Nooks & Crannies, Holiday Edition

Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.

The Collector’s Bench

218 E. State St., Rockford, (815) 708-7675

“All things sports and 1,000 percent authentic,” is how Brad Parvin describes his collection of sports memorabilia, cards and apparel. He boasts the largest collection of Chicago Cubs baseball cards in the world, all on display and for sale in his shop, which attracts the likes of WGN reporters.

“You can literally come in and see the entire history of the Cubs in these cards,” he says. Beckett Magazine – the bible for all things sports memorabilia related – considers him a Top 10 dealer in the world.

A Rockford native, Parvin is a lifelong buyer, seller and trader of sports cards who nurtured his hobby-turned-business from home the past five years, while also working full-time.

“It got so busy that I just decided to take the leap and make this my full-time business, after I got the approval from my wife, Natalie,” he says. “It required a lot of begging.”

Parvin’s dry humor comes through as sports fans gather in his shop to watch him open new packs of cards, an experience he records and uploads to his Facebook page for the enjoyment of fans as far away as Australia. “People buy the boxes and ask me to open them. They seem to think I’m lucky.”

Parvin partners with Fanatics Co., which distributes authentically autographed items from major league teams.

“As with any industry, there’s some fraud, so it’s important to work with authentic dealers. I guarantee everything I carry because I work with the very best suppliers,” he says. He carries the Bryzzo line of sports apparel, a co-adventure of Cubs players Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Parvin encourages wide-eyed sports lovers like him to drop in and indulge their passion.

The Black Orchid Boutique

1226 N. Green St., McHenry, (815) 322-2624,

When you shop at The Black Orchid Boutique, you’ll have a hard time matching outfits with someone else.

“We keep things new and fresh,” says owner Carol Chrisman.

Black Orchid Boutique is a small, quaint store that specializes in unique fashions, accessories and jewelry, among other things.

Chrisman was no stranger to retail when she opened her upscale women’s boutique six years ago. She’s been in retail and a buyer of fashion for more than 20 years.

“My love for clothes and fashion is what helped me get this business off the ground,” she says. “I like to be eclectic, because not everyone likes the same things and not everyone is shaped the same way.”

Her store is loaded with the latest fashion trends in women’s clothing, including jeans, blouses and dresses. She also carries stylish handbags and chic jewelry.

“We spend time finding wonderful items you won’t find in a big-box store,” Chrisman says. “We like keeping up with fashion, giving people what they’re asking for and making people happy.”

Hours: Tues.-Fri. 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Extended hours during the holiday season. Private shopping parties are available.

360 Flavor & Spice

577 S. Third St., Geneva, (630) 262-1777,

From an apple pie spice to fajita seasoning, there are more than 100 spices sold in this shop.

“We use fresh spices and herbs, and we won’t grind them unless we need to,” says John Cirpinski, who co-owns the business with his wife, Ann Keen, and Kevin Bozis. “Our blends have a big, fresh flavor.”

The store operated as the Geneva Spice House under the Spice House Corporation for about a decade. Cirpinski, Keen and Bozis ended their agreement with the corporation over the summer and are now running the store as a standalone company.

“All the recipes and ingredients we used were from other spice houses, so they had the same blends,” Cirpinski says. “Now, we can do the blends that we want to do.”

We’re not talking run-of-the-mill spices. They have hot and spicy choices, like cayenne pepper and bayou Cajun. If you’re into baking, there’s a hot chocolate blend, bourbon maple sugar spice and a pumpkin pie blend.

They also have 14 varieties of pepper and 13 kinds of salt.

“We also have Sriracha blends available,” Cirpinski says. “We try to listen to our customers, and we enjoy giving them suggestions.”

Hours: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat.-Sun. to 5 p.m.

Sweet C’s Bakery

10 N. Bothwell St., Palatine, (847) 496-7929,

If you walk into Sweet C’s Bakery and see a large basketball shoe, you may think it’s a statue or a figurine.

“That’s actually a cake,” owner Celia Kallenborn says with a laugh. “We also did one in the shape of a brain for a brain surgeon.”

Sweet C’s Bakery specializes in three C’s: cakes, cookies and cupcakes. It’s a small, impressive bakery with just three employees.

Kallenborn’s crew also specializes in custom-decorated cookies, thanks to the hundreds of cookie cutters at their disposal.

“We can do anything from a Chicago Bears jersey to a butterfly,” Kallenborn says. “Almost any idea you have, we can turn into a decorated cookie.”

Kallenborn has been in business for three years. After spending 20 years working in insurance, she decided to follow her passion and open her own shop.

She has plenty of help and guidance from her father, who owns Mexico Uno, a Mexican restaurant located around the corner.

Kallenborn believes in maintaining a close interaction with her customers.

“I’m involved in every order that goes out the door,” she says. “One thing my father taught me about running a small business is to put all of my heart and soul into each cake and cookie that I make. And I do.”

Hours: Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.