Nooks & Crannies, Summer-Fall Edition

Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.

Simply Home

300 W. Washington St., Oregon, Ill., (815) 732-6591

In many ways, this shop is a dream-come-true for Diana Weber, who studied interior design in college but put her inner artist on hold after her two daughters were born.

“I always wanted to do something like this but was too busy when our girls were small. Now they’re teens and need less attention and I decided to go for it,” she says.

Weber is already known for the heartwarming custom wooden signs she’s been making for 17 years. One of her best sign customers has been Oregon florist and businessman Merlin Hagemann, who last year invited her to share space in the storefront he purchased at 305 W. Washington St. Things went so well that she and husband Chris were able to move her business into its own vintage storefront across the street in February.

“I make most of the inventory, but other family members contribute, including my sister and our husbands and her daughter,” says Weber.

Simply Home’s inventory is a mix of primitive and farmhouse-style refurbished and new items, many handmade. They include furniture, shelving, front door decorations, clocks, candles, one-of-a-kind home décor items galore and, of course, custom or ready-made decorative signs.

Hours: Wed.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Union Dairy

126 E. Douglas St., Freeport, (815) 232-7099,

There are a few things in life that don’t change from one generation to the next, and among them is our love for ice cream.

Founded as a Freeport dairy and creamery in 1914, then expanded into an ice cream parlor in 1934, Union Dairy has seen several owners through the decades. Today it’s co-owned by Jodi Miller, Freeport mayor and former alderwoman.

“It’s like stepping back in time,” she says. “Watching the soda jerks, with their artistic abilities, create the sundaes and other treats is something that most people enjoy doing.”

And the affection is mutual. Union Dairy honors its hometown by sourcing ingredients locally and naming treats with Freeport in mind. There are 51 ice cream flavors and goodies such as the Pretzel City Sundae.

In 2005, the business opened a grill that serves 19 kinds of hamburgers, plus hot dogs, brats and sandwiches, and Freeport-made Mrs. Mike’s potato chips. It fries up onion rings, cheese curds, dill pickles, sweet potato waffle fries and more. The burger meat is ground fresh daily at family-owned Harbach Meats; the cheese is made at Springbrook Cheese Factory in nearby Davis, Ill. Union Dairy also sells customized ice cream cakes, cookie ice cream sandwiches and hand-packed ice cream quarts.

Hours: Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. until Labor Day; then Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. The grill closes at 8 p.m. daily and is closed on Sundays.

Gensler Gardens Gift Shop

102 Orth Road, Loves Park, Ill., (815) 885-1765,

When we go to Gensler Gardens, we expect to find every kind of plant, birdfeeder and tool. What’s unexpected is the broad selection of non-garden gift items at the Loves Park location. Kristin Gensler takes very seriously her duty of stocking the gift shop with unique items.

“I travel to home shows and select things that I would actually buy to give someone,” she says. “I also look for items you don’t see everywhere else in town. It can be a hit-or-miss process, but I’m developing a feel for what our customers really like.”

Among the goodies: costume jewelry and handbags; gourmet foods like no-sugar-added red raspberry preserves or pumpkin butter; candles, wall art, sculptures, silk floral arrangements and other tabletop home décor; lamps, lanterns and clocks; specialty body lotions and soaps; wind chimes, decorative planters and terrariums; and fun wood and metal signs.

Especially popular are lighted items with botanic and wildlife themes.

Gensler says it’s not practical to stock the Davis Junction location with breakable non-garden gift items because “It can be like a wind tunnel in that barn.”

The Loves Park store is open 10 months per year, March through December, Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

C.R. Goodfinds Housewares & Sundries

731 W. Main St., Lake Geneva, (262) 812-4101

Tom Konopacki has lived and breathed retail all his life and owns two stores in Geneva, Ill. So when he relocated his Lake Geneva store to a vintage building on bustling Main Street this year, he knew that his customers would not only appreciate great inventory, but also a shopping space with true character.

“We brought back to life the original hardwood floors and tin ceiling and uncovered the beautiful limestone columns and header on the front facade that had been hidden for decades,” he says. “We wanted to honor the history of the building instead of cover it up.”

C.R. Goodfinds sells affordable home accents, artwork and seasonal décor. Konopacki prides himself on his constantly evolving selection.

“I rarely place re-orders,” he says. “We’re very in tune with the changing seasons and are always transitioning to the next one, just as nature does.”

There’s a heavy splash of handmade and locally made wares as well as a nice mix of women’s apparel, jewelry and handbags. The tasteful collections of housewares – from rugs, candles and mirrors to a little bit of everything else – are artfully displayed.

“If I see something I think customers will enjoy, I carry it,” says Konopacki. “I don’t box myself in. We’re like an old-fashioned general store. That’s where the ‘sundries’ part of our name comes in.”

Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.