BY BRIGITTE TREUMANN
From time to time I like to stroll, or bike, up and down Andersonville’s main drag, Clark Street, between “SOFO” (South of Foster) and the Gethsemane Garden Center. I have lived in this neighborhood for nearly six years and have become fond of its friendly, diverse, and interactive vibes. In previous contributions to Classic Chicago, I have written about Andersonville’s Swedish origins, praised its leafy side streets and eclectic architecture, and its many enjoyable restaurants and street festivals.
Today it is my great pleasure to present some of the appealing newcomers on the street: an intriguing bookstore, two fabulous, yet very different, studios/shops/artistic venues, and a wonderfully funky record store.
Uncharted Books (5140 N. Clark) is a recent arrival from its former location in Logan Square. Tanner McSwain, the owner, said that it had been time to move on and that Andersonville is the most independent business-friendly area in Chicago. McSwain sells rare and used books and welcomes secondhand collections if they add meaningfully to his inventory. One can leisurely browse among the stacks with their sort of Sherlock Holmesian ambience, complete with a secret door that opens into a cozy co-working space. Dusty old steamer trunks are stacked in one corner next to a life-sized colored print of the human anatomy, symbols of far-away voyages and mortality inspire to dream, contemplate, and write the next great American novel. A marvelous concept indeed!
Some few minutes up the road, into the former site of a travel agency has moved the glorious Chicatolia (5209 N. Clark). A burst of color and creativity in a spacious, high-ceilinged, brick-walled interior draws you in and invites you to stay. There is much to see, admire, and desire—above all, the “handcrafted leather goods for every soul,” and so much more. Here is what the owners/artists, Bahar and Oner have to say about their place: “Chicatolia leather goods are of the finest quality, handcrafted, and eco-conscious, constructed and painted by Turkish artisans. Our unique line of products will help you find your style and make you smile in the process.” Well, I smiled a lot and much enjoyed chatting with Oner and Bahar, who were born and raised in Turkey and now live in Chicago. But they do travel back and forth, staying in constant touch with their sources and artisans there.
Bahar also showed me their whimsically-designed towels of the finest quality cotton. She explained how she and two friends have created a charity, Via Seven, that benefits and empowers women and children to be the best they can be. Any purchase of these handwoven towels support that cause.
Meeting Bahar and Oner and spending time among fabulous colorful leather goods, glowing Near Eastern-inspired lamps, chic belts, and soft towels is a lovely break in anyone’s day—and a great temptation!
A total change in feel, style, and cultural context awaits you in yet another new enterprise on Avenue Clark, called Five Elements Home (5239 N. Clark). Its affable, charming, and knowledgeable owner, Yaoyu Tong, was born and grew up in Northern China. After college he attended the Illinois Institute of Technology and then joined the formidable Capital Investment firm Sequoia, in China. While working there and traveling/staying in world-class hotels, he became aware of what he calls China’s New Taste: a sense of the subtle, the minimalist, the simple but elegant, typically associated with Japanese esthetics. He said that he felt that Chicago would be open to appreciate that new taste.
And so he established, first in Lincoln Park and now in Andersonville, his selection of sleek-looking home goods: pottery and wooden bowls, porcelain plates and vases, and wondrous textiles, not only of Chinese, but also of Japanese and South Korean origin. The five elements theory in Chinese philosophy, based on wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, describes interactions and relationships between everything. Being in Tong’s space is truly a meditative experience and his offerings are sublime.
My “new arrival”-trolling ended most happily in Paul Ruffino’s Rattleback Records (5405 N. Clark). The website description of the store offers the basics, but by no means the whole story. It says that Rattleback Records is “a unique store offering a myriad selection of new and used vinyl, CDs, cassettes, movies and more.” I was thrilled to learn that there were also record players for sale. In a fit of nostalgia, but also because I do have some outstanding classic recordings on LPs I have always wanted to hear again, I bought a fine record player. What a pleasure to listen to the vibrant sound of a well-engineered LP.
The owner, Paul Ruffino, was most helpful and kind as I tried to make up my mind to give in to musical nostalgia. There is an uplifting and congenial energy about this bright and inviting store and Paul is a real mensch, a Yiddish word denoting a good person. He had a distinguished career as a teacher and high school principal in the Chicago area, but longed to fulfill a cherished dream to be among records, to own a record store. He left the education field and, voila, there sprang up Rattleback Records. Paul said, “I am living my dream.” How nice is that!
Walking home I thought how enjoyable it was to meet these creative, dynamic, and optimistic “newcomers” to this neighborhood. They all live their dreams and provide us with fabulous reading, writing, and shopping adventures.