Nooks & Crannies, Holiday Edition

Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.

Bramble Patch

102 Fifth Ave., New Glarus, Wis., (608) 527-4878,

Award-winning syrup and handcrafted pottery are the main staples at this quaint business in downtown New Glarus. Inside you’ll also find T-shirts, purses and other apparel as well as food items including salsa, honey and pancake mix.

“If you walk into our store, you’ll find something that you’ll like,” says Sheri Wx, who owns the business with her mother, Carol Allen.

Carol started Bramble Patch in 1992 when she sold Polish pottery and her family’s own maple syrup at farmers markets and art shows in Wisconsin and Illinois. Then, in 2001, with the help of Sheri, who returned to the area after living in California, Carol opened a store in New Glarus.

Today, Bramble Patch carries some 11,000 pieces of pottery, all made by hand in Poland.

“Each piece is a beautiful work of art, yet it’s designed to be used every day, so it’s durable enough to be used in the oven, microwave and dishwasher,” Sheri says.

The maple syrup continues to be made by Carol’s brother, Joe. It’s won numerous awards, including four first-place honors at the International Maple Syrup contest.

Sheri says the store continues to grow thanks to the input of customers.

“We’ve listened to their feedback, and we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t,” she says.

Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Fri. to 5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

JR Finally Art Studio & Gallery

210 W. Main St., Rockton, Ill.,(815) 742-4631,

“The ordinary seen as extraordinary” is the tagline of this impressive little gallery that offers works and commissions from 17 local artists.

Owner Jill Rae Martin-Golden has been painting since she was 5 years old and always dreamed of being a full-time artist. She couldn’t afford the luxury until five years ago, when she made the brave decision to quit her job and do just that. Jill and husband Mark bought the historic building that houses her gallery and are slowly renovating it. “I love meeting new people and Rockton is such a great town,” says Jill.

Shoppers find original works in watercolor, alcohol ink, pastels, oils, acrylics, pen and pencil and mixed media. There are giclee prints, cards, ornaments, tiles, jewelry pieces, pottery and beautifully hand-carved wooden items. Shoppers can order custom pet or people portraits based on submitted photographs, or artistic renditions of a family home.

Jill also teaches small classes for those whose creative urges need some direction.

Along with Jill’s work, shoppers find art by Pamela J. Parkinson, Jean Apgar, Jose Sente’, Don Hyson, Delores Burkholder, Cristi Kniess, John Naretta, Mark Golden, Rebecca Bowman, Gayle Heinemann and more. Hours: Tues.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., but call first to be sure she’s in the gallery.

Hopper’s Poppers

108 N. 4th St., Oregon, Ill. (815) 762-5442,

Ryan Hopper got his start in popcorn at his parents’ Sycamore Theater, where he enjoyed enhancing concession stand offerings. He discovered he had a knack for it and opened his own gourmet popcorn business in 2011. Two years ago, he and wife Stephanie settled in Oregon, Ill., and brought their business with them. They later opened a second location back in Sycamore, next door to his parents’ theater.

“I visited a lot of popcorn stores and did research,” says Hopper. “The important thing is to use high quality ingredients like real butter and vanilla – not artificial flavors – and to make it in small batches. My 10-gallon machine does a good job of distributing the coatings evenly.”

He also invested in expensive but high-quality crispers that keep humidity out of the popcorn. “Popcorn bagged up warm from these crispers will stay fresh for six weeks,” he says.

Hopper enjoys catering special events and even tints popcorn to match color schemes. At his catered popcorn bars, guests mix and match flavors like Cheddar, white Cheddar, caramel, chocolate, butter, movie theater, cake and kettle. Along with popcorn, the Oregon location of Hopper’s Poppers sells frosted pecans and almonds, cotton candy, confectionary chocolates, fudge and 20 flavors of premium Hershey’s Ice Cream.

Kibble Corner Pet Food Pantry

421 S. Rockton Ave., Rockford, Ill., (815) 965-2466,

Sometimes a pet is a person’s best friend. But people facing job loss, medical expenses or other hardship can’t always afford to buy pet food or cat litter.

In those situations, they may need to turn to a local charity to help tide them over. In Winnebago County, Kibble Korner Pet Pantry is such a place.

“These tough economic times have seen a dramatic increase in the number of family pets abandoned or surrendered to animal shelters because their families can’t afford to feed them,” states Jeannine French, a volunteer director. 

The pantry is entirely volunteer-run, so 100 percent of cash donations go toward the purchase of dog and cat food. The pantry also accepts direct donations of wet and dry pet food and litter. A donation of $5 can keep a pet in a home for a month and prevent the heartbreak of separation.

The pantry helps many senior citizens who are on fixed incomes and don’t have family members to assist them. For that reason, donations of pet food or litter weighing no more than 40 pounds are especially appreciated.

If you want to help, donate online, mail a check, call the above phone number or drop off supplies at one of 15 locations listed on the website.