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Best of Chicago 2010: Stores and Services

Our favorites, including best shoe repair, Etsy vendor, house painter, and affordable massage


From left: Best gift-wrapping (Papyrus) and jewelry repair (H.R. Jewelers); sleeveless tunic by Laura Good of Hier Apparel, suit jacket by Balani, yarn from Loopy Yarns, and shoes ready for Gus’s

 

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Here, ten great stores and services in the Chicago area in 2010. PLUS: Agree or disagree with our picks? Have another recommendation? Tell us in the comments below.

GIFT-WRAPPING PAPYRUS In today’s atomized retail landscape, the old-fashioned gift-wrapping service seems to have gone the way of department store dominance. At Papyrus, the Berkeley-based fancy stationery chain with ten locations in the Chicago area, you can pick from a wide selection of exquisite, non-mass-market paper and ribbons in a range of on-trend colors and sophisticated metallics. You select and buy the supplies; store employees do the wrapping for another $3 to $6 per package. SEE PAPYRUSONLINE.COM FOR LOCATIONS

JEWELRY REPAIR H.R. JEWELERS Anyone in the jewelry business can size a ring or fix a broken clasp. How about when an heirloom ring falls into the garbage disposal? “We’ve seen jewelry that’s been run over by cars or come out of a disposal completely mangled,” says Zofia Ruzyc, the vice president of H.R. Jewelers. The family-owned business repairs and reconstructs jewelry using traditional European techniques—especially important on delicate antiques. Every repair is done by hand, from fixing a broken prong to rebuilding damaged pieces. 5 S. WABASH AVE.; 312-263-6394

SHOE REPAIR GUS’S In a little shop tucked into a strip of stores on Clark Street between Belden and Fullerton, a 64-year-old wizard named Gus Alonis works his magic daily on shoes and boots in desperate need of a little fairy dust, and he does so with a twinkle. To those who have brought him their tired, their poor, their broken brogans yearning for a restored sole, Alonis, proprietor of Gus’s Shoe Repair since 1977, is more than a shoe repairman; he’s a city treasure. 2361 N. CLARK ST.; 773-525-0133

ETSY VENDOR LAURA GOOD Etsy brims with handmade goods that are brilliant (arty wall decals) and unique (squid hat/pillows). But finding something stylish can take some searching. Our favorite local needle in the haystack is Laura Good, a Pilsen-based designer who custom-sews silky tunics, stylish belts, and multipurpose jumpers under the name Hier Apparel. Completely self-taught, the 24-year-old works with natural fabrics on an antique Singer she bought off eBay. She preaches the power of direct purchasing and the relationship between the buyer and the artisan. “People are starting to understand that you should find out who—and where—things come from,” Good says. ETSY.COM/SHOP/HIERAPPAREL

BARTENDING SUPPLIES DRINKS OVER DEARBORN Just a few years ago, if you were a serious mixologist, you had to shop online—or make do with the basic selection of strainers, shakers, and spoons at big restaurant supply warehouses. Then two pro cocktail makers—Kyle McHugh and Chris Cavarra—changed the scene with a bartender-gear store in a stone mansion in River North. The pair stock the essential tools, including the Tag Bar wood muddler, fruit zesters, shakers, extra-long stirrers, and hard-to-find bitters. Never again will you muddle fruit and herbs with the wrong end of a wooden spoon. 650 N. DEARBORN ST., SECOND FLOOR; 312-337-9463, DRINKSOVERDEARBORN.COM

HOUSE PAINTER DYNAMIC COLORS Anthony Giangrossi used to work as an accountant, but four grueling tax seasons behind a desk convinced him that he’d rather work outdoors. So in 2001 he started working with his friend Tim Sheehan, and the two formed Dynamic Colors, a residential and commercial painting business for the North Side and north and northwest suburbs. Giangrossi brings his experienced eye for detail to everything he touches, from the company’s elaborately specific proposals to the finishing touches on their specialty: gingerbread-encrusted Victorians. 847-721-8834, DYNAMICCOLORSINC.COM

AFFORDABLE MASSAGE LILLIE TAKAHASHI, LILLIEANN’S Our criteria for a massage: It needs to be medium pressured, take place in a clean and relaxing environment, and cost less than $75 for the hour. That ruled out most spas and left a handful of quickie spots, some of which left us feeling battered and bruised. Finally, Lillie Takahashi, the owner of the storefront spa LillieAnn’s in the West Loop, delivered an indulgent rubdown at a decent price ($70 for 60 minutes). The setting was no-frills but serene, and Takahashi customized a session toward a persistent right shoulder pain. “Hope you’ll be back,” the receptionist said as we exited, all relaxed and Gumby-like. Yes, Lillie. We’ll be back. 1260 W. WASHINGTON AVE.; 312-243-1940, LILLIEANNS.COM

YARN STORE LOOPY YARNS Like the leaves on the trees, expect the window display of yarns at this compact Printer’s Row storefront to change from sunny yellows to fiery oranges to vibrant maroons as summer segues into fall. While not a completely novel design idea, it’s nevertheless one of those pleasant little touches—along with an impressive variety of products and warm, welcoming service—that veteran and newbie knitters alike will surely appreciate. 47 W. POLK ST.; 312-583-9276

CUSTOM SUITS BALANI CUSTOM CLOTHIERS It may seem counterintuitive, but Balani Custom Clothiers is having a record-breaking year. By demystifying the custom process and forgoing the usual stodginess of the suit biz, Balani has successfully hooked newbies. Clients begin with a one-on-one appointment that includes having 30 measurements taken and making selections at the fabric bar. The next step is a fitting with on-site tailors, and the finished product is usually available in six weeks. The shop offers suits, shirts, sport coats, slacks, overcoats, raincoats, and casual­wear, such as funky shirts with contrasting buttonholes or collar types. 10 S. LASALLE ST.; 312-345-1535, BALANICUSTOM.COM

PHOTO ARCHIVING HELIX CAMERA & VIDEO At its West Loop storefront, Helix offers a “shoebox scan,” where you can get up to 200 images scanned at 300 dpi (allowing you to reprint at up to 11 by 14 inches) for one fixed price. The staff also does custom retouching of damaged prints, starting at $85 an hour. It’s quick—two to three business days—but the big plus is that, unlike mail-in services, they work in-house, so you don’t have to trust the post office with Great-grandma Trudy’s irreplaceable grade-school portraits. 10 S. RACINE AVE.; 312-421-6000, HELIXCAMERA.COM

 

Photography: Anna Knott

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