Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.
The Canine Crunchery
1422 20th Street, Rockford, (815) 520-4752
More than 20 years ago, Jane Femminella’s dog, Chloe, developed an intolerance for preservatives, so she began baking preservative-free dog biscuits. When neighbors’ dogs refused to pass her house until they got a homemade treat, their owners wanted to buy biscuits. “That’s when we thought maybe we’re on to something,” she says.
Her store opened in October 2012 and relocated in May to the former Stockholm Inn at Broadway and 20th Street. Femminella seeks input from veterinarians, animal nutritionists and trainers when developing new recipes, to ensure that the all-natural, freshly baked goods are tasty and healthy.
“The newest, ‘Buster’s Brittle,’ is grain-free and made with turmeric and olive oil,” she says. “We like to use local ingredients, but if I can’t get it locally, I make sure it’s USA-made.”
The store also carries pet accessories and dog-themed items, about 95 percent of which are local. Regulars enjoy the attention Femminella and her staff lavish on the furry clientele.
The store is also a drop-off point for Rockford Food Pantry’s Kibble Korner. “If you bring a donation, you get half-price muffins,” says Femminella.
Hours: Tues.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. to 4 p.m.
Sterling Welcome Center & Gallery
318 First Ave., Sterling, Ill., (815) 626-8610, sterlingmainstreet.org/VisitSterling
Last summer, the success of Sterling’s Fourth Fridays and its monthly art walk prompted Janna Groharing, the executive director of Sterling Main Street, and Kim Ewoldsen, then-director for the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, to find a permanent space for local artists to showcase their work. The city also lacked an outlet for tourist information.
“Kim and I got to discussing the fact that the Chamber, Main Street and City offices are all closed on weekends,” Groharing says. Realizing that her large one-person office would make a great display area, she moved to a smaller office around the corner.
The Welcome Center & Gallery officially opened Nov. 21. “Our hope is this space will become your ‘one-stop-shop’ for community information,” Groharing says.
As for artwork, the inventory is always changing. “There are amazingly talented individuals right here in our community,” she says.
Visitors also find products that support local nonprofits, like Sterling Schools Athletic Boosters, Sterling-Rock Falls Historical Society and Whiteside County Genealogists.
Hours: Thurs.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-4 p.m.
145 High St., Mineral Point, Wis., (608) 987-1500, phoebesneststore.com
Before this store opened in December 2006, RuthAnn Steuber spent plenty of time planning out every detail of the eclectic gift shop in the center of Mineral Point’s historic district. She knew she wanted a unique mix of art, antiques and fair trade goods, and worked hard to create a warm, welcoming ambience.
Steuber spent one year researching the building – Mineral Point’s original firehouse, which had been stripped of much of its charm in a 1947 renovation – and another year restoring the structure, even recreating its original 1900 facade.
“I wanted the store to feel comfortable, elegant, and to provide ‘indoor sunshine,’” Steuber says. “We provide a mix of old and new, as well as work by local and regional artisans and craftsmen. Pottery and oil paintings are in the mix, with remarkable jewelry, handcrafted furniture, antiques, vintage pieces, and locally crafted silk pillows and table runners.”
Phoebe’s Nest showcases works by more than 25 regional artists, plus books by local authors, and will take part in Mineral Point’s Gallery Nights on June 4, Aug. 7 and Dec. 5.
Hours: Mon., Wed.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; occasional extended hours.
The Cheese Market
1791 S. West Ave., Freeport, (815) 232-9034, cheesemarketil.com
After opening The Cheese Market in 2011, co-owner Jamie Engel learned just how much people love cheese. Within two years, the store had outgrown its original space and moved to its current location, which is three times the size. “Being right on Illinois Route 26 has been good for us,” Engel says. “With our bright yellow building with black spots, we have all the advertising we need.”
The store carries about 60 kinds of cheese. “The most popular is Baby Swiss, but close runners-up are Sharp Cheddar, Gouda, German Brick, Pavino and Muenster,” says Engel.
Her favorite cheese? “I’m really liking the four-year-old aged Cheddar right now,” she says. “But my tastes change every month or so. Last month I was into the Pavino, an Italian cheese similar to Parmesan. Next month, who knows?”
You can buy more than cheese at The Cheese Market, which also stocks salsas, meats, jams, crackers, pickles, olives, mustards and more.
The shop makes cheese trays and custom gift baskets. It ships, too.
Business is booming, and The Cheese Market is expanding to Rockford this summer, to a location near Perryville Road.
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.