthetic preferences and spatial limitations.
Rodrigue recently began working with metal fabricator Josh Benkert to design and create a wider range of pieces. Custom sofas and chairs, for example, will soon join the lineup.
Around the open, garage-like display floor, Rodrigue’s custom furniture creations stand with prints and paintings from local artists.
“The key to making great furniture is that it has to be fun, edgy or unusual,” Rodrigue says. “If it’s not, then what’s the point?”
Hours: Wed.-Sat. noon-6 p.m.
150 Broad St., Lake Geneva, (262) 248-6756, genevagifts.com
This small downtown souvenir shop has become a go-to for both residents and tourists in Lake Geneva. Located inside the former Hill’s Cafe and Greyhound bus station, Geneva Gifts started as a simple gift shop for tourists. When Don and Marilyn Ketchpaw purchased the store in 1976, it began to take on a life of its own. In time, the couple sold the store to their daughter, Melissa Reuss, and her husband, who continue the tradition.
“I started to work when I was 13, so this will be my 40th year working at Geneva Gifts,” says Reuss.
Today, shelves are stocked with T-shirts, toys, jewelry, sports merchandise, candy and, of course, gifts and souvenirs.
In 1982, Geneva Gifts introduced its now-famous homemade fudge. With 28 flavors in the winter and as many as 40 in the summer, fudge comes in favorites including the classic milk chocolate and salted caramel.
Geneva Gifts also offers the full line of Jelly Belly, including Bean Boozled flavors.
Hours: Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
The Hairy Ant
601 Sidwell Court, Ste. F, St. Charles, (630) 338-7194, thehairyant.org
It started with the purchase of a four-color manual press in 2005. Inside a friend’s garage in Schaumburg, Anthony Harrison spent nights and weekends screen printing personal projects and custom orders for friends and local businesses. It wasn’t until he partnered with Hairy Ant co-owner Jeff Beitel that Harrison’s business became a full-fledged reality.
The screen-printing and design shop now stands in a 2,500-square-foot space in St. Charles, equipped with an eight-color, 10-station automatic M&R Diamondback press and a professional darkroom. The Hairy Ant team provides screen printing of custom T-shirts, other apparel and a wide range of accessories, as well as corporate branding and design.
“My second job ever as a business was for Navistar International,” says Harrison. “It was for 2,500 shirts, with printing on the front, back and sleeve. It took me 10 hours a day for 28 days, working with my friend Dan, to finish. Today, I could finish that job in two to three business days.”
Harrison says he enjoys creating shirts and merchandise for bands and other artists who have a vision and stand to benefit from his work.
Appointments and custom orders can be made by calling or emailing the store.
The Irish Boutique
434 Robert Parker Coffin Road, Long Grove, (847) 634-3540, irishboutique.com
Patrick Barry meant only to travel through Chicago in 1960, but he seems to have never left. The Ireland native arrived on his way home from a volunteer teaching job in Belize. After he met his wife and opened a store in Highwood, in May 1973, he knew he was here to stay.
“Linda and I started selling imported items from Ireland,” says Barry. “She was Filipina, which amused a lot of people because she became more Irish than the Irish themselves.”
The couple moved the store to Long Grove in 1975 and expanded its selection of Irish hand-knit sweaters, claddagh rings, china, food, books, music, gifts and more. Five years later, they held a local naming competition for the opening of their second store, Paddy’s on the Square, also in Long Grove. “Paddy was a real Irish name,” says Barry, “and that’s who I am.”
In 2004, following Linda’s death, Barry and his son, John, opened a third store in Crystal Lake. John has now taken over formal ownership of the stores, but Barry still can be seen at one of the three locations every day. Together, the father and son update selections through trips to supplier conferences in Ireland and New York.
“We also started a book club a few years ago, and it’s still going strong with about 35 guests every meeting,” says Barry.
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.