Nooks & Crannies

Sweet Earth, Sycamore

Sweet Earth

341 W State St., Sycamore (815) 895-3011,

Rich and Roseann Para opened their shop 17 years ago and moved it to a former Ben Franklin store two years later. They kept the Franklin name, because of the iconic standing of the five-and-dime franchise that began in 1927, known for its line of craft and novelty items.

After a public contest 18 months ago, they renamed it “Sweet Earth,” the name of their original store. Rich is a GIA-certified gemologist, and Roseann is a master engraver.

“I do jewelry work, appraisals, cleaning, repairs,” says Rich. “I also do fabrication, design, casting, remounting. Costume jewelry repair is big for us. Not many places do that.”

Roseann engraves everything from cups and the insides of rings to saber swords, glasses and bottles. “We get a lot of wine and liquor bottles to engrave, for weddings, anniversaries and holidays,” Rich says.

The beads and jewelry-making pieces are the only craft items they sell, but there’s an amazing selection. “We attend industry shows to keep up on the latest trends,” says Rich.

Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., noon-4 p.m.

Woodland Art Gallery & Frame Shoppe, Crystal Lake

Woodland Art Gallery & Frame Shoppe

44 Brink St., Crystal Lake (815) 459-0460

Owner Scott Teasdale was an unemployed carpenter in the 1970s, doing little projects for people, when someone asked him to make a picture frame. “Now, it’s 30 years later,” he says. “So you can say my career came about by accident, or perhaps destiny.”

No longer making his own frames from raw wood,Teasdale gets finished moldings from all over the world, including Czechoslovakia, Italy and France, “all with artisan craftmanship,” he says. He consults with customers about the best ways to showcase their items explains his process.

His specialty is framing historical documents, such as a land grant signed by Thomas Jefferson to a customer’s relative at the end of the Civil War. “I’ve preserved many papers with presidents’ signatures,” Teasdale says. “I most love framing priceless things from people’s pasts, to preserve them for the future. I’m working on three pieces for a woman now, made for her by her daughter in kindergarten. They’re priceless to her, and when I finish, they’ll be saved to be enjoyed for generations.”

Teasdale loves the challenge of three-dimensional objects, like baseballs, footballs, signed sports jerseys, christening gowns or groupings. “I’ve shadow-boxed collections like hat pins, swizzle sticks, war medals and uniforms. Flat is easy. 3-D requires more creativity.”

Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday and evenings by appointment.

Bird is the Word, Batavia

Bird is the Word

30 S. Shumway Ave., Ste. 4, Batavia, (630) 406-7610,

Owner Sally Haugk started her business in 1992, after working at another bird store. “I started with parakeets, and it just took off from there,” she says.

Haugk carries parakeets, love birds, cockatiels, cockatoos, conures, macaws, Amazons and other African parrots, as well as finches and canaries. She and her staff of certified avian specialists breed most of the birds, but also get some from local breeders. All are tested for avian diseases before they’re brought into the store.

Babies are ready to go to new homes at 12 or 14 weeks, but some owners buy them while they’re still being handfed, and come in to develop an early bond. Most birds aren’t in cages but in open playgrounds. Haugk sells cages, food and accessories, and offers boarding and clipping of wings and nails.

Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. to 6 p.m.; Sun. noon-4 p.m. Birds are put away an hour before closing.

Marbles: The Brain Store, Naperville

Marbles: The Brain Store

123 S. Washington St., Naperville (630) 355-6250,

Everything here, from books and software to puzzles and games, is designed to target one of the five functions of the brain: visual perception, coordination, word skills, critical thinking and memory.

The bulk of the items are designed for all ages. Chicagoans Lindsay Gaskins and Karen Luby opened the first Brain Store in downtown Chicago in October 2008, because of their parents’ concern over Alzheimer’s and dementia. They now have eight locations throughout the city and suburbs.

Sales associates, or “brain coaches,” can talk to customers about each product and the condition it helps: recovery from a stroke or accident; problems from dementia or ADHD; critical thinking or creativity.

Every item is backed by brain health experts, and each puzzle, game or activity is out on a table, to try before you buy. The Brain Store buyer attends toy fairs worldwide, so less than 5 percent of the items can be found in big box stores.
Hours: Mon.-Wed. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat. to 6 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.