My love of jewels, cabochons, beads, gemstones, rhinestones, vintage jewelry and other baubles goes way back to my early childhood. So it was with great anticipation and near glee, when I stumbled upon a terrific article heralding a wonderful hidden treasure trove of such things in NYC. The 17 Apart article prepared me to some degree, but when my friend Barb and I actually ventured into CJS Sales last month, we were dumbstruck. This was a dream come true for me – reminding me of my youth, but on a much grander scale. When my younger sister Janet and I were very little – probably 3 and 8 respectively, we had a secret stash of jewels in a little cardboard jigsaw puzzle box. We carried this beloved stash on outings, including when our mom traded in her massive light blue Chevy station wagon for a new car. Much to my dismay – Janet was really too young to panic – after we drove out in our new vehicle, I realized it had been left behind, hidden under the seat. Luckily, we were able to reclaim it and we had this box for at least another 5 years, adding to its content here and there.
It’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. That is what one of the many intriguing characters I met in NYC during my 10-day trip said about Chicago. I guess I feel the same way about NYC, but I have to say, it is easier to engage in discussion with people in the Big Apple. Everybody wants to tell you his or her story. This makes for great conversation and good memories, but is ever so fleeting. You could be talking to somebody really interesting on the subway … and a few seconds later, poof – they are gone without even a goodbye. John and Alfred How delighted I was upon returning from a day uptown on the first Monday of my stay, when my daughter said, “There’s John Lithgow with some other guy walking down the street in our direction.” Of course she always sees celebrities, including Hugh Jackman, who goes to her health club, but for me this was a treat. Turns out they were shooting scenes for Love is Strange starring Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei, who unfortunately was not in these scenes. This shoot literally took place half a block away from my daughter’s apartment. After we went back to her apartment, I dropped off my stuff and went back out to shoot pictures with the other gawkers gathered on Seventh Avenue. The actors seemed bemused by all of this and I got some good shots.
Jeff and I really got our fill of auctions a month ago when we attended a Pace Auction in Des Plaines – arriving at 10:30 and staying the entire day until every last lot was sold around 4:00 pm. I have been going to Pace Auctions since 1987 when I attended an auction they were conducting for an antique store going out of business on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I still have the pine dresser I purchased at that auction – it was a bit of a fixer upper but has served me well. Once upon a time, Pace held auctions every Monday night, but haven’t done so for years and now periodically have auctions on Saturdays. Jeff’s best Pace Auction tale goes back to 1999 when I took him to an auction and he purchased a huge lot of Star Trek Mego figures for just $45.00 and sold them for nearly $900.00 on eBay! When you are bidding, you have to factor in the 15 percent buyer’s premium and sales tax on top of the winning bid. An odd thing about auctions is that you have to be careful with gestures or the auctioneer will think you are bidding. Inevitably, my allergies kicked in around all that musty stuff and I started to itch. If I lifted my hand to scratch my head, it might be considered a bid, and I nearly did this a few times. This phenomenon has been parodied on a number of TV sitcoms over the years.
I have been meaning to write about this particular thrift store in Palatine for a long time. Sparrow’s Nest embodies what we detest about some so-called charity thrift stores – perhaps more than any other shop we have blogged about – GREED. Everything Jeff grouched about in the opening salvo on this subject (back in October 2011) can be found here and then some. As I look around the Palatine shop, I am left to ponder if there is gold hidden inside some pretty unremarkable, and often shabby merchandise – what else could justify these prices? The parent organization Home of the Sparrow, helps victims of domestic violence – in this case, homeless women and their children in McHenry County and Northern Illinois. That is a very commendable cause that would be better served by thrift stores with fairly priced merchandise. Home of the Sparrow runs five resale shops – in Algonquin, Cary, McHenry, Palatine, and Woodstock. While I have never been to the Algonquin, McHenry or Woodstock locations, I have to say that the Cary store is not nearly as guilty of price-gouging as the Palatine store.
One of the reasons we love going to Kenosha, Wisconsin a few times a year is not to buy cheese, but to browse a wonderful little shop crammed with treasures called Monica’s Thrift Shop. A bit off the beaten path, this unassuming store is loaded from floor to ceiling with an amazing array of new, vintage, and antique goodies with something for everyone’s taste. Our most recent visit was on May 29 and we weren’t disappointed. In fact, I would say that there was more merchandise packed into this place than the last time we stopped by. Even the bathroom at this shop is decked out with incredibly cool items.
Amulet: an object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner. Talisman: an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune. Fetish: an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency. I have always been fascinated by talismans and good luck charms, but strictly from a visual standpoint. It is hard to believe that anyone would put so much stock in a trinket or charm, but throughout history this has been the case. My obsession with these symbols began as a young child when I bought my first rabbit’s foot. I was entranced with the dyed pink, turquoise, purple, and yellow varieties and the little claws poking out of the fur, as well as the attached solid brass key fob and chain. It is believed that this good luck charm harkens back to 600 B.C. among Celtic people. While I find the origins of this good luck amulet fascinating, as a child I simply liked the way the rabbit’s foot looked. When I was painting figuratively back in the early 1980s, I adorned several of my subjects with a trompe l’oeil rabbit’s foot, attempting to blend a Renaissance look with contemporary punk in my portraits.
I am pleasantly surprised by a new charity-related resale store that opened in Arlington Heights in January and always happy to give a shout out to new and worthy businesses. There isn’t much information on Humanity United Group; no website as of yet and just a couple of articles in TribLocal and the Daily Herald. Proceeds benefit homeless women and children in need in the Northwest suburbs. HUGS was formed to operate the resale store according to the Chicago Tribune article – a bit of an unusual approach, but certainly entrepreneurial. Typically, a charity exists first and a resale store is established later as a venue for fundraising.
I have come to the conclusion that for-profit thrift store chains are among the grungiest and most disgusting places in Chicagoland. I have frequented enough stores to theorize that thrift stores that benefit a cause put far more time and effort into choosing and displaying items with some care and forethought. The exception to this rule – the Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores which I previously blogged about. The Village Discount thrift store chain receives my top grunge award for surpassing the helter skelter, dirty slammin’ style of the uniquely sleazy Unique Thrift Store chain. It truly Takes a Village to put the VD back into thrift. The shoes in particular look like they are crawling with VD – I should have worn a Hazmat suit when I visited the store yesterday at 2032 N. Milwaukee. Most of the workers who stock goods wear masks and rubber gloves – I’m not kidding. I saw one worker snarling and looked disgusted as he threw items back onto a shelf in the electronics area. Pardon the expression – more a tangled pile of mainly broken, unusable goods from the looks of it. Most of the items are indeed cheap, but consider that many should be thrown out …
Too many thrift stores these days sell merchandise that I would be embarrassed to give away to charity or put out at the curb – dirty stained clothing, broken appliances, chipped/cracked pottery – and often at ridiculously inflated prices. But every so often I am very pleasantly surprised by a hidden gem of a resale/thrift store. Such is the case with Community Threads, a delightfully refreshing store in Buffalo Grove. I say delightful because you won’t find grimy, threadbare, worn-out goods here. Quite the opposite – the selection here is very tasteful and the displays show an enthusiastic commitment to making recycled merchandise enticing to the consumer. A few weeks ago I picked up two pairs of gently used Italian leather loafers for myself at a very reasonable price – I guess I can forgive that there was a wad of gum on the bottom of one sole. Most items here are reasonably priced, with the exception of the furniture and better jewelry sections which have a few pieces priced unrealistically high. The antique furniture and cased collectibles tend to be the priciest, but are very classy and for the most part in impeccable condition. An antique dresser priced at $875 is really out-of-place at a resale store and would even be considered overpriced at an antique store or show. The slightly bruised antique furniture priced in the $150-$275 range is still quite high for a resale store, but may be within the budget of the upscale shopper. Some of these pieces need a little bit of loving care such as minor retouching and a coat of fresh Watco Oil.
I count my blessings that I have a lifelong antique collection to fall back on for a bit of extra income. A PR and communications professional, I found myself unemployed in mid-June for the first time in 20 years. I could write a 5,000-word blog just about my last employer, but I know that diplomacy will serve me better than spite as I strive to land a new position. So back to the matter at hand – a few of the high points in my hunt for treasure over the years. For this blog, I am posting an eclectic sampling of some of my most memorable finds – not necessarily because of the resulting sale, but for the memories associated with the acquisition. My mom bought this complete set of Hartland Plastics musical cupids in 1976 at a fantastic store that sold new old store stock from dime stores. Our close friend Bebe turned us onto this treasure trove of a shop called Mary’s. It was located near Yoshi’s Cafe, in the 3200 block of North Halsted – long before it became a hip neighborhood. In any case, Mary decided to pack up shop and move to Michigan while I was away at RISD, so my mom visited the shop and bought a few things at close-out prices. Mind you, Mary’s prices were fantastic to start, so this was quite a deal. I held onto this wonderful set until a few years ago, at which time I sold it to a lucky collector.