Nooks & Crannies

Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.

Tin Dog Records

312 State St., Beloit, (608) 312-4076,

This small storefront in downtown Beloit is a serious hub for those who enjoy listening to and playing music.

The store’s true specialties are new and used vinyl records, CDs, cassettes, accessories and equipment.

“We’re always keeping an eye out for music that our customers are looking for,” says owner Jason Staack.

The cozy space embraces the look and feel of an old-school music studio. Old and new vinyl records are stationed on the walls. Record players are sprawled throughout the store, old photos of musicians are on display and loud music plays overhead.

Staack is the third owner of Tin Dog Records; he took over last August. Since then, he’s increased the inventory of pre-owned albums.

“The previous store owners focused on new albums, and the used inventory got seriously diminished,” says Shannon Fitzgerald, who helps run the business.

Since Tin Dog is a smaller store, customers can usually find assistance quickly – and they can easily strike up some casual music conversation while they’re at it.

“Our vibe is a lot warmer and less intimidating, and we know our customers well enough to know that sometimes, they just want to hang out and chat,” Staack says.

Hours: Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Party Animalz

6735 Broadcast Pkwy., Loves Park, Ill., (815) 708-8819,

Chris Wade and Deb Muzzillo want to be the first people you call when you’re hosting a party.

Not only can they help to plan a party, but they can provide much-needed supplies like balloons, cards and accessories. And the pair will even deliver it.

“We do gift baskets, balloon animals, face painting – we do it all,” says Wade, co-owner with her sister, Muzzillo. “We have a lot of unique, eclectic items that you can’t find in the big-box stores.”

Texting has also made it easier to connect with customers.

“If someone can’t get to the store, I can text them pictures of whatever they want and let them know how much something is,” Wade says.

The former DJ opened the store with her sister in 2015, in part because of a lack of nearby party supply stores and in part because they were already planning and decorating so many events for friends and family.

“We decided since we’re planning events all the time anyway, we might as well get paid for it,” Wade says. “When we had my nephew’s 18th birthday party, my sister asked where you can go to find party stuff and have it delivered. I told her right then we should open our own party store.”

Hours: Tues.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. to 4 p.m., Sun. to 2 p.m.

Hook’s Cheese Company

320 Commerce St., Mineral Point, Wis., (608) 987-3259,

Making cheese is a way of life for Tony Hook.

He and his wife, Julie, have been making cheese for 48 years, 31 of them at their own facility.

“When I graduated high school, I started working at the local cheese factory in Barneveld, Wis., and I got my cheesemaking license in 1972,” Hook says. “When I got out of college, this was the business I knew, so I got into making cheese full time.”

At their facility in Mineral Point, Wis., the Hooks manufacture some 70 varieties of cheese – a far departure from the cheddar and Swiss cheeses they produced at the outset in 1976. In 1980, they began making colby, Monterey Jack and marble jack. Today, they distribute their products all over the country.

Hook says Wisconsin has 127 cheese factories, the most in the nation. What separates his business all the others is the consistency and the quality of milk he uses.

“We get our cow milk from the same patrons we’ve been working with for the past 40 years,” Hook says. “The best way to make quality cheese is to work with quality milk, and our farmers know what we’re looking for. This keeps everyone happy.”

Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 8 a.m.-2 p.m., Fri. 4 a.m.-2 p.m.

Latsis Bakery

401 W. Main St., Genoa, Ill., (815) 784-4334,

John and Nichole Latsis have found success in combining their love for baking and artistry.  

“I always knew I wanted to do something with art to make money, and I always loved sweets,” Nichole says. 

The pair opened their bakery four years ago in downtown Genoa and have built a loyal following for baked goods such as cookies and cake pops, as well as breakfast items such as coffee, fresh donuts and pastries. Early risers especially enjoy the couple’s homemade breakfast sandwiches and biscuits and gravy. 

Nichole’s specialty is custom cakes, which are available on request. 

“We started making cakes when we had kids,” Nichole says. “John started making cakes, and I decorated for him. From there, friends, family and people we didn’t know wanted cake. We realized there were too many people who wanted cake, and we needed to open a place.”

She says it’s her family’s ability to craft inventive custom cakes and fresh pastries that separates Latsis Bakery from competitors. 

“We’ve made fidget spinner cakes that actually spin,” Nichole says. “A lot of people can’t attempt what we do here. Our cakes are unique, and that helps us stand out.” 

Hours: Tues.-Wed. 6 a.m.-noon, Thurs.-Fri. 6 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 6 a.m.-noon.