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Boomer Beat: Forget the mall and shop small

Published: Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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At this time of year, shopping is akin to a national sport, and different people have different venues. Some like the hustle-bustle of State Street or Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Others prefer the convenience of the mall, where everything is under one roof. Then, of course, there is a growing number of us who shop online with a simple point and click. 

There is something special, however, in “going small” by visiting the shops that are locally owned and operated. Perhaps it is the personal connection you make and the uniqueness of finding things that are not produced in huge factories halfway around the world. Last Saturday, my husband and I “went small” in Geneva on the Fox River. 

The idea came from a friend who recommended a store in Geneva named The Little Traveler. This store, housed in an Italianate mansion, has been a landmark in the Geneva shopping district since 1922. It began when a friend of the mansion’s owner moved to Peking, China, and sent back gifts of silk and jade. The owner was delighted to discover a new world through these objects and showed them to friends. Soon she became the middle-person, sending orders for goods to her friend in China and passing the objects on to her local friends. Out of this grew the idea of opening a store where anyone could buy unusual items from other countries. 

Ninety years later, the Little Traveler is actually a rather big business, but the owners strive to give you a feeling of personal attention in finding unique gifts for others or household items for yourself. For me, it was a place to find beautiful candles for our Christmas table and a festive tablecloth. 

My husband, meanwhile, wanted to investigate some of the many little shops along Third Street. Peaceful Parlor was a find he was particularly happy with. Not only does it have some unique things, but items for sale are fair-trade products. We walked out with a birdhouse made of wool – you have to see one to believe it. 

On Dec. 6-7, Geneva will have its Holiday House Walk. The festivities include the arrival of Santa Lucia in a horse-drawn carriage. Geneva largely was settled by Swedish immigrants, and in Sweden, Santa Lucia is celebrated as the one who brings the divine light into the world when wintery nights are long and days are short. 

The house tour will be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The homes open for viewing are festively decorated for the season. Tickets are $30 and can be ordered through the Chamber of Commerce at 866-443-6382.

As we wandered, we asked locals what restaurant they would recommend. The name “Stockholm” came up repeatedly, and we found it at 306 W. State St. As we waited for a table (another good sign), I struck up a conversation with local resident Bob Watson, who recommended the sandwich and soup combo, but also loved the lobster salad. 

Both my husband and I really enjoyed the feel of this restaurant. It is casual, and the staff is very friendly and helpful. The store used to be a bar, and before that, it was a candy store. Owner Mike Olsen told us he strives to keep the old-timey atmosphere while serving an upgraded quality of food.

Each meal is made as it is ordered. Only premium quality meats are used. Vegetables and fruits are fresh and not left sitting in a warming tray for hours. Although they do have Swedish meatballs on the menu, the restaurant does not specialize in the food of Sweden. Variety is the name of the game, from burgers and fried fish to chicken piccata and filet mignon. In addition, they serve their own prize-winning State Street Ale and a selection of home brews.

Olsen is the kind of owner who takes a very personal interest in providing good food in a homey setting with friendly staff. Judging from our experience, his pride in his business is well-justified. For information, call 630-208-7070.

• Sue Neuschel shares her experiences as a Baby Boomer and offers unique places to visit in and around McHenry County. She can be reached at

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