Shop Small 2013

A 365 day challenge

Archive for the tag “small business”

Day 21: Food for thought

Boston has Faneuil Hall.
Seattle has Pike Place Market
even Wisconsin has the Milwaukee Public Market.

Why in the world, then, does Chicago, with its vast array of local delicacies, not have a year-round public market?

Of course, I would prefer it were here in the ‘burbs so I could go weekly, but wouldn’t it be great to find fresh made bread, scrumptious desserts, homemade pastas, local farm fruits and veggies, even a cheese master all under one roof.

Unfortunately, to find all of these individual provisions, we have to go to upteen different locations. And, that’s what I feel like I did today.

Actually, it is what I did today, 4 different stores. Don’t worry, I won’t take up your whole Monday evening with all four. But, the day finally came that I was out of staples: flour, cereal, syrup, toothpaste, and tampons. Trying to stay with small businesses meant several different stops.

I needed lunchmeat for the kids again, so today we hit Zeppe’s Italian Market. It’s nice when Groupon has deals for small businesses; it’s a great way to try new places & save some money!

Zeppe’s is small- basically a deli, pastas, sauces, and some Italian staples. The only refrigerated case is full of ready to eat lasagna, ravioli, and sauces. My daughter was craving lasagna, it was great that would could buy a single piece (that was big enough for 3!), and it was delicious.

The two gentlemen working were very helpful & since some of the lunchmeats were new to us, they let her sample. Though we did get a couple of lunchmeats, I was a little disappointed in the selection. I would have liked more authentic Italian options, or at least Boars Head meats, not Butterball & Ekrich.

Although I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I’m sure if you’re looking for ingredients for your favorite Italian recipe, Zeppe’s will have it.

Looking for something you don’t see in the case or the shelves? Make sure you ask. I happened to ask for fresh mozzarella, and he went in the back & brought out some of the most delicious mozzarella I’ve had.

Tomorrow’s post is going to get a little personal…I know, the suspense!

Until then, do you have a year-round public market near you? Would you shop there over a grocery store if you did?


Day 20: Second thoughts

Maybe it’s my OCD kicking in, but I’m still thinking about dinner from Burrito Parriila Mexicana.

Believe me, I am well aware that a $47 for dinner for four is not an affordable dinner for many families. And, as I said yesterday, I had a bit of sticker shock at the total as well.

Really, though, shouldn’t we have more sticker shock at 99 cent hamburgers?

There is something wrong when it’s acceptable that a candy bar costs less than an apple.

When I was a kid, eating out was a treat. Now, families eat in a restaurant 4-5 times per week.

There’s no denying that obesity is an issue for our nation. So, is it really better when a family of four can get a “counter-service” dinner for under $15, but they do so 3-4 times a week? That is no longer a treat, but a nutritional nightmare.

It’s the never-ending quality vs. quantity debate.

Maybe if we stopped accepting chain restaurant fat-laden, sky-high sodium, mass-produced “deals,” we’d realize that fresh, real food is the better-deal.

I think it’s time our “convenience” restaurants are encouraged to provide quality food. Even if it’s initially a bit more out of the wallet, we’ll still save in our waistline and in future health care.

I’d much rather have a grilled skirt steak taco (on a homemade tortilla) for $2.39 than an 99 cent hamburger made from… who really knows what it’s made from.

Thoughts? Should “fast food” equal cheap? Would you choose an apple over candy bar if the prices were reversed?

Day 19: A new spot for dinner…

Aside from our sushi lunch, last night was the first dinner out this year!

A New Mexican restaurant opened down the street a few months ago (this actually their second location) & I had yet to try it.

I have mixed thoughts about Burrito Parrilla Mexicana.

It’s nice to have another independent restaurant, and this one is counter service: order at the counter and they bring you your food.

Although everything was very fresh and very good, I wasn’t expecting to pay $47 for dinner at a counter. My fajitas contained a full breast of grilled chicken and homemade tortillas, so I didn’t think $10 was a bad deal, but dinner for four still seemed like a lot…for counter service.

Like many others there, I was taking my order to go. Although I didn’t sit in a booth to wait, those who did were served chips and two kinds of fresh salsa. I was curious about the size of $7.99 guacamole, saw it served, believe me it could serve 4 people. Although all of our entrees came with guac so I’m glad I didn’t order an extra side.

Eating in? Food is served on nice dishes- I’d actually love a set of the long plates they have!
Their horchata is delicious, and Mexican coke (real sugar, no high fructose corn syrup) in bottles is another option. No cerveza though.

All in all, food was good, and service was good, and it’s close to home. I’m just a little caught up on $47 for counter service.

Side note: there is way too much cheese for this to be truly authentic Mexican food, but their horchata is definitely some of the best I’ve had.

Day 18: Ready to declutter?

Got kids?

Yes? Then I’m guessing you have stacks of clothes and toys they’ve outgrown.

What to do with all of the Stuff?!

Sure, a garage sale always sounds like a great idea, but they are a ton of work & “helpers” seem to disappear quickly.

We pass down what we can to friends and family, and we give to Salvation Army too. But sometimes you just want to sell some items.

I’ve been to kids’ resale stores like Once Upon A Child, but the one closest to my house is dirty and they basically give you 30 cents for the $30 jacket. No thanks.

Thankfully, we have a fabulous new consignment store in our “downtown.”  Off the Rack  is less than a year old, and owner Jennifer, has a hit on her hands. Her store is filled with great clothes sizes infant-16. She’s selective about quality (don’t even try to bring in clothes with rips or tears) and you’ll find great brands too. One benefit of being short- I scored a pair of Mini-Boden sweatpants for $8- for myself!


Occasionally you’ll find books, toys, and room decor, but they go quick. Follow her Facebook page for new items that have recently hit the store.

Jennifer is friendly and helpful, and usually one of her adorable kids is in the shop too. Slight word of warning, though. Grandma (?) also helps out at the store. She is knowledgeable about inventory, but- let’s just say customer service is not her forte.

Want to drop off a pile or two of clothes? Give Off the Rack a call…soon! I had to wait several weeks for my appointment this week!

Know of other great resale/consignment shops for kids? I’m revisiting my favorite women’s consignment shop next week.

Day 17: Meet Lola & Gigi!

UPDATE (8-3-13):I’m am terribly sad to say, Lola’s has closed. I am sad to see them go, they were one of my favorite finds. On the bright side, Gigi’s is fabulous & just celebrated another anniversary! Tons of adorable clothes & shoes!


Continuing with my adventure from yesterday…

Following Tammy’s (owner of Blackbird’s Barkery) advice, I went around the corner to check out a new store, Lola and it’s neighbor Gigi.

My wallet is seriously grateful that I was in a bit of a time crunch by the time I met these two!

Lola is an eclectic mix of fun. Wine, cookbooks, kid’s gifts, kitchy novelties, and even a few vintage finds. It doesn’t feel scattered in the least, and the displays are fantastic. It’s one of the few stores where you can actually buy the cool display pieces too (I’m betting many of them originally came from Vintage. I found a really cute book holder image– the book is from the library but it’s definitely something you’d find at Lola’s. Her website is more like a blog, so the link is to her Facebook page- also because her profile picture cracks me up!

Feel like taking a gander at some cool clothes? You don’t even have to go outside- Lola’s connects right to Gigi’s! When I walked in, Gigi’s looked like most trendy boutiques. They had a fantastic display of jeans and sweater jackets/cardigan(?) (I’m so not hip & cool, don’t even know what these are called!) that I was fully expecting a sticker-shock $120 price tag; I got a shock, it was $34! I really wish I would have had more time to try things on, but I did manage to get one very cool top that alone may be worth the drive. I’m calling it the Sisterhood of the traveling tank. When I asked if these really soft, made in the USA (bonus!) tank tops run true to size, she told me they’re one size fits all. Seriously?! They come in a ton of colors, as well as long sleeve & three-quarter sleeve. It is crazy comfortable and if I can ever manage to stop wearing it, I’m going to have my 11-year-old daughter try it too. I’m also trying to get my friend who has- ahem- a little more going on upstairs than I do to try it on. I’m testing this one size fits all theory! They change their inventory frequently (except for the tank I bought). No website, but her Facebook page shows pictures of new items.

This definitely won’t be my last drive out to Morris this year. Next visit, though, I’ll go when I have a bit more time to wander into more stores…and linger in others!

What’s your favorite Main Street, USA “downtown”?

Day 12: My top 3

Right now it’s the calm before the storm.

My son’s hockey season is over, baseball season is just kicking off. My daughter’sswim team season is down to its final 6 weeks. Once baseball is in full swing (no pun intended!), our weekends are packed.

I sincerely enjoy rare lazy weekends of no games, no meets, just a couple of hours practice.

Aside from another visit to the library, today was pretty low-key.

I had some great small business experiences this week, so I’ll recap my favorite 3 businesses of the week.

1- Door to Door Organics: When I wrote about Door to Door on Wednesday, I loved the convenience of local, organic food delivered right to my door. Now that we’ve eaten a bunch of the food, I’m even more hooked. Cara Cara oranges are a favorite in our house; there’s only a small window during the year that they’re available. The Cara Cara’s from Door to Door were juicy and delicious, and the same price I saw advertised in a large chain grocery ad. The 100% organic grass fed ground beef was sourced from a farm in Wisconsin: $12 made 7 burgers. Without french onion dip, I’m not a fan of potato chips. They would never be my go-to snack choice. That was until I tried Boulder Canyon All-Natural (gluten-free) Potato Chips. Goodnight, Gracie. Lets just say these chips didn’t make it to the kid’s school lunches.

2- Little¬†Popcorn Shop– 90 years of popcorn making can’t be wrong! The whole shop is only as wide as the front door and is a favorite of kids and adults. Pick your favorite “penny” candies from the rows of jars on the wall, and grab a bag of popcorn! Expect a line, but don’t worry, it moves quick. No website, but you’ll find it under the red awning at 111 1/4 Front Street, Wheaton, IL 60187

3- Blackberry Market– How could I not mention the place that created the best blueberry muffin ever?! Blackberry Market is still in its early stages, they haven’t even had a grand opening yet. But, locals are already treating it like a well-treasured gem. Looking forward to trying more off the menu, if I can make it past the bakery! Take-out dinner is in the works, and I’m hoping the “market” part grows a bit more.

I know one reader decided to try Door to Door for its small-boxed produce options. Which ones did you try?

Day 11: The worlds smallest store-

Ok, maybe not the worlds smallest, but I don’t know of any smaller!

I can’t believe I forgot to add this place yesterday, it’s been one of my favorites since I was a kid, and has become one of my kids’ favorites too.

The Little Popcorn Shop has been a Wheaton staple since 1921 and it’s exactly the same as when I was a kid. And the store is still only as wide as the front door.

Open the red door under the red awning and it’s like walking into your own Wonka oasis. The left wall is filled with jars of nostalgic penny candy (well, slightly more than a penny now), but you’re lured to the back by the aroma of incredibly addictive popcorn (light & salty, nothing like disgusting movie theatre popcorn).

Five sizes available (75 cents- $3.00), filled to the brim in a white paper bag with a cover so none spills. Those in the know, though, order their popcorn in a bigger bag so they can eat immediately!

Don’t be surprised if the line is out the door, especially on warm summer nights. Kids and adults will find their favorite candy- don’t miss the chewy green army guys- my favorite! Popcorn is safe for those with peanut allergies too

No website, but if you’re ever in the Chicago ‘burbs, don’t miss this gem at
111 1/4 W. Front Street
Wheaton, IL. 60187


Day 7

If you’ve ever had Get More Organized or Plan Ahead as goals, this shop small challenge is for you. This is taking some serious planning!

Since the kids went back to school today, I tackled cleaning my whole house. Rarely is the whole house clean at once, so I feel a ridiculous (if not slightly pathetic) amount of satisfaction.

But, during the process I noticed many of my cleaning supplies are running low. I’m definitely a purist when it comes to cleaning: vinegar, tea tree oil, and Bon Ami do the trick for pretty much everything. But, even those items are running low (probably should have stocked up before the New Year!). I know Bon Ami is 89 cents at Target. But, that’s not an option. Where am I going to find it- hopefully for close to the same price? Hmmm.

Dinner ended up being “Tapas.” 4 giant scallops, 1/2 a bag of edemame, bacon & swiss dip (leftover bacon from Sunday morning), and gnocchi. Basically a “leftover” and “what the hell is in the freezer.” So, it’s not only cleaning basics but freezer essentials that need to be replenished.

My wallet had a reprieve today (sort of), my only purchase was gas. Per day 1, it’s an exception to the shop small rule since we have no independent gas stations. I avoid BP at all costs- so it was Shell.

Waiting for an exciting delivery- hope it comes tomorrow & it’s as cool as I think it will be so I can share!

Day 6

So this last day of winter break led us to a little family fun & me finding a very cool indie online store.

Apparently we weren’t the only family that decided on bowling today. We hit the local Pioneer Lanes for three games. It’s not fancy: they manually lift gutter bumpers, no fancy lights, but at $1 a game the place was packed ($1 beers probably helped too!).

I may be a little late to the game since I’m finally catching up on old magazines, but I found an article in December 2012 Entrepreneur about Fashioning Change. Californian, Adriana Herrera, started her site to help shoppers find eco-friendly alternatives to their favorite styles. Essentially, you answer a few questions: style preferences, average amount spent on given articles/accessories, personality traits, then it gives you alternative choices that are made by eco-conscious companies or independent designers/artists. The suggestions were spot-on with choices I would select. There’s even a “Wear This, Not That” page that compares chain store outfit (Banana Republic, Anthropologie, Ralph Lauren, etc.) with a comparable eco-aware designer. You’ll be amazed how they match up. I ordered an organic-cotton blouse that was under $30 ($8 shipping), can’t wait for it to arrive. Next step, finding local stores carrying these amazing indie brands.

Looking for suggestions: My 11-year-old needs some new clothes. Commiserating with parents of girls her same age, the selections are slim. Where are you shopping for daughters who can already wear your shoes and tops? They’ve outgrown “kids clothes” but aren’t ready for high school “teen apparel”. Most boutiques are too grown up, or too little girl, for this age group. Ideas?

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