I’m writing this from Seattle, Wash., one of my favorite cities to visit. One of the things I love most about Seattle is the vast number of local artists and local shops. I’ve never been very interested in having the same shirt from The Gap or some other chain store that everyone else has, so I love finding handmade clothing and accessories because that often means one-of-a-kind or extremely limited editions.
When I travel, rather than hitting up the souvenir stands for gifts for my friends and family or keepsakes for myself, I try to hit local craft fares or small shops that carry work made by local artists (although I admit I have a lot of Seattle magnets, shirts and snowglobes because I’m just that obsessed).
Recently, I realized I should be shopping at home this way, too. I’m great with putting together travel plans and lists of places to explore when I visit other towns, but sometimes I wander obliviously through Forest Park without stopping to visit the stores I would spend hours in if I were on vacation.
One of these stores, Pretty Little Things, 7234 W. Madison, is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month. Everything in the store – from notecards to flatware to jewelry to hats to nail polish to aged grapevine candle holders and tiny terrariums made of coral and seaglass from Mexico – is handmade, often out of repurposed materials.
The owners, sisters Binky Stephenson and Signe Heart, grew up in Minnesota. Binky lives in Oak Park now and Signe in Warrenville, but they opened their store here because of its “hipper vibe” and the other shop owners have been extremely welcoming – including their landlords, the owners of Team Blonde, who could have viewed Pretty Little Things as competition. Binky says the Forest Park mentality seems to be that when one store succeeds, it’s good for everyone.
Binky and Signe opened the shop as a “midlife crisis.”
“The kids got big, we were both housewives and this has always been our dream,” Binky explained as she and her nephew Ryan pressed metallic letters spelling out the names of herbs into antique flatware. They found their wares by visiting craft fares around the country and asking artists if they would be interested in selling at a store. Now artists are being referred to them. They sell goods from all over the U.S. but feature several Chicago-area artists, including knitwear made by a Forest Park woman.
Just down the block at 7314 Madison, Lisa Dodge owns American Artworks Gallery, which has been around since 2010. Local artists often get featured on the Holiday Walk, which I take advantage of for Christmas gifts, but if you want to support Illinois artists year-round, this is the place to buy things for birthdays, baby showers, or something special for yourself. Lisa started with 22 local artists and now features 56. She used to work in product placement, which in many cases involved taking U.S. jobs over to China. Doing so made her physically ill, so she quit and did this, which is the exact opposite. She sells products made by Forest Parkers and people from other parts of the Chicago area. When you shop at American Artworks Gallery, “you are buying directly from your neighbor,” Lisa says.
Not only that, you are getting something completely original and when you’re walking the streets of Seattle and get a compliment on your shirt from Pretty Little Things, you can say, “Thanks, that was made in my hometown!”
Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.