Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.
3 R’s Learning Materials
5388 Williams Dr., Roscoe, Ill., (815) 270-0406, 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 bought the business in 2005 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,” says Fry. “Our greatest compliment is that the children love what they get.
Long a familiar staple at Edgebrook Center in Rockford, the store recently completed a big move to a shopping center in Roscoe, Ill., across from Kinnikinnick school.
Recent best-sellers include Code Stack, a game that introduces coding concepts, and crayon-shaped tubes that teach children to sort.
A grandmother of eight, Fry says children enjoy hands-on activities that are creative and make learning fun.
Call store for hours.
Hook’s Cheese Company
320 Commerce St., Mineral Point, Wis., (608) 987-3259, hookscheese.com
Making cheese is a way of life for Tony Hook. He and his wife, Julie, have been making cheese for nearly 50 years, more than 30 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 from 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. 6 a.m.-2 p.m.
Generations Brewing Co.
1400 S. Adams Ave., Freeport, generationsbrewing.com, (815) 616-5941
Steve Winters likes to joke that his big brother got tired of buying him beer, so he taught Steve how to brew his own. But he mostly learned the ropes by working at Galena Brewing Co. for three years. A native of Freeport, he opened his brewery and taproom in 2014. He’s turned out a Red October beer, a light and fruity Whole Cone pale ale, and a big, hoppy Double IPA – and that’s just the start.
“We always have 10 beers on draft,” he says. Classics in his collection include Pretzel City Amber, Hella Good and No Promises. Late summer beers include Jelly Donut, Cranacopia and Tawny Ale.
At the Generations Brewing Co. full-service bar, you can sample the beers, craft wines and other spirits. In warm weather, a wall of the taproom opens for patio-style seating with an attractive, industrial-style vibe. Bring your own food or order carry-out/delivery from a menu of nearby eateries.
Live music, guest food trucks and other special events are announced on the website.
“Making beer was a big tradition in Stephenson County at one time, and we’re glad to be part of reviving it,” says Steve.
Hours: Mon., Wed.-Thur. 4-9 p.m.; Fri. 3-11 p.m.; Sat. noon-11 p.m.; Sun. noon-5 p.m.