Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.
The Collector’s Bench
218 E. State St., Rockford, (815) 708-7675 thecollectorsbench.com
“All things sports and 1,000 percent authentic,” is how Brad Parvin describes his collection of sports memorabilia, cards and apparel. He boasts the largest collection of Chicago Cubs baseball cards in the world, all on display and for sale in his shop, which attracts the likes of WGN reporters.
“You can literally come in and see the entire history of the Cubs in these cards,” he says. Beckett Magazine – the bible for all things sports memorabilia related – considers him a Top 10 dealer in the world.
A Rockford native, Parvin is a lifelong buyer, seller and trader of sports cards who nurtured his hobby-turned-business from home the past five years, while also working full-time.
“It got so busy that I just decided to take the leap and make this my full-time business, after I got the approval from my wife, Natalie,” he says. “It required a lot of begging.”
Parvin’s dry humor comes through as sports fans gather in his shop to watch him open new packs of cards, an experience he records and uploads to his Facebook page for the enjoyment of fans as far away as Australia. “People buy the boxes and ask me to open them. They seem to think I’m lucky.”
Parvin partners with Fanatics Co., which distributes authentically autographed items from major league teams.
“As with any industry, there’s some fraud, so it’s important to work with authentic dealers. I guarantee everything I carry because I work with the very best suppliers,” he says. He carries the Bryzzo line of sports apparel, a co-adventure of Cubs players Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Parvin encourages wide-eyed sports lovers like him to drop in and indulge their passion.
Monroe Antiques Mall
1003 16th Ave. Monroe, Wis., (608) 328-8000
Thirty years ago, Larry Cerutti visited Monroe with a friend, in search of some particular lamp parts. He fell in love with the city. A few weeks later he’d left his Milwaukee home, rented a shop on Monroe Square and opened his doors for business. He never looked back.
“I didn’t have any money, any experience or any antiques yet,” he jokes. But that all changed fast. Cerutti found that he had a knack for retailing and enjoyed it. In time, he moved across Monroe to larger digs and then expanded into a vacant dress shop next door.
Today he’s a familiar face to Monroe visitors who love to stroll the nooks and crannies of three floors filled with dealer displays of antique dishes, dolls, books, toys, furniture, artwork, jewelry, vintage holiday decor and much more. Prices are reasonable, the inventory arresting.
“Most of the dealers here have been with me for 20 years,” he says. “I love working with them and I love the interesting people who come into my shop. It was a good decision.”
Hours: Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. noon-4 p.m. Closed on Mondays unless it’s a holiday, in which case he closes on Tuesdays instead.
J. Robert’s Menswear
17 S. Wisconsin St., Elkhorn, Wis., (262) 723-2610, jrobertsmenswear.com
For more than a century, this family-owned business has specialized in menswear for a variety of occasions and body styles.
Whether you’re looking for a sharp suit, a tasteful collared shirt or some casual sportswear, J. Robert’s Menswear reflects the latest trends.
“There’s a common preconception that small-town shops don’t stay up-to-date on fashion trends, so a lot of people come in and are surprised by the new designer clothing we carry,” says Jim Schoberg, who owns the store with wife Marilyn.
Many J. Robert’s customers arrive from Chicago and Rockford, but Jim recalls a time he received a call from someone in Manhattan who was looking for a shirt that couldn’t be found in New York. Sure enough, it was at J. Robert’s.
Although it’s evolved over the years, this store has been selling men’s clothing since the late 1800s. The Schobergs purchased the business in 1983 and were joined by their son, Jacob, in 2013.
Employees are trained tailors who provide personalized alterations quickly, on-site. Tuxedo rentals are available, too.
Hours: Mon.-Wed. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Thur.-Fri. to 7 p.m., Sat. to 5 p.m.
6730 Broadcast Parkway, Loves Park, Ill., (815) 977-4332
Located across Perryville Road from Peak Sports Club, this specialty gift store offers an eclectic array of goods including home and garden décor, jewelry, fashion apparel and kitchen supplies. Minda Woith owns the shop with daughter Elizabeth.
The duo diligently searches for uncommon items that customers would have a hard time finding at other gift stores and would never find at big-box stores.
“We don’t want to be the same as everyone else,” says Woith. “We work hard to bring in merchandise people haven’t seen before in Rockford. We have a large selection of items in stock that I guarantee cannot be found anywhere else in the area.”
Among them is an extensive line of hand-painted Polish pottery. Woith says Shine is the only shop in Rockford that carries this brand of pottery, which is carefully crafted and shipped directly from Poland.
No two pieces of Polish Pottery are identical and all pieces are compatible with other pieces; you don’t have to collect a certain line within the line. They’re also wonderful to cook with and clean, along with looking beautiful on the table.
“People cannot get enough of this pottery,” Woith says. “The intricate designs and quality craftsmanship really make any plate, jar or cup a centerpiece.”