Nooks & Crannies

Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.

D.C. Leatherworks

22170 Hillview Dr., Lake Barrington, (847) 828-3441,
Owner Darlene Carper started working with leather tooling in the milk house of the horse farm where she worked. “I was having a custom saddle made, and when I stopped in to check the progress, I got interested in the craft,” she says.

Carper then traveled the world, to work with award-winning boot makers and leather artists, honing her craft. In the past 10 years, she’s paid the bills with tack and halter repair, and it keeps her very busy. In her spare time, Carper works on designs and custom leather orders, using exotics such as eelskin and alligator, as well as traditional choices. She launched a website in 2011, and is now concentrating on creating a retail area in the storefront of her repair shop.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, mostly custom work for horse people – belts, halters, chaps and half-chaps, wallets and ammo boxes,” Carper says. “But I also make album and portfolio covers, Bible and tablet covers, knife sheaths, gun holsters, belts, purses, bracelets, cuffs.”
Carper creates the designs on paper first, then transfers them to the leather for hand tooling. She stains and paints the finished products herself.

“I can also use someone else’s drawing or design, or transfer a logo,” she says.
She even fabricates her own embellishments, like conches made from Indian head pennies or gemstones.

Store hours vary; call ahead for appt.

The Fold

3316 Millstream Road, Marengo, (815) 568-5730,
It began with two lambs, purchased to prevent a surplus of milk from the two family goats from going to waste. When the lambs were shorn for the first time, owner Toni Neal decided to learn to spin, to keep the wool from going to waste.

That was in spring 1980. When the last of her four children left the nest in 1993, Neal decided to expand her hobby into a business. In the meantime, she learned to weave the yarn, spin it, knit it, and color it using natural dyes. Her shop has grown, from a small breezeway between house and garage, selling mostly spinning supplies, to the entire three-car garage, overflowing with yarns, threads, fleece, handmade knit items, knitting supplies, spinning wheels and more.

The two lambs are now a flock of Merino sheep, 12 ewes and two rams, which produce 12 to 16 lambs each spring, and are sold for fleece or meat; Neal sells the Merino fleece in her shop.
She and a group of instructors offer classes in every aspect of the craft: spinning, weaving, natural dying and more.

Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m. & by appt.

Wicked Chocolates

2140 Lake Cook Road, Algonquin, (847) 844-0334,
Cyndi & Brian Green met online in 2009. “The first Christmas we spent together, I watched Cyndi make her traditional peanut butter cups and found out that candymaking was her hobby,” says Brian, a professional pastry chef. “We started talking about how fun it would be to open a business together.”

They married in April 2012 and opened Wicked Chocolates that September, selling handmade chocolates, mini-pastries, seasonal items and specialty gift boxes made by Cyndi.

“Everything is made in-house – the fillings, the pastry dough – and we temper our own chocolate,” says Brian, whose specialty is wine-infused chocolates, with names like Raspberry Riesling and Chardonnay Hazelnut. The pair also bake custom cakes.

The cafe serves scones, cookies and éclairs, along with teas and gourmet coffees from Conscious Cup, a roaster in Crystal Lake. Also setting it apart is the small size of the pastries, which means more treats and less guilt.

Hours: Tues-Sat 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

The Backdrop

106 Cass St., Woodstock, (815) 338-3007,

his fun and eclectic shop carries everything from vintage items and new merchandise to artisan pottery, jewelry and glass, handmade soaps and even small home decor items.
Siblings Kristan, Lisa and Gregg Hanson celebrated 25 years in business in October 2013, all of them in Woodstock, the past 16 in their present location. The trio seems to have found just the right blend of new and old, normal and wacky, style and kitsch.
“When you’ve been in business as long as we have, you learn to be creative, how to adapt and innovate,” Lisa says. “We focus on the vintage, but we bring in some quirky 21st century items that we like: books, signs, greeting cards.”
Located along the historic Square, the store is open and roomy, with vaulted ceilings and pressed tin tiles. Every corner offers something to reminisce over or peruse through, like a glass bowl filled with round pins with sayings, or a table of old glassware. Vintage items are sold as found, Lisa says, with no refinishing or polishing.
The collection changes often, she warns, so stop back soon.
Hours: Tues-Sat 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.