I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was born with a crayon in my hand. By the time I was 5-years-old, I was drawing all sorts of things on cheap yellow paper my dad bought by the ream. The crayon was replaced with ballpoint pen, magic markers, colored pencils, pastels, paint brushes, sculpting tools, and by age 12, darkroom equipment. Going to art supply and camera stores as a kid was nearly as glorious as walking up the street to the corner store to buy my favorite candy. That’s right, for many artists and/or photographers, a visit to an art supply or camera shop is like unleashing an overzealous kid in a candy store! Nowadays, it’s hard to find old school art supply and camera stores – many have closed. In Chicagoland, you can buy art supplies at Dick Blick, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, JOANN Fabric and Craft, and a handful of small shops. Of course, you can always buy art supplies online, but it’s not the same experience. I first encountered Utrecht in NYC and later shopped at the store on South Michigan Avenue. Utrecht is now partnering with Dick Blick, although they are still doing business online independently. My favorite Chicago-area store is Artist & Craftsman Supply, an employee-owned shop in the old school model – while there are stores across the U.S., the Chicago location at 828 S Wabash reminds me of defunct stores of my youth. Good’s of Evanston is an independent store that has been in business for more than 100 years. It’s more renowned for its framing services and has a certain slick look these days that is the antithesis of old school. Thank heavens for Central Camera, a truly iconic old school store in the South Loop that has been…
I am a sucker for off-rack clothing stores because I love bargain shopping. I am a fan of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, and Nordstrom Rack – although I don’t shop as frequently now that I am self-employed. There were also a few more obscure stores that I frequented many years ago that are all out of business – Dimensions in Fashion, Extreme Value, Value City, etc. I am forever amazed when I walk into a Burlington Coat Factory. I have purchased items here over the years, but the ugliness factor of their clothing has increased at a greater rate than inflation. And going to one location in particular is as good as Walmart for people-watching – and I am being kind. Nowadays, if I am in the neighborhood, I walk in here for sheer amusement, not expecting to buy anything. Most of the clothes are so hideous that I cannot believe that they were made in the first place, and secondly, that anybody would buy them. I have never seen a single soul parading around in some of the freakish creations they sell on the racks here.
This is not the Pier 1 Imports of my youth – that was a store with intriguing, inexpensive knick-knacks from foreign lands and eclectic candy and snacks to boot. Today, the Cost Plus World Market is somewhat reminiscent of the Pier 1 of my childhood – great food section and a lot of cool knick knacks that won’t break the bank. I fondly remember shopping at a Pier 1 that was across the street from my elementary school – now the site of the Lincolnwood Public Library. I would pick up Botan rice candy and other little things for a total tab of a dollar or less – my mom never guessed that on occasion I saved my lunch money to treat myself to these delights. The Pier 1 Imports of today is not inexpensive and many of the housewares resemble the tacky wonders sold at Hobby Lobby. In December 2010 I received a surprisingly ugly holiday gift from an ex-colleague that I returned to Pier 1 for a merchandise credit. More than a year later, I decided to trade in this credit for some goodies – there is no longer a store near me, but I discovered one close to my parent’s house in the Village Crossing shopping mall. Well, Jeff and I were hard-pressed to find anything that tickled our fancy. There was a beautiful, heavily textured colorful rug from South America reduced from $49.99 to $34.99 – still way too expensive for a 16 x 20-inch throw rug. And I fear that our cat Pepper would have wreaked havoc on it anyway with her back claws.
I frequent Hobby Lobby for its respectable selection of arts and crafts supplies – and always take advantage of the 40 percent off coupons they offer just about every week. But I have to say that my jaw drops open every time I enter this store. I have never seen such ugly, kitschy, eyeball-rolling home decor and furnishings … or pardon the expression – objet d’arts – in my life! On clearance these faux antiques and what-nots are relatively cheap, but at full price some are pretty darn expensive. All of these pieces are extruded en masse in some factory in China where people earn 5 cents an hour.
Boy did this past weekend spawn my inner grouch shopping blues. Bad experiences all the way around with clerks who didn’t know the first thing about customer service. Let’s start with our visit to Hobby Lobby on Saturday morning. I buy art supplies there because with the 40% off coupon, they tend to have decent prices. In this case, I was looking to buy an inexpensive picture frame for a photo of my daughter’s that was juried into an art show. I certainly don’t shop at Hobby Lobby for its atrociously gaudy selection of home furnishings and giftware – but back to the matter at hand. I gave the clerk a $10 bill and she ripped a $5 bill in half as she took it out of the register. When I asked her for an intact bill, she stubbornly refused and told me that she always rips bills in two when taking them out of the register! Then she called over another clerk to help tape the bill up, as the line grew longer and longer. All of this because she refused to give me an intact bill. What difference did this make to her and wasn’t it my right as a consumer to ask for an intact bill as change?