Nooks & Crannies

Discover these unique stores that remain off the beaten path

Twisted Stem, Crystal Lake, Ill.

Twisted Stem

407 E. Terra Cotta Ave. Crystal Lake, (815) 459-9770,

John Regan, who co-owns the shop with three siblings, has been a floral designer in Chicagoland for more than 30 years.

When his employers closed their Crystal Lake flower shop with a very loyal clientele, he bought it. “The timing was right to fill the void that was being created,” says Regan. “Edgy & elegant” Twisted Stem opened in November 2010.

“We have an industrial-chic look, with polished concrete floors, ductwork on the walls, an electric orange ceiling and a galvanized service counter,” says Regan. He uses more unusual blooms than most flower shops – no baby’s breath or mini-carnations here.

“We’re using a lot of tillandsia right now, because they can survive, actually thrive, without a pot and provide striking height and textural contrast,” says Regan.

There’s no book of cookie-cutter designs, either. “I liken it to fine dining,” he explains. “You don’t open the menu and see pictures of the dishes. You read a description that hopefully makes you say, ‘I’ll try that.’ I’m good at painting a mental picture of what clients get. I love doing something different, energizing people’s tables with unique pieces, challenging their conceptions.”

Prices start at $10 to $20, and every design is distinctive. Hours: Mon.-Fri. 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. ❚

Blanchard's Feed & Stable Supply, Genoa, Ill.

Blanchard’s Feed & Stable Supply

15487 IL Route 72 Genoa (815) 784-3012,

Ton’t let the name fool you. This is the place for Western and riding apparel of all kinds, for men, women and children. “We have everything – boots, cowboy hats, shirts, vests, chaps, jeans,” says Manager John Blanchard. “We have some English apparel, but the bulk is Western wear.”

The most popular hat brands are Resistol and Stetson. The store has a steamer for stretching, but “It’s better if it fits right off,” says Blanchard. Clothing ranges from the durable Wrangler and Carhartt to a few specialty brands like Cinch and Scully, and styles go from work and rodeo to trail riding and casual.

The store carries boots from Resistol, Ariat, Double-H, Dan Post and more. And if he doesn’t stock what you like, Blanchard will order it.

Saddle and tack brands include Tex Tan, Big Horn and Billy Cook, with bridles, blankets, bits, lunge lines and more. There’s even a leather repair shop onsite. Bronc busters will find rodeo equipment: bull rider gloves and ropes; rosin; back pads; protective vests; bronc and bull spurs; rodeo chaps.

There’s Purina and Hubbard Feed; health products like wound salve and fly repellent; and grooming supplies such as shampoo and hoof picks.

Blanchard’s father, who trained quarter horse halter horses, opened the store in 1969, between Elgin and St. Charles. It moved to its present site in 2005.

Blanchard, who owns a couple of trail horses, manages it for the owner – his mother Audrey, age 79, who still comes in to pay bills and chat with customers. Hours: Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. noon-3 p.m. ❚

Levin's Shoes & Dry Goods, Marengo

Levin’s Shoes & Dry Goods

212 S. State, Marengo, (815) 568-7731,

In 1922, the current owner’s grandparents began selling work boots and bib overalls to local farmers. Nearly a century later, the business is a Marengo institution.

Son Ralph began working in the store at age 7, and he and wife Toby took over in 1948. They had six children, all of whom worked in the store as they grew up, as their father had. All went to college and pursued their own careers, but Robert came home and bought the business in 1984.

“The retail arena is quite different than in 1922,” says Levin. “But we’ve been evolving the entire time. This is still largely a farming community, so we carry brands my grandparents did – OshKosh bibs, Duofold long johns, American-made work boots. But we also carry casual and dress shoes, Marengo spirit wear, jeans and women’s casual clothing.”

Customers are part of the history, too. “People who first came in with their parents are now bringing their own children in,” says Levin.
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Fri. to 7 p.m.; Sat. to 5 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ❚

Reeses Barkery & Pawtique, McHenry, Ill.

Reeses Barkery & Pawtique

1313 N. Riverside Dr., McHenry, (815) 363-7297,

Sharon and Ed Ahrens opened their store five years ago and named it after their chocolate lab, Reeses. “She had problems with allergies, and when the vets couldn’t seem to help us, we started researching pet foods,” says Sharon. “And when Reeses improved after we adjusted her diet, we decided we wanted to educate other pet owners on ways of keeping their pets healthier.”

The Ahrens carry dog and cat food lines that contain human-grade ingredients with no fillers – no corn or meat byproducts allowed. Grain-free kibble brands include EVO and Call of the Wild; raw food brands include Nature’s Variety and Primal. They also offer fresh and freeze-dried treats and frozen raw bones, as well as fresh-baked cookies, nuggets, biscuits and even made-to-order cakes for furry friends.

Also for sale are leashes, toys, bowls, health products, grooming items and pet-themed gifts. Pet photography is available, and on Wednesdays, a groomer provides $5 nail clippings from 5-6 p.m.

Hours: Tues.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 8 a.m.-noon. ❚