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Put the Fun Back Into Shopping: NWQ’s Holiday Shopping Guide

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There was a time when holiday shopping was a lot of fun, not just a chore accomplished at the mall or online. Start off your holiday season with some fun by checking out unique, locally owned businesses in these 10 destinations.

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It’s autumn, and we’re yearning to get out on the road. The crisp air is invigorating. The holidays are just around the corner and we dream of getting our shopping done early, but we’re tired of the same old dull experience offered by big-box stores.

There was a time when holiday shopping was an enjoyable experience on the journey toward Christmas. We made a day of it, shopping with loved ones, sometimes even taking time off from work or school. We plotted our stops carefully, enjoyed the decorations along the way, built in a few relaxing breaks for lunch,  coffee, a glass of wine or even a massage. We chatted with local shopkeepers, who were not only knowledgeable about products, but also enthused about helping us to find a “just right” gift for someone special.

Why not take life by the horns and make your shopping time fun again? A leisurely road trip to an enclave rich with locally owned shops is just the ticket. Here, we offer a few suggestions for destinations that are both fun to shop and rewarding to visit.

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Beloit

Beloit is brimming with cute little nooks that carry vintage treasures. Discover the perfect gift for a special someone, enjoy fun winter recreation and take in the city’s charming downtown.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
Unique collectibles and angel figurines, fine art and Turkish home decor, designer jewelry, gourmet food items, shoes, custom flower arrangements, chocolates, books.

A Few of Our Favorites:
Vintage Bliss, The Nest Egg, Heavenly Treasures Gift Shoppe, Pizzazz Gift Boutique, Turtle Creek Bookstore, Northwoods Premium Confections, Stanton Shoes, Annabelle’s Boutique, Dana’s Gifts and Flower Shoppe.

Upcoming Events:
• Grand Lighted Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting, Nov. 27
• Holidazzle, Dec. 4
Learn more at visitbeloit.com.

While You’re Here:
See more than 12,000 angels on display at Angel Museum, ice skate at Edwards Ice Arena, explore the Wright Museum of Art and the Logan Museum of Anthropology, purchase homemade preserves from Bushel & Peck’s, and enjoy delicious seafood and steak at Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint.

 

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Rockford

If you haven’t been to Rockford lately, this is a good year to plan a shopping day. The downtown is enjoying a renaissance, Edgebrook is loaded with interesting locally owned shops, and many retail gems are thriving throughout the city.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
Rockford’s museum gift shops carry items you won’t find elsewhere, including Discovery Center, Burpee, Midway Village and Rockford Art Museum. Museum and garden memberships, or tickets to local concerts and plays make a fine gift, too. Think outside the box, such as original framed photography by David C. Olson or Northern Leaf Imaging.

A Few of Our Favorites:
Arch, Artale wine, The Cheese Market, Cookies by Design, Gensler Gardens, Mincemoyer and Gruno jewelers, Minglewood, Olive Oil Experience & Spice Galleria, Sweet Pans Shoppe, Treasures Galore, Unabridged Used Bookstore, Rocktown Adventures, Salvaged by Sonya, Wild Birds Unlimited.

Upcoming Events:
• Stroll on State Nov. 28, 3-9 p.m. with decor, food, vendors.
• Santa Claus Parade, Dec. 5 & 6
• Nicholas Conservatory All Aglow Express, weekends Nov. 28- Dec. 6
• Festival of Lights, Sinnissippi Park, all season

 

Downtown New Glarus, Wis.

Downtown New Glarus, Wis.

New Glarus, Wis.

What a charming place to visit any time of year. Sample locally produced cheese, wine and beer and stock up for parties and gift baskets. Pick up a fresh-baked kringle or other sweet treats from the New Glarus Bakery and wander shops that are truly unique.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
Local gourmet foods and beautiful tableware, including an extensive inventory of Polish pottery; home decor, top quality children’s gifts, all things Alpine.

A Few of Our Favorites:
Artful Gourmet, Brenda’s Blumenladen and Kinderladen, The Bramble Patch, Esther’s European Imports, Sugar River Shoppe, Maple Leaf Cheese & Chocolat Haus, Sisters.

Upcoming Events:
• Holiday Tree Lighting, Nov. 27
• St. Nicholas Day Shopping Specials, Dec. 5
Find details at swisstown.com

While You’re Here:
Tour New Glarus Brewing Co. and take home some Spotted Cow, enjoy Swiss Fondue and other Swiss/German fare at the New Glarus Hotel or Glarner Stube restaurant.

 

Downtown Monroe, Wis.

Downtown Monroe, Wis.

Monroe, Wis.

Monroe Square is filled with interesting shops, nearly all of them locally owned. With its Swiss German influence, food items here are as tasty as you could hope for. Monroe also is home to the Swiss Colony headquarters and outlet store.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
Everything cheese, sausage and beer. The city also has more than its fair share of talented artists whose work is sold in galleries on the square.

A Few of Our Favorites:
The Wooden Trooper, Fireside Books, Edelweiss Gifts, A Stitch in Time, Baumgartner Cheese Store & Tavern, The Green Door, Luecke’s Diamond Center.

Upcoming Events:
• Lighted Christmas Parade, Dec. 4
• Candle Tree Lighting and Alpine Carol Sing, Dec. 4

While You’re Here:
Enjoy a five-year Cheddar sandwich at Baumgartens and ask your server to toss a dollar to the high ceiling and make it stick.

 

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Galena/Jo Daviess County

The beautiful drive to Galena, Ill., is reason enough to go, and once you arrive, the mid-19th century downtown architecture will transport you to another era.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
Original art, high-quality antiques, food and drink crafted by true trained chefs, locally made wines and beers, hand-blown glass and vintage clothing.

A Few of Our Favorites:
Galena Cellars, All That’s Vintage, Antiques Etc., Earth’s Treasures, Gabby’s Gifts, Have Fun Collectibles, Knotty Ideas, Poopsie’s.

Upcoming Events:
• Nouveau Wine Weekend, Nov. 20 & 21
• Night of Luminaria, Dec. 12
Learn more at Galena.org

While You’re Here:
Stop in for lunch at Fried Green Tomatoes, downhill ski at Chestnut Mountain Resort, pamper yourself with a hot stone massage at Eagle Ridge, tour the U.S. Grant home by candlelight and book an overnight at DeSoto House.

 

Festively decorated Geneva

Festively decorated Geneva

Geneva

Once a haven for Swedish immigrants coming through Chicago, Geneva is loyal to its history, which has been lovingly preserved throughout the downtown neighborhood.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
Plenty of unique gift stores, clothing boutiques, eateries and home decor specialists, indoor farmers market every Saturday.

A Few of Our Favorites:
The Little Traveler, Geneva Cellars Winery Store, Graham’s Fine Chocolates & Graham’s 318 Coffeehouse, Relux, Verve on Third, Strawflower Shop, State Street Jewelers, Penrose Brewing Co.

Upcoming Events:
• Christmas Walk & Home Tour, Dec. 4-5
Learn more at genevachamber.com

While You’re Here:
Stroll along Third Street, between Illinois Route 38 and the Metra railroad tracks for a wide variety of stores. Geneva’s Swedish heritage is on full display during the Christmas Walk, when Santa Lucia joins Santa Claus for the official tree lighting.

 

Downtown Crystal Lake, Ill.

Downtown Crystal Lake, Ill.

Crystal Lake

Located on the edge of suburbia, Crystal Lake is a combination of small town and thriving city. There’s plenty of big-box shopping on U.S. 14, but the best shopping is downtown.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
Lots of unique stores, multiple clothing boutiques, ample dining choices, locally owned book and toy stores.

A Few of Our Favorites:
Creative gifts at Out of the Box, ladies clothing at Wear Did U Get That, kids’ toys at Marvin’s Toy Store, kids’ clothing at Penny & Izzy’s, home decor at Wickham Interiors.

Upcoming Events:
• Festival of Lights Holiday Parade, Nov. 27
• Breakfast with Santa, Dec. 5
Learn more at DowntownCL.org

While You’re Here:
Enjoy brunch at Benedict’s La Strata, stay for dinner at Duke’s Alehouse, and enjoy drinks at Crystal Lake Brewing Co. Take in a comedy show or performance at Raue Center for the Arts (in a restored moviehouse) or enjoy some deep-dish at Georgio’s.

 

Downtown St. Charles, Ill.

Downtown St. Charles, Ill.

St. Charles

A relaxing retreat by day, St. Charles truly glows at night, when its Main Street fills with a vibrant nightlife. Its many restaurants, bars and theater groups create an exciting atmosphere.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
Multiple performance venues, lots of restaurants and bars, antique shops and unique gifts.

A Few of Our Favorites:
Antique Market I and III, Town House Books, Circa Vintage Gallery, Dallas on Cedar, Arcada Theatre, The Finery, Hotel Baker

Upcoming Events:
• Lighting of the Lights, Nov. 27
• Holiday Homecoming Parade, Nov. 28

While You’re Here:
Many big-name performers pass through Arcada Theatre. There are many places to eat, including La Za Za Trattoria (Italian), Taste of the Himilayas (Indian), The House Pub (100-plus beers), The Beehive Tavern & Grille (upscale tavern) and The Finery (local-sourced).

 

Downtown McHenry, Ill.

Downtown McHenry, Ill.

McHenry

Don’t be deceived by its rough-and-tumble facade: McHenry’s downtown, set along the Fox River, is coming alive with new businesses and events.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
Ladies boutiques, craft beer, antiques stores, homey dining.

A Few of Our Favorites:
Ladies fashion at Black Orchid Boutique, pet accessories at Reese’s Barkery & Pawtique, home decor at Blooms & Rooms, handmade cupcakes at Kiera Cofections, local brews at Chain O’Lakes Brewing.

Upcoming Events:
• Christmas Walk & Tree Lighting, Nov. 21
• Toys for Tots Parade, Nov. 22
• Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28
Learn more at mchenrychamber.com

While You’re Here:
Lots of costumed characters and bikers show up for the Christmas parade. Start your adventures on Green Street at the Hidden Pearl Cafe, where you can enjoy warm drinks and meals by day and live theatrical or poetic performances at night.

 

Woodstock Square, Ill.

Woodstock Square, Ill.

Woodstock Square

The charming square in Woodstock is picturesque any time of year, and it still bears the memories of famous guests such as Orson Welles, Paul Newman and Bill Murray.

Specialties & Gift Ideas:
A variety of unique shops, with specialties such as original art, eclectic and “green” gifts, gourmet food and friendly eateries.

A Few of Our Favorites:
Green Box Boutique, Ethereal Confections, The Backdrop, Material Things, Read Between the Lynes (locally owned bookstore), Studio 2015 Jewelry, Wondertucky Distillery.

Upcoming Events:
• Lighting of the Square, Nov. 27
• Christmas Parade, Nov. 29
Learn more at woodstockil.gov

While You’re Here:
Catch a performance or lecture at the Opera House where Welles and Newman once stood, or grab a bite at Public House (inside the old Courthouse). Follow the plaques and see all 14 filming spots of the film “Groundhog Day.”

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