For almost two years now, in the weeks before every shopping guide comes out, managing editor Helen Karakoudas and I have been spending nights and weekends doing a kind of shoe-leather reporting you don’t see in community newspapers. We’ve been going in and out of shops documenting on a notepad and with a camera what you find locally that you’d be pressed to find elsewhere.

The range of specialty items in Forest Park, and at prices that aren’t always specialty-store highs, amazes us. Here are 10 of our favorite finds from 2009.

1. Switched on

In our HomeBook magazine last spring, we showed upfront what a destination Forest Park is for specialty goods. Not only did we find dozens of awesome light fixtures at Two Fish Art Glass, 7401 Madison, we found dozens of unusual choices in switch plate covers. The selection of designs in one line of ceramic covers was so rich, we had to line them up and put them on the cover.

2. A German chocolate fix

Sure, La Maison de Bonbon, 7353 Madison, makes its own French crèmes, but it also stocks candy bars from Germany that are marzipan coated in dark chocolate. Page 7, Valentine Gifts

3. Timeless art

We discovered more than cigars at Casa de Puros, 7410 Madison. When we were in just before the holidays, we met a local watch restorer whose work, like this pocket watch, you’ll now see there. This watch dates to 1923, has unusual dials and 19 jewels. Page 20, Holiday Gifts

4. Outer beauty

Among all the eco-friendly accessories at Team Blonde, 7442 Madison, we also found a double-sided necklace with this quip. Page 12, Valentine Gifts

5. 1970s rock stars, in mint condition

At Cyklopx, the pop culture store that opened last year at 7511 Madison, not one – but all four – of Kiss’s original members rock on, in makeup and as action figures. Page 10, Holiday Gifts

6. DIY inspiration

In addition to the histories and the mysteries at Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 Madison, we found collections of clip art on CDs – all classic designs that you can play with when you need artful touches for your home. Page 20, HomeBook

7. Altered expectations

Most alterations shops don’t stock jewelry. One that moved to 7302 Madison last year does. At Sew Particular, we found quite a few eye-catching pieces, including this vintage-metal tassel necklace. Page 14, Holiday Gifts

8. Woodsy elegance

At Flavour Cooking School, 7401 Madison, we found a serving piece that’s both rugged and refined: a basswood cutting board with a pewter spreader. The perfect presentation for your favorite cheeses. Page 17, My Holiday Home

9. A floral punch

The art of presentation resonates at Todd & Holland Tea Merchants, 7311 Madison. Bold patterns on a tray such as this complement the delicacy of the shop’s hundreds of teas. Page 12, Holiday Gifts

10. Teen-worthy nostalgia

Attitude is great when it’s right on. At The Old School Records, 7446 Madison, this classic Chicago punk CD said it all. Page 10, Holiday Gifts

Kate Pancero is an assistant editor at Chicago Parent, a monthly magazine published by Wednesday Journal Inc., the company that owns Forest Park Review. After hours, she helps cover the shopping scene for Wednesday Journal’s group of weekly newspapers.