Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.
Jen’s Artisan Breads
500 Evergreen Lane, Mt. Morris, Ill., (815) 978-3185, Jensbread.com
After Mt. Morris resident Jennifer Koertner returned home from serving in the U.S. Army, she found herself longing for the great bread she’d enjoyed while stationed in Europe – “a substantial bread with a crusty exterior and chewy crumb.”
Once back home, she spent years developing her own recipe; she’d grown up baking from scratch alongside her mother and grandmother.
“I believe in real food,” says Koertner. “I couldn’t believe how we as Americans don’t get great breads and pastries unless we’re in an ethnic section of a large city, where old-school methods are still used.”
After her daughters started school in 2013, she opened her business. She uses minimal ingredients – unbleached and unbromated flour; reverse osmosis water; scant amounts of salt and yeast; and, for flavored breads, the best quality local fruits, spices and cheeses she can find.
“By properly fermenting the dough to develop flavor, you don’t need much yeast, which makes my bread more easily tolerated by those with gluten sensitivity,” she says. She and her assistant, Sarah Meacham, offer more than 20 varieties, ranging from sweet and fruity Apricot Dried Plum and Blueberry Lemon, to savory Dyl and Onion or Green Olive Parmesan. Among the neutral options are Country White, Sourdough, Multigrain and, of course, baguettes.
Pick it up fresh on Tuesdays and Fridays at the McKendrie Street Café, 500 Evergreen Lane in Mt. Morris, where it’s baked; Hazel’s Café, 307 W. Washington St. in Oregon; or Sweet Bean Café, 404 W. Blackhawk Dr., Byron, Ill. Fill out orders at these locations before Mondays and Thursdays to request the varieties you want.
You can also order bread online at jensbread.com or find it at farmers markets in Rochelle and Oregon.
3 Rs Learning Materials
1643 N. Alpine Road, Rockford, (815) 398-1600, the3rs.com
The 3R’s Learning Materials Center specializes in unique gifts, games, toys, puzzles and educational materials for parents, grandparents, teachers and others who help children learn.
Stacy Fry opened the business 13 years ago with her late mom, Jane Erikson, who was an educator.
“We’re knowledgeable about our products and help people find what they’re looking for. Our greatest compliment is that the children love what they get,” she says.
Especially popular this year are the Light Stax, colorful building blocks with lights running through them; Magformers magnetic building toys; SpinAgain, colorful discs in different sizes, shapes and colors that spin on a corkscrew pole; and Hot Dots talking pens.
A grandmother of eight, Fry says children enjoy hands-on activities that are creative and make learning fun.
Call store for hours.
1128 17th Ave., Monroe, Wis., (608) 558-4420
This two-barrel nano brewery serves fresh beer daily in its taproom just off downtown Monroe Square and is a must-visit for craft beer afficianados. Enjoy unique brews like Prof. Plum’s Alibi, a light, sweet plum wheat beer.
“We make all of our beer on site and we sell our beer at retail and wholesale,” says owner Ethan Kister. Buy it in pints, flights and growlers. There are always at least 10 beer styles on tap.
Kister often hosts live music and jam sessions. He offers complimentary popcorn and sells hot, homemade pizza, too.
Hours: Daily 3:30 to 9 p.m.
Bradley’s Department Store
222 E. Walworth Ave., Delavan, Wis., (262) 728-3405
This general store has been a staple in Delavan for 167 years and counting.
“I don’t have any grandkids, so this store is like my grandchild,” says Lois Stritt, Bradley’s fifth owner.
The store carries clothing and accessories for men and women, in styles ranging from classic to trendy. It carries contemporary brands like Brighton, Vera Bradley and Woolrich.
“We’re a generational store,” Stritt says. “We have people come in and say their grandparents used to shop here.”
Stritt spent most of her life as a homemaker. After her husband, Jack, retired and sold his paint manufacturing business in 2002, Stritt wanted something to do.
She started working for former Bradley’s owners Bill and Diane McKoy, who were close friends of the Stritts.
The McKoys sold the store to the Stritts a short time later. Jack died on Feb. 25, 2010, and Lois assumed full ownership.
Now age 82, Stritt says she enjoys what she does and plans to keep the Bradley’s tradition going for as long as she can.
“I love this store because it keeps me young,” she says with a laugh.
“As long as my health holds up, I plan on being here.”
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-4 p.m.