Nooks & Crannies

Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.

Naturally Gifted

6500 Northwest Highway, Ste. 2B, Crystal Lake, (779) 220-9954,

Opened in January 2019, this store sells a variety of good-smelling products, including candles, sugar scrub, body butter and hand soap – all made with essential oils.

What’s more noteworthy about this store is where its products come from. Naturally Gifted is a vocational training program led by Clearbrook, an Arlington Heights-based nonprofit that serves about 8,000 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It recently expanded to McHenry County.

“They go through a 12-week curriculum that has classroom training and hands-on skill development,” says Jessica Jablonski, marketing coordinator for Clearbrook. “They also learn to make the product, stock inventory and gain customer service experience.”

One of the most popular items is the shower vapor melt, which comes in scents like wellness, calming, headache and sleeping blends.

“You could go anywhere to buy a candle, but when you buy something from Naturally Gifted, you’re buying so much more than a product,” says Juliann Carlson, director of marketing for Clearbrook. “You’re buying something that is handmade by someone whose goal is to work in the community.”

Hours: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-3 p.m


Franklin’s Frames and Art

423 N. Main St., Sycamore, (815) 895-8232,

After teaching history for three decades, Ken Evans retired so he could pursue his art, photography and fusion wood sculptures. Along the way, he bought a store that allowed him to help fellow artists while also sharing his own artwork with others.

Today, Franklin’s Frames and Art offers quality, custom framing, frame repair, and photo restoration and printing. There’s also a display area where local artists show off their works.

Though most of the business revolves around framing, Evans estimates nearly one-third of his work involves art restoration and repair of damaged canvases. He carries more than 2,000 frames on display.

“I like to say that there is nothing that I can’t frame,” says Evans. “I’ve framed basketball uniforms with basketballs in the frame. I had one woman who came in and had a picture with spilled milk on it. I took it into my darkroom and soaked it, and I removed all of the milk from it.”

Evans has even framed a brick for a local FBI agent – who, of course, kept it a secret why he wanted it framed.

Hours: Tues. 10 a.m-4 p.m., Wed. to 5 p.m., Thurs. to 6 p.m. and Sat. to 2 p.m.


Smallcakes, A Cupcakery of St. Charles

117 W. Main St., Ste. 120, St. Charles, (630) 587-2253,

Longtime baker Tina Wackerlin had always dreamed of owning her own bakery, but it wasn’t until she came across the Smallcakes franchise that she could make it a reality.

Smallcakes Cupcakery was founded in 2008 by Jeff Martin, who earned a name for himself and his company on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” The business now has locations all across the country.

In St. Charles, Wackerlin and her team of six craft 17 signature flavors and two daily specials, building everything from scratch. Top flavors include pink vanilla, pink chocolate, choco-holic, vanilla-n-chocolate, cookies-n-cream, lemon drop, red velvet, peanut butter cup and chocolate cream.

By far, wedding cake is the most popular flavor, says Wackerlan. It’s made with almond extract and vanilla bean, then topped with a signature almond frosting and white sugar pearls.

Cupcakes come in either mini or jumbo size, and gluten-free variations are available on Fridays.

Smallcakes also maintains a social events room on the lower level. It’s been a popular spot for bridal showers, meetings and birthday parties.

Hours: Tues.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sun. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.