Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.
Apple Butter House
2802 N. Lima Center Road, Whitewater, Wis. (608) 883-6900, Applebutterhouse.com
When she began selling hand-crafted items and primitive furniture pieces 40 years ago, Caroline McBride was just looking to supplement what she and husband Ken earned from growing corn and soybeans.
“I just wanted to earn a little pizza money,” she says.
In time, she grew tired of hauling her wares to shows, so Ken added a room to their farmhouse for Caroline’s showroom. Today, McBride fills a 30-by-60 foot machine shed with repurposed furniture, handcrafted artwork, gift items, florals, candles, antiques and home décor, among other things.
She’s well known for old cupboards and other primitive pieces she and her pickers find.
“I try to keep things as original as possible, but something always seems to need gluing or screwing,” she says with a laugh.
Driven by a passion for “old items and the stories they hold,” and blessed with an artistic eye, McBride has guided her thriving business through decades of shifting décor fads, despite “being located out in the boonies.”
Her annual Christmas in the Country event has grown so popular that she charges admission to keep the crowds down. Long past needing pizza money, she donates part of that event’s profit to a food pantry.
Apple Butter House is 8 miles east of Janesville. Take County A and turn north on Lima Center Road. Call ahead in deep winter, since the shed is closed when the roads aren’t plowed.
To follow Ken and Caroline’s farm life, check out the Coop Scoop blog at applebutterhouse.blogspot.com.
Hours: Wed.-Sat. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.
House to Home Designs
1628 11th St. (on Monroe Square), Monroe, Wis.(608) 325-4710, housetohomedesigns.org
Green County resident Robin Nafzger was born with an impeccable sense of design that she further honed while working in the graphic arts field.
She opened her shop in 2006 and filled it with prints, primitive furniture pieces, farmhouse lighting, crocks, stitchery, Billy Jacobs prints, 1803 candles, Mason jar decor, pallet wood art, lanterns, puzzle-piece picture frames, table runners, rugs and more. She offers in-home color consultations and sells paint, wallpaper, custom blinds and draperies.
“Wallpaper is back in a big way, especially for accent walls,” she notes.
But under all of that serious design talent, Nafzger clearly has a funny bone. Her wide array of hilarious signs cause people to stop in their tracks.
“I work very hard to find items you don’t see everyplace else,” she says. A few favorites: “Please remove your shoes and don’t take a better pair when you leave;” “If you’re smoking in here, you’d better be on fire;” “May your life someday be as awesome as you pretend it is on Facebook” and “I’m not saying I’m Batman, but have you ever seen me and Batman in the same room?”
Shop hours are Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Thurs. 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sun. noon-4 p.m.
Museum & Gallery Shops
Throughout the region
Now that holiday shopping is upon us, don’t forget to check out the little gift shops tucked into local museums, visitor centers, art galleries and public gardens of our region. They offer unique items you won’t find elsewhere, often sporting a local connection or made by local artisans.
Beautiful jewelry, hand-made silk scarves, local history and nature books, pottery and glass, original art and art prints, gardening kits and birdhouses, science projects, educational toys, games and puzzles (and of course dinosaurs!) are among the treasures found in gift shops at Midway Village Museum, Rockford Art Museum, Klehm Arboretum, Anderson Japanese Gardens, Discovery Center Museum, Nicholas Conservatory, Burpee Museum of Natural History, Coronado Theatre, Freeport Art Museum, Monroe Art Center, Rotary Gardens in Janesville, The Next Picture Show art gallery in Dixon, Ill., the Stephenson County Visitor Center and more. You don’t have to pay museum admission to visit these shops; just come in and browse. Check their websites for hours.
And here’s another thought: Why not buy a membership to one of these organizations and give it as a gift? Or a season of concert or theater tickets?
Our cultural gems make life richer for us all and they need our support.
Navarro Canoe Co.
2219 Third Ave., Rock Island, Ill. (563) 265-1492, navarrocanoe.com
Let’s say you’re a retired hospital CEO, you enjoy working with your hands, and you want to relocate to the Quad Cities. What second career might you choose?
For Bruce Peterson and his wife, Susan, the answer was to purchase the Navarro Canoe Co. in Rock Island, Ill., six years ago, after Susan saw it on Craig’s List.
“The company was founded in California in 1978,” Bruce says. As part of the purchase deal, the former owners taught Bruce the fine points of crafting custom canoes that are functional works of art. All work is done on site in Rock Island.
“The ambiance of the interior is what really sets us apart,” Bruce says. “Not a lot of canoes have black cherry wood interiors, however.”
Customers choose from more than 100 configurations of length, model, color and materials. Prices are listed on the website, but Bruce likes it best when customers call him. He’ll guide them through decisions that tailor the canoe to their personal needs. From order to delivery, the process takes about six weeks.
The couple are southeast Wisconsin natives. Bruce was CEO of Rochelle Community Hospital before he switched careers.
“The best part is the interesting people we meet,” he says. “Susan and I recently hand-delivered a canoe to a customer in Texas who’s 92-years-old. It was on his bucket list to take his granddaughter on a few special paddling trips he’d planned, and he wanted to make those trips in a Navarro canoe. That’s pretty special.”