Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Treasures Found

This is the first time that I've felt that what I'm about to write will not do justice to the subject, (although I'm sure I haven't done justice to many other topics).

Our mission on Saturday was to find treasures among the items for sale in the miles-long Route 66 Garage Sale between Williamsville and McLean, Illinois.

We had missed the first day of the sale. Friday had been sunny, and, as we later learned, the crowds had been large. So we realized the search on Saturday would present a challenge to us "pickers."

Perhaps due to the previous day's successes, but more likely due to the rain, there were virtually no signs of a garage sale in Williamsville.

Our next stop was Elkhart. The windshield wipers were going strong (photo #1 above) as we drove down Governor Oglesby Street.

One lone car was on the block, but seeing the word "Bakery" on one of the awnings provided us with a reason to take a break from the rain.

The tin ceiling (right), a sofa and two comfortable stuffed chairs, the wooden tables and chairs, and a large tapestry (left) created a welcoming warmth. And the items in the showcase beckoned to us.

We responded positively to the call of the Raspberry Zingers and the Double Chocolate Walnut Biscotti. (Later that day: the zingers were raspberry-rich and melted in your mouth once the shell was broken. And the double chocolate immersed the biscotti--absolutely wonderful. We had finished the chocolate raspberry cheesecake squares before we realized we had not taken a photograph.)

A couple and their two children were the only other customers. "We're on our way to Bloomington, and we often stop here for something for the kids," they noted.

The "For Sale" sign in the window was distressing. Losing this wonderful bakery (that we had been frequenting for all of 10 minutes) would be a blow to the town.

This large pig (left) in front of the store next to the Bluestem Bakeshop seemed immune to the dreariness of the cold, rainy day.

We continued our walk by heading across the street to Horsefeathers Antiques and the Wild Hare Café. The words on the facade identified the original building as a bank (photo below), specifically, the Gillett Bank. Since its beginning, it had been used as a coal depot, youth center, beauty salon, doctor’s office and--for 40 years--as home to an American Legion post.

But the structure of a bank remains, evident from a security bell still in place on the front of the building. The alarm reads: "Bankers Elec. Prot. Co. Always On The Job."

We learned the history of the building from Andrea Niehaus. She and her husband spent nearly two years restoring it.

She noted that they found a second vault near the first. Andrea painted the artwork on the walls of this vault and the murals in the shop. (Note the tree branches in the small room in the back of the photo on the right and a closer view in the photo below.)

She urged us to look at the ceiling in one of the former vaults. We agreed with her initial observation that the ceiling looked like it was made from wooden boards. However, they learned that the ceiling was, in fact, made from metal strips that looked like wood.

Both now serve as single-table rooms.

The shop is filled with 1940s art pottery, depression glass, old kitchen tools and tableware, primitive furniture and decorative accessories, such as lamps.

The gift shop is stocked with Amish jams and jellies, old-fashioned candy, such as horehound drops and colored licorice twists, jewelry, quilted handbags, handmade soaps, soy candles, Route 66 mementos, cookbooks, toys and unusual greeting cards.

In the back of the antiques shop is the Wild Hare Café The menu carries seasonal salads--garden, black bean salsa, Moroccan wild rice--and soups and quiches that vary day to day. Sandwiches include chicken salad, turkey BLT spinach wrap and grilled roast beef-cheddar.

In a recent feature in The State Journal-Register by Kathryn Rem, Andrea described the café's approach as: “The emphasis is on comfort food. I want people to eat and browse in a relaxed atmosphere. I want them to feel like they can sit here for hours.

“A woman came in one day and said, ‘Walking in here is like getting a big hug from your mother.’ That’s what I want. I want it to feel like you’re sitting in your grandmother’s parlor,” said Andrea.

That latter comment comes close to capturing the meaning of these two businesses. We hope the bakery continues under new ownership, and we hope the Niehaus' plans to expand the business following their purchase of the Dragonfly Art Studio next door is a success. With the extra space, they would like to add more specialty foods and put in a 1950s-style diner.

There was something special about the philosophy and products of these businesses.

We had already found these treasures, but it was back to the Route 66 Garage Sale.

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