Think it’s too hard to find locally owned stores to buy from? We respectfully disagree. Not only is “shopping local” good for our local economy, it’s a lot more fun than getting trampled at a big-box store. Janine Pumilia discovers dozens of great destinations.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” We instinctively know Ralph Waldo Emerson was right about this. But does it apply to Christmas shopping? We think so.
There was a time when Christmas shopping was an enjoyable experience on the journey toward Christmas. We made a day of it, shopping with friends or family, 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 stops for lunch and afternoon coffee, and chatted with local shopkeepers, who helped us to pick a “just right” gift for someone special.
Then big-box stores came to town, and, before long, a “good shopping day” was one in which we didn’t get trampled or mugged during the Black Friday rush. The joyful journey had morphed into a dreaded duty – an endurance competition of “hunt it down and bag it.” So much for Peace on Earth. Online shopping was a welcome relief, but there were a few drawbacks. We missed the whole sensory experience of handling the merchandise; few of our dollars supported our own community; and contact with other human beings was entirely lost. So much for Good Will Toward Men.
It doesn’t have to be that way. At Northwest Quarterly and Smart Living Weekly magazines, we’re all about supporting the locally owned businesses that strengthen our own economy and give our community identity. Shopping locally is something meaningful we can do to keep more dollars circulating at home, and it’s a lot more fun, too.
The big box has tried hard to make local merchants an endangered species, with its juggernaut of national brand advertising. And, let’s face it, they’ve succeeded in certain categories. But local shops are still brimming with merchandise handpicked by their owners. They offer charm, great customer service and merchandise that’s as unique as the person you’re buying for.
“Where are all of these local shops? How will I know where to go?” you ask.
“Pick a direction,” we respond.
Rockford is loaded with ’em. Head north to the Rockton-Roscoe and Beloit-Janesville areas, or over to Monroe/New Glarus; head down Route 2 into Ogle County; go west to Freeport, Lena and Galena/Dubuque. Each location offers a local shopping experience that will warm your heart, not leave you cold.
We hope this list will spark some ideas and help you to realize the possibilities that exist when you think outside the box – outside the big box, that is.
Enjoy the journey!
If You’re Looking for …
Fine Jewelry: Why would we ever purchase fine jewelry from national retailers, when so many reputable family-owned jewelry stores thrive in our region? A few of our favorites: Mincemoyer in Rockford, Frank Jewelers in Freeport, Trein’s and Venier’s in Dixon, and Dubes in Janesville. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, watches, pearls, gems, precious metals …. Wow.
Original Artwork: Begin your search in the gift shop at Rockford Art Museum, the holiday gift shop at Freeport Art Museum, and the Cottage Garden Gallery shop at Rotary Gardens in Janesville.The latter is stocked with work by artists throughout Wisconsin.
In Dixon, The Next Picture Show sells works by artists from across the Midwest. In all of these places, browse the wares and ask staff to recommend local artists whose styles may match your tastes.
Original Photography: Visit the gallery of nationally acclaimed nature photographer David C. Olson at Clock Tower Resort in Rockford, or visit Brad Nordlof’s Northern Leaf Imaging, on Boeing Drive near Rockford’s airport, by appointment. Northwest Quarterly Magazine owes much of its spectacular landscape photography to these two talents, and many other fine local photographers sell their work in our region. Why buy mass-produced art from the big box?
Fine Tableware: Options in local gift stores for unique and fine tableware are endless. Example: Sublime English-made pieces from Juliska’s Country Estate collection are on display at Poska on East State Street in Rockford, as are hand-blown clear glass pieces by American artist Simon Pearce. “People were asking for it, so I ordered it,” says Louise Poska. When’s the last time a big box did that?
Antiques: A well-chosen antique grows more valuable with time. A few of our favorite hunting grounds: Tillymint’s, The Rustic Rooster or Country Cottage in Rockton; Neighbors Antiques & Collectibles in Oregon at Conover Square; and in Rockford, the high-end resale shop Possessions, at Highcrest Centre.
Electronics: Yes, the big box has nearly cornered this market, but we’re fortunate to have a rare exception. Homegrown Primetime Audio/Video, on East State Street in Rockford, combines mom-and-pop service with buying group discounts on high-end brands. For computers and the like, consider Bisconti Computers on East Riverside in Loves Park.
Fine Furnishings: If an heirloom-quality custom furniture piece is on your list, visit Simply Amish on Harrison Avenue in Rockford. Gustafson’s Furniture on Riverside in Rockford makes a special effort to stock American-made brands like Southern Motion; Benson Stone Co., on 11th Street in Rockford, carries a wide array of brands like Thomasville, Flexsteel and Lane, plus anything you might need for your fireplace or landscape.
Something Manly: May we suggest a visit to Nicholson Hardware in Rockford, where you’ll find the hand-forged Gransfors Bruks axe, made in Sweden and razor-sharp. “Every guy wants one of these,” we were told by a friendly young salesman. “They’re like collectibles.” Also proudly sold here are Rockford-made Estwing hammers, in several varieties. Who wouldn’t use that?
For something a little more GQ, a trip to Rockford’s Arch Apothecary on Spring Creek Road will lead you to Truefitt & Hill shaving products, including a classic chrome razor and stand with fat shaving brush and bowl, and top-quality aftershave products with scents like West Indian Limes or Spanish Leather.
Many finer-brand manly items are displayed at the Eagle’s Nest in Oregon, starting with Stetson, Minnetonka and Double S crushable cowboy hats. There’s also a stunning array of artisan knives, some with antler-carved handles adorned with obsidian, others with handles made of woven horsehair. Striking sculptures of eagles and other wildlife abound, as do Old West and Native American accessories, and U.S.-made Wooded River and Sherpa blankets. “I try hard to search out made-in-America brands,” says manager Jamie Bailey.
And then, there’s fire. “Men love everything about fire,” notes Jessica Salisbury, general manager of Village Green on Riverside Boulevard and North Main Streets in Rockford. Also visit Benson Stone Co. or The Fireworks, on East State Street in Rockford, to find all things firepit and grill-related, including the Big Green Egg ceramic cooker, tools and supplies.
Something Childish: Don’t even think of going to that big-box toy store. Much more thoughtful gifts for children may be found in Rockford at Wonderland Gifts & Toys and 3R’s Learning Materials at Edgebrook, and the Discovery Center gift shop on North Main Street. Also excellent is Kinderladen, in New Glarus. Many local gift shops have kids’ corners with out-of-the-ordinary items, too, like big animal puppets at Poska, or plush hobby horses at The Other Side Boutique on Mix Street in Oregon. If you were a kid again, wouldn’t you love to string together some jewelry, learn magic tricks, paint a picture, “grow” rocks, build with real blocks or look through a telescope? Kids are doers. And if you know a dinosaur lover, the gift shop at Rockford’s Burpee Museum is Dino Central. For that matter, memberships to places like Burpee, Discovery Center or Rockford Art Museum make great gifts for kids, too.
If you’re on the prowl for kids’ clothing, nearly all local gift shops carry high-quality items for babies and toddlers, and Infinitely Sweet at Edgebrook serves all ages up to junior. Cute, hand-adorned bobby pins and barrettes for young girls are found at Cottage Garden Gallery in Janesville.
Something Girly: Your turn, gals, and the list is way too long to print. Shopkeepers really show off their individual tastes when it comes to selecting costume jewelry. Find pretty metallic cuff bracelets and loads of other fun bling at the Benson Stone gift shop; the clever U.Linx line of metallic make-your-own jewelry at The Other Side; spectacular hand-made global-style pieces at JustGoods on Seventh Street in Rockford; Gemstone beaded works at Mystical Mountain Jewelry & More in Conover Square in Oregon; Fine copper wire/gem rings, and sterling silver earrings and necklaces made with stone, lapis and other natural materials by Wisconsin artists, such as Mona Semerau, at Cottage Garden Gallery; Silver Forest, birthstone and other fun pieces at the gift shop in K&W Greenery, Hwy. 14 East in Janesville; and wide selections at Annie’s, at Edgebrook; Porch on Perryville Road in Rockford; and Annabelle’s Boutique on East Grand Avenue in Beloit. Look for jewelry items that benefit charities, such as Silver Forest earrings for breast cancer research, and bracelets sold at JustGoods made by local women who’ve suffered abuse.
Most of the above stores also carry lovely assortments of scarves, gloves (some designed for easy smartphone traction), handbags and other lady-bling.
One standout is an assortment of silk-screened scarves featuring bright botanical artwork painted by Rockford artist Karen Harding, for sale at the Rockford Art Museum shop on North Main Street; sales benefit local artists.
Other girly gifts: A gift certificate for a manicure, make-up consultation or spa treatment at a locally owned upscale establishment, special hair products, lotions, foot scrubs and perfumes.
Something Scented: Scent and mood go hand in hand. One of the most luscious scents available is the Thymes brand Frasier Fir scent, in candles, reed diffusers and home sprays, offered by Poska, Porch and Annie’s. Most local gift stores carry fine candle lines, such as Yankee, Chesapeake Bay and Milkhouse Creamery. Poska carries a unique willow-wrapped soy candle by Park Hill that employs botanical oils, and pretty boxes of matches.
The Nest brand of scents for body and home was recently named among Oprah’s favorite things and the perfume line is found at Arch Apothecary. Arch also carries Oregon Soap Shoppe soaps, all hand-made in Oregon, Ill., in hundreds of varieties. Along with whole-body cleaning, these customized soaps are useful for people and pets with allergies or skin conditions. The Oregon Soap Shoppe is on Daysville Road, and can make a soap to meet most any need.
Something Spirited: What’s better than a bottle of aged fine spirits? Spirits that come with a good story, and Artale Wine Co., on Spring Creek Road in Rockford, has one. Mackinlay’s Shackleton blended Scotch malt whiskey meticulously reproduces the flavor of the 100-year-old Scotch left behind in Antarctica in 1906 by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton; two cases of the original were discovered in 2006. It’s a real treat for whiskey lovers, and comes packaged in the same kind of glass bottle with brown paper wrapping as the original.
Along with Artale Wine, the folks at Everett’s Wine, Spirits and Beer on Gardner Street in South Beloit are able and willing to help you choose a special gift, whether it’s a sparkling wine from Spain or a lusty Bordeaux. It’s just silly to fly blind at a grocery store or big box, when choosing specialty liquor.
Something Sporty: When you need surgery, do you prefer a generalist or a surgical specialist? Need a bicycle? Go to Rockford Bicycle Co. on Perryville Road. Buying for a golfer? Think Golf Shack on Bell School Road in Rockford. Need running gear? Runner’s Image on State Street in downtown Rockford is locally owned. You get the idea.
Something Ancestral: We already pointed out the variety of handmade jewelry from around the globe available at JustGoods, a fair trade store. And, the Village Green Christmas market features items from 14 countries, like real Mexican vanilla, German chocolates and glass ornaments, French soaps, Spanish glassware, African carved crèche scenes and real cashmere scarves from Scotland. Here are more ideas:
Find all things Scandinavian as well as fine lamps, lampshades and finials, at Finials on East State Street in Rockford. Fine linens, crystal, carved wood items, clogs, dala horses and many imported food items are only the beginning. (Hint: Tired of making Swedish meatballs by hand? Order the real thing from Finials.)
New Glarus and Monroe in Green County, Wis., are a hotbed of Swiss and German items and foods. On First Street in New Glarus, find an amazing selection of Polish Pottery at The Bramble Patch; find Fondue, Swiss watches, European linens and Langenthal china at Esther’s European Imports.
When it comes to local history, Midway Village Museum in Rockford runs a great gift shop. Sock monkey, anyone?
Something Tasty: Gift baskets of locally made cheese, sausage and wine/beer seldom disappoint, and it makes no sense to order them from national retailers, when the champions of cheese are in our own backyard.
Locally owned Maple Leaf Cheese on Twin Grove Road in Monroe offers its Gold Medal World Champion English Hollow Cheddar, as well as Monterey Jack, Gouda and double-milled white Cheddars with cranberries, cherries or blueberries, made on site by certified Master Cheesemakers. The Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolat Haus on First Street in New Glarus sells local and imported cheeses, chocolates, sausages and fudge. Find local cheeses and sausages at Baumgartner’s Tavern on the square in downtown Monroe, and ask for a custom-made basket to be delivered. They also carry Wisconsin-made beers like Spotted Cow, made in New Glarus.
Also think about local honey, jams and breads. Specialty fruit arrangements from Rockford’s Edible Arrangements, a locally owned franchise, never go begging. A box from 640 Meats on East Riverside in Loves Park, or Main Street Meats on North Second Street in Roscoe, makes a highly valued gift.
Find incredible homemade chocolates at Chocolat by Daniel in Rockford and excellent imported dark chocolates at JustGoods, which also sells imported coffees, teas, and chai teas. The Cook’s Collection at Conover Square sells fresh-batch fudge. Gourmet chocolates are available at Annie’s at Edgebrook and at Conover Square Coffees & Chocolates in Oregon. And who wouldn’t love a platter of gourmet cupcakes from Sugarjones in Rockford, now with locations on Rural Street and East Riverside?
In general, gifts for the cook are easy to find in locally owned shops; most carry specialty dip, soup and cookie mixes, jams, jellies and the like. Think about combining them into a basket along with a brie baker, hostess plate, dip holder, cookbook, a set of cookie cutters or a pretty apron. All are available at the Cook’s Collection at Conover Square.
Cooks also appreciate fine spices and olive oils. Select them with the help of experts at the Spice Galleria and The Olive Oil Experience, on East Riverside in Loves Park. And if you’re looking for a deluxe pepper grinder, check out the fun “Pep Art” models by William Bounds Ltd., found at Porch, as well as Mud Pie cheese boards. Another good idea for those who love to cook and/or garden: An indoor herb garden. K&W Greenery stocks a thriving selection of potted fresh herbs all winter long.
Something Alive: Fresh wintertime bouquets, live green houseplants and colorful blooming plants and bulbs, such as amaryllis, hyacinth or paperwhites, and of course poinsettias, are a holiday treat, especially in bleak weather. All may be found at Village Green, K&W Greenery, Enders Flowers at Edgebrook and Merlin’s in Oregon. Poska will soon offer fresh florals, too.
Of special interest this year are terrariums and fairy gardens, the latter comprised of miniature plantscapes adorned with tiny houses, bridges, fairies and the like. Both K&W and Village Green have an extensive fairy garden selection; this kind of indoor gardening is ideal for interaction among generations. While you’re at the greenhouse, check out the beautiful statuary, designer birdbaths, birdhouses and feeders.
Something Practical: Among the more purpose-driven gifts we found are various flameless candles, some with special designs and remote controls; everyone with pets or small children needs these. At The Other Side, we found reading glasses with built-in light beams. Clever! At the K&W gift shop, we saw sturdy Sholdit infinity scarves with built-in zippered pouches for safe storage and hands-free shopping. The Other Side carries the Pouchee, designed to make it easy to switch the contents of your handbag. At Poska, we found the trusty Corkcicle that cools your wine. Cottage Gallery offers very cozy fleece-lined 100-percent wool mittens made from recycled felted wool sweaters. Barniture at Conover Square offers lovely primitive cupboards and other furniture made from recycled barn wood. We also like the washable Jelly Bean rugs sold at K&W.
Something for Giggles: Gifts that’ll get a chuckle include the Dammit Doll, (Enders Flowers, Porch), designed to absorb all the anger and abuse you can dish out; GurglePots, guaranteed to break the ice at your dinner table (Porch); comical Carruth Studios garden art (Enders); hand-carved wooden animal salad tongs (JustGoods); and a feisty Motorcycle Santa (K&W).
Something for Posterity: Is there a shutterbug on your gift list? Visit Camera Craft on Perryville Road in Rockford, to see what’s new. Pick up a lightweight carbon tripod, a photography tips book or a new lens. When you capture that perfect photo taken, slip it into a boldly striped frame from Porch or a family-themed one from K&W. The advice local camera stores offer is invaluable, as is the follow-up service.
Something for Critters: Everything you need for Fido, Fluffy, Mr. Ed and friends, is found at Cherry Valley Feed & Supply or Petland, in Cherry Valley. And if you’d like to support pets in need, shop at PAWS resale shop, on North Main Street in Rockford.
Something Current: Think owls, lanterns and all things gray, if you’d like to give something spot-on with trends this season. Is the gray inspired by E.L. James’ racy book Fifty Shades of Grey? We don’t know, but we’ve seen it show up in furniture, home decor, handbags, clothing and even Christmas decorations, this season.
The lanterns reflect many styles, like sleek nautical, vintage, rustic, medieval and sweetly Victorian. The owls are showing up in wooden, stuffed, metallic and textile forms, both artsy and cute.
Something Cozy for Toes: Snoozies slippers, in traditional and flashy new spangle designs, (Annie’s, Porch) are a welcome treat for the feet, as are sturdy Minnetonka slippers and moccasins (Eagle’s Nest). For Uggs boots and other upscale fashion footwear, head to the Foot Lodge on East Riverside in Loves Park.
Something Ongoing: Not all gifts can be wrapped. Think of great experiences, like concert or theater tickets for local performances at Coronado Theater, BMO Harris Bank Center, Starlight Theater, Artist’s Ensemble, Rockford Symphony Orchestra, Beloit-Janesville Symphony Orchestra, etc. Also think about memberships to local museums and gardens.
Another treat most anyone appreciates is a gift card to a local restaurant – but don’t just grab one off the rack at the big box. Instead, support locally owned restaurants: The food is better. In Rockford, think Alchemy and Giovanni’s, Francesco’s, JMK Nippon, Ciao Bella, Der Rathskeller, Olympic Tavern, etc. In Beloit, think Merrill & Houston’s or Butterfly Club.
We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of buy-local gift-giving ideas. It takes a little more thought to shop local, but the payoffs are huge. So, make your list, check it twice and head out to meet some of the brave local merchants who’ve dug in their heels and refused to give our region over to the chain gang.
Most of all … enjoy the journey!