Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park retail, perfectly imagined


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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Admittedly, I'm a guy who doesn't like to shop. Never tried on more than two pairs of shoes. Buy my clothes at Carson's. Or maybe it's Kohl's. At the same time, I buy virtually nothing online and have deep loyalties to the local business owners who put themselves into their work and who have kept Wednesday Journal in advertising for 34 years. And, come to think of it, I started a retail business in my very early 20s.

That said, it is not often that I walk into a store and am charmed, inspired, amused, yes even secretly thrilled. But it happened on Saturday. Mother's Day eve. No presents for Mary, the mother of our children, my wife of nearly 38 years, my colleague at the paper for many, many years. I was on the verge of serious cad-hood. 

And then I dropped Mary off at the home of her college chum up north of Chicago Avenue and on the way back home spotted Bee Home and Garden. I knew about the shop. It was launched a little over a year back by Colleen Maia, who used to live next door to us on Humphrey. Colleen got big points for transforming the seriously derelict home next to us into a lovely, gracious, saleable home. Then she was on to other gut and rehab jobs. Most recently the idea was to gut a commercial property and open a retail store. And that became Bee Home and Garden 128 Chicago Ave. (near Lombard). 

On Saturday I walked in without an idea. Walked out a hero-in-the-making with jewelry, artwork, lip balm (who doesn't like lip balm!), a book on Paris and the most beautiful hanging basket I have ever seen.

A couple of years back, I discovered a shop in Forest Park called Yearbook. I wrote about it then and called it "the most perfectly imagined retail store" of the year. It got me thinking about other local shops that were most clearly the creation of an entrepreneur/merchandiser with a particularly clear vision of a shop.  

There aren't many. Most shops feel, not wrongly, like straight-up commercial ventures. If I sell books, then I sell greeting cards. Add on wrapping paper. Then mugs. And calendars. Before long you have a friggin' Hallmark store with a few books at the edges.

But a shop that could only be created by one person, maybe by one person at a singular moment in their lives, that is a very special place. So with the disclaimer that I don't know nothing about women's clothing stores, that there are certainly stores I've missed, and that I will overlook something obvious, here's my list of "perfectly imagined" local retailers, present and past.

Careful Peach on North Boulevard is fully the creation of Karen Morava's lush view of the world. There used to be a store on North Boulevard that always surprised me within its own small sphere of goods. That was called Creative Workshop.

The original Barbara's Bookstore at Marion and Westgate was an epiphany in bookselling. Deep, deep stock. Built on two levels so there was this sense of space. A staff that was legitimately eccentric, not just cranky as in later years when the store moved to Lake Street. The Book Table is a more-than-worthy successor.

Camille et Famille in its first expansive version on Oak Park Avenue was a wonderful and eclectic experience. Still like the current Forest Park store but not quite the same. Also in Forest Park, Schauer's is the ultimate neighborhood hardware store.

Used to be a great spot on Roosevelt Road called, I think, Urban Farm. And from my youth, the Harrison Shop, a department store in a shoebox.

What am I missing? Where have I gone wrong?

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

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colleen maia from oak park  

Posted: May 14th, 2014 2:02 PM

Dan, We so appreciate your nice words. I hope Mary had a wonderful Mother's Day. Colleen Maia and the staff at Bee Home and Garden

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