Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.
102 Fifth Ave., New Glarus, Wis., (608) 527-4878, thebramblepatch.biz
Award-winning syrup and handcrafted pottery are the main staples at this quaint business in downtown New Glarus. Inside you’ll also find T-shirts, purses and other apparel as well as food items including salsa, honey and pancake mix.
“If you walk into our store, you’ll find something that you’ll like,” says Sheri Wx, who owns the business with her mother, Carol Allen.
Carol started Bramble Patch in 1992 when she sold Polish pottery and her family’s own maple syrup at farmers markets and art shows in Wisconsin and Illinois. Then, in 2001, with the help of Sheri, who returned to the area after living in California, Carol opened a store in New Glarus.
Today, Bramble Patch carries some 11,000 pieces of pottery, all made by hand in Poland.
“Each piece is a beautiful work of art, yet it’s designed to be used every day, so it’s durable enough to be used in the oven, microwave and dishwasher,” Sheri says.
The maple syrup continues to be made by Carol’s brother, Joe. It’s won numerous awards, including four first-place honors at the International Maple Syrup contest.
Sheri says the store continues to grow thanks to the input of customers.
“We’ve listened to their feedback, and we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t,” she says.
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Fri. to 5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
37 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake, (815) 526-3733, mum117.com
Lynn Lourie’s 26-year career as an art instructor at McHenry County College shines through at her boutique store in downtown Crystal Lake.
“It’s not a very crowded store, but my use of color, texture and design definitely comes into play,” says Lourie, who set up shop in 2017.
The store specializes in items for the home including pillows, kitchen supplies and fine art. Baby items, women’s clothing and a small, careful assortment of books complement her lineup.
Whenever possible, Lourie, who retired 10 years ago, tries to carry items that integrate reused or recyclable materials.
“We do have a number of objects that either come from recycled materials or some kind of renewable source,” Lourie says. “If we aren’t concerned about our environment, we’re going to be in dangerous territory.”
Recent shoppers might have spied items from BIDKhome, a stylish home goods line that incorporates materials such as recycled rubber, latex and paper.
Lourie tries to separate her store from big-box competitors by carrying items that can’t be found anywhere else.
“I try to make an effort to carry a lot of things that you can’t find online,” Lourie says.
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. to 4 p.m., Sun. to 3 p.m.
Mama Lee’s Gourmet Popcorn
20 S. Spring St., Elgin; 1484 Spring Hill Mall, West Dundee; (847) 789-6084, mamaleepopcorn.com
One of Christopher Sumner’s most cherished childhood memories is of eating his mother’s homemade caramel popcorn.
The Elgin native loved his mother’s popcorn so much that he mastered the recipe – and then used it as the basis for his own business, Mama Lee’s Gourmet Popcorn. The colorful shop has drawn a loyal following to its location in downtown Elgin, but it’s also growing its base at West Dundee’s Spring Hill mall and at the Ford City Mall in Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood.
Popped fresh daily, Mama Lee’s popcorn comes in more than 40 flavors, including choices like banana split, buffalo cheddar, birthday cake and caramel apple. Flavors are rotated each week. Samples, of course, are always available.
The staff at Mama Lee’s likes to have fun, as evidenced by their telling customers to have a “poptastic day,” and their fun online videos like the catchy “Popcorn Song.”
Sumner wants his customers to feel the love inside every batch.
“We like to think of ourselves as an extension of your family,” Sumner says on the company’s website.
Elgin hours: Wed.-Thurs. noon-6 p.m., Fri.-Sat. to 7 p.m. West Dundee hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m.
C.R. Goodfinds Housewares & Sundries
731 W. Main St., Lake Geneva, (262) 812-4101
Tom Konopacki has lived and breathed retail all his life and owns two stores in Geneva, Ill. So when he relocated his Lake Geneva store to a vintage building on bustling Main Street this year, he knew that his customers would not only appreciate great inventory, but also a shopping space with true character.
“We brought back to life the original hardwood floors and tin ceiling and uncovered the beautiful limestone columns and header on the front facade that had been hidden for decades,” he says. “We wanted to honor the history of the building instead of cover it up.”
C.R. Goodfinds sells affordable home accents, artwork and seasonal décor. Konopacki prides himself on his constantly evolving selection.
“I rarely place re-orders,” he says. “We’re very in tune with the changing seasons and are always transitioning to the next one, just as nature does.”
There’s a heavy splash of handmade and locally made wares as well as a nice mix of women’s apparel, jewelry and handbags. The collections of housewares – from rugs, candles and mirrors to a little bit of everything else – are artfully displayed.
“If I see something I think customers will enjoy, I carry it,” says Konopacki. “I don’t box myself in. We’re like an old-fashioned general store. That’s where the ‘sundries’ part of our name comes in.”
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.