Who is NEW in the Oak Park Arts District!

Who is NEW in the Oak Park Arts District!

By Kelly Pollock, feature writer for The Buzz Cafe

It’s spring in the Oak Park Arts District!  The weather is getting better every day and it’s the perfect season to check out some of these businesses that have opened in the last few years.  If you haven’t been on Harrison Street in a while, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Valdo’s Barbershop

Valdo Leon first started barbering as a child when he cut his uncle’s hair in exchange for being allowed to take over the kitchen on Sundays.  It’s been more than thirty years, but he finally realized his dream of having his own shop when Valdo’s Barbershop opened in September 2020 at 128 Harrison Street.

After years spent in the military, barbering, working for UPS, and then back to barbering, Valdo became fixated on opening his own barbershop.  He took his wife’s advice and drove down Harrison Street one day after dropping his son off at school.  “I started seeing multiple storefronts that were available and checked out each one to see what would best accommodate my needs.  I hit 128 and thought, ‘This is it.’”

Valdo is known for his versatility and can manage anything from a basic gentleman’s cut to the tightest fade and graphics.  And while many people tend to forget that esthetics are taught in barber school, Valdo believes that it’s time to highlight those services.  “We’re losing that essence in modern barbering.  People get caught up in being a chop shop.  There are very few barbershops that offer pampering services.”

Purple Sun Arts

Ann Viernes recalls loving both science and art from a young age.  “I can remember in kindergarten always wanting to paint on the easels, but I don’t think I ever actually did it.  I was very, very shy.  But all through school my two loves were science and art.  The gifts I always got from my parents were things like a microscope or art supplies.”

Anne chose to study biology in college and worked at Rush University Medical Center for more than 30 years.  After several years of retirement, Ann took a sabbatical to contemplate her next step.  “I went up to my hometown of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, with all my painting supplies and stayed for ten days right by the lake.  Then, when I returned, I was walking through the Arts District and I saw this space for lease and I thought, ‘This is it.  I’m not in healthcare anymore.  I’m an artist now.’”

Anne opened Purple Sun Arts at 142 Harrison Street in the fall of 2020.  The name was inspired by her love of  “purple sun glass.”  In addition to her paintings, Ann makes jewelry and greeting cards.  She also sells some of the vintage glassware and jewelry that she has collected for years.

Taco Mucho

As a child growing up in Indiana, Ron Aleman loved watching his mother and grandmothers in their own kitchens.  After college at Purdue University, Ron worked in sales.  But he had always really enjoyed cooking and was considering culinary school.  It was the events of September 11, however, that gave him the push he needed.  “Life is too short,” Ron told himself, eventually graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.  It took twenty years, but in August 2021, Ron opened his own restaurant, Taco Mucho, at 220 Harrison Street.

When asked what he hoped for for the business, Ron said, “We want to be a casual, neighborhood taqueria—a place parents can bring their kids and a casual date-night spot with great food and cocktails.  We see Taco Mucho as an extension of our home and want you to feel like a guest when you come in to eat.”

The menu is focused on tacos that are all served on handmade corn tortillas.  They also offer nachos, tortas, bowls, and quesadillas.  Sides including “abuela’s” rice and beans round out the menu.  Taco Mucho is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30am to 8:00pm and also offers carry-out and delivery.

Steve Fisher Arts

For years, Steve Fisher’s art studio had been in the basement of his home behind the Friendly Tap in Berwyn.  “I’d been thinking of getting a dedicated studio space, and I finally said, ‘If not now, when?’” said Steve.  “But I needed a place that was as quick to get to as my basement.”  That “place” ended up being 301 Harrison Street where Steve opened shop in the fall of 2022.

Steve has been painting since he was a child and was particularly influenced by his family’s visits to the Art Institute of Chicago.  He always liked the Impressionists, and then, in the mid-1960’s as he was about to start high school, Steve took in his first Picasso exhibition.  “It was a wake-up call.  I walked from one end of that show to the other and back again.  From then on, my art was never really the same.  Before, I had done the kind of art kids do to get a pat on the head.  After, I went my own way.  The experience opened doors for me.”

Steve compares his work as an artist to a physicist working on equations on a giant blackboard.  “They start with a hypothesis and different ideas.  But then things start to mesh.  That’s what I do with my artwork; I push things around until my ideas crystallize.”  While Steve uses his new space as a studio, he also plans to display a rotating collection of paintings that will be available for purchase and to have tie-ins with Arts District events.

So much to celebrate at Bead in Hand!

So much to celebrate at Bead in Hand!

By Kelly Pollock, feature writer for The Buzz Cafe

Bead in Hand, located at 145 Harrison Street in the Oak Park Arts District, has two reasons to celebrate this November: the kickoff of their 30th anniversary celebration year and the 10-year anniversary of Kim Humphrey owning the store.

As a child, Kim was taught to do things with her hands. She remembers being five years old and her mother sitting her at the sewing machine to practice stitching on paper. “My grandmother lived with us until her death. She was an artist and it was considered a valuable skill. I realized later in my life that not all families see it that way.” But it wasn’t until she was a mother with young children that Kim started beading. “I had little kids and I needed something that didn’t talk back and didn’t move and it really fit the bill,” she says with a laugh.

Although she can’t pinpoint the date, Kim thinks she started patronizing Bead in Hand within a few years of their 1993 opening. She took a few classes and was soon working at the store on weekends. As her kids got older, she was able to add more hours. When Doris Weinbaum, the then-owner, announced that she was planning to retire and wanted to sell the store, Kim worried what it might mean for her future. “I loved the shop, the customers, the beads, my job, all of it. I didn’t want that to change.” And so ten years ago, Kim took a leap of faith and purchased the store.

Kim is honest that being the owner of a small business has its challenges. “People today have so many ways of spending their money that I think it lessens the amount they have for any one place at any one time.” But Bead in Hand also has a unique market niche which draws people into the store. “It’s a tactile business. It’s so much more helpful for people to see the product in person before they buy. We’re one of very few bead stores in the area so we draw customers from all of Chicagoland.”

They can also offer more personalized service than a chain craft store. “It’s nice to be able to provide that service. To be able to explain to people what their options are. We aren’t just scanning items at a register. Most of our items don’t have a price tag so all our employees have to know our inventory and be able to answer questions.” Jewelry repair is another unique service that Bead in Hand offers. “There are very few places where you can take your favorite necklace from your grandmother and have it restrung,” says Kim.

Classes are one of the best ways to educate potential and current customers. Prospective students can view the current schedule and register for classes online. Classes are taught by Kim or by employee Kate Linne and include Basic Earring Design, Basic Stringing, Beginning Bead Weaving, Bead Embroidery, Knotting, and Kumihimo: Japanese Braiding. Classes vary in length from 1½-2½ hours and in cost from $35-45. Materials are generally not included.

Bead in Hand is kicking off their 30th anniversary year with special events throughout the month of November starting with a November 11 trunk show of semi-precious beads. On November 18, the staff jewelry show begins, and on November 25, the traditional snowflake ornament drop-in event returns for the first time since before the pandemic.

On October 11, Kim was honored by the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce as a Community Titan “for championing the small business community … with might and ferocity.” The Community Titan Awards were presented to individuals this year in lieu of the traditional Spotlight Awards that focused on small businesses. The Titans were nominated via online submission and according to the Chamber of Commerce are “those who have worked tirelessly, relentlessly and whole-heartedly for the well-being of our business community. Their strong and wide shoulders support the rest of us to grow and flourish.”

Being a small business owner is a tremendous responsibility, but Kim is still passionate about the art she discovered almost 30 years ago. “One of the great things about beads is that it is a never-ending learning experience. You can string beads on wire, you can do bead weaving, you can embroider with beads. There are so many different ways to incorporate them that you are never really finished learning. There’s always something new. It’s amazing.”

Bead in Hand is located at 145 Harrison Street. They are open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 11-6, Wednesday from 1-6, and Saturday from 10-5. They are closed on Sunday. They can be reached at 708-848-1761 or info@beadinhand.com.

Dima Jewelry Atelier + Boutique

Dima Jewelry Atelier + Boutique

By Kelly Pollock, feature writer for The Buzz Cafe

Dima Ali doesn’t usually have things come easily for her. “I spent the first 28 years of my life in a war zone. So when something comes together easily, I think that it was meant to be.” And while Dima is still marveling about how quickly her new studio space materialized, she is excited about what lies ahead for her at Dima Jewelry Atelier + Boutique at 41 Harrison Street in the Oak Park Arts District.

Dima was born and raised in Baghdad, and she came to the United States in December 2002 just three months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Although she has a master’s degree in Family Law, Dima could not practice after immigrating. She worked on and off doing English to Arabic and Arabic to English translation, but after having her children, Dima focused on being a mom to Luna and Sam.

It was the 2016 election and the subsequent Muslim Ban which ignited her passion for activism. “I am culturally Muslim. It’s my culture and my identity, and the former President’s attacks on immigrants and on Muslims made me feel that I needed to do something.” Dima had always enjoyed making jewelry, but she lacked the self-confidence to think that her pieces were good enough to sell. But she wanted to make a difference and so she started donating her jewelry to causes she cared about and giving public speeches about her immigrant experience and her journey to U.S. citizenship.

“People loved my work and I started getting orders. I wanted to support a cause so I chose to donate a percentage of my sales to RefugeeOne,” says Dima. Bit by bit, her sales increased. She focused on pop-up markets and her Etsy shop and last year when things really took off, she realized she needed a separate studio space.

“My studio was in my basement, but at home, the lines between work and family are blurred. There are constant interruptions and creativity is not concentrated.” So it was serendipitous when a friend forwarded a Facebook post about a space for rent on Harrison Street. “I responded to the post, I stopped by, and I left with keys,” Dima marvels. With the help of friends, she was able to put the space together in just a few weeks, and on February 12, she celebrated her soft opening. “Sometimes when opportunity falls in your lap, you take it and run.”

While the space is her full-time studio, she will also be keeping some regular hours for customers to stop by. And she’s hosting “Sundays at the Studio” from 2pm-6pm to give other people working on projects a space to find some concentrated creativity of their own. “Productivity is infectious,” says Dima.

Dima describes her jewelry as “very dainty and feminine,” “made with good quality materials,” and “well-priced.” Nothing costs more than $75. “I’m selling to my neighbors, to my friends, to my community,” says Dima, “Good quality and affordable prices are my priority.”

“I love to work with gemstones. What is really in right now is pearl and gold. Earrings have been selling like crazy. Everyone wants earrings so they look good on Zoom calls,” Dima laughs.

Dima also feels strongly about supporting and promoting other crafters in the community. “When I started, nobody wanted to give me an opportunity.” She’s determined to break that cycle and has set up a small area in her boutique for other crafters to sell their wares.

Dima is proud of her journey and her new venture. “The hardship I lived through made me the woman that I am today. I went through trauma after trauma after trauma, but I carry my scars with pride. I reached a point in my life where I needed to prove to myself and to my kids that, like air, I’ll rise. For a long time, I was just a mom, but now, I’m a mom with a business.”

Dima Jewelry Atelier + Boutique is located at 41 Harrison Street. Dima Ali can be reached at dimajewelrydesigns@gmail.com. Visit her Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/dimajewelrydesigns or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


Val’s halla is turning 50!

Val’s halla is turning 50!

It all began in 1972.  To be factually accurate, it began several years before as NMC Discount Records, but for what we now know as Val’s halla Records, this July marks the big 50.

Celebrate with them:

The first item up is our SHARE A MEMORY project.  If there is one thing Val was known for, it was telling stories.  Please share a memory or two from the last 50 yrs. Val stories, music stories, pet stories, whatever you’ve got! We can’t think of a better way to honor Val than by telling stories.  CLICK HERE to share.

Next, they are compiling a list of the Favorite 50 albums of Val’s halla customers from the last 50 years, so they need your input! Please nominate an album (or many) to be considered for this list. Later in the year, they will compile all of the nominees and take a vote, so CLICK HERE and get nominating!

A photo was taken on the last day at the old store and it was amazing. They are hoping to create a little photo magic again this year. If you were an employee of Val’s halla Records, a friend of Val, or anyone who has been impacted by this amazing place (they are going to need a wide lens), they’d love for you to join them. Tentatively, they are hoping to take a picture in the morning on Sat, Jul 30th before a huge day of festivities. To start, they want to start gathering contact information for everyone, so please CLICK HERE to sign up and they will keep you posted! Please forward this to anyone you can think of and don’t assume they have already contacted someone!

They are having a kickoff party – ‘Cue the Record in partnership with our friends from Fitzgerald’s and BABYGOLD BARBEQUE.  How does this sound? Your $39 ticket gets you:

  • All You Can Eat BBQ
  • A night of amazing music spinning  on sweet, sweet vinyl.  All selections curated from Val’s staff will be from the year it all began…1972. 
  • The Val’s halla shop inside of BABYGOLD BARBEQUE will be open for business and just might have some specialties to add to your collection!

The event will be held at BABYGOLD BARBEQUE located at 6613 Roosevelt Rd, Berwyn, IL 60402. This amazing event may sell out, so CLICK HERE and get your tickets today.  It’s time to treat yourself.

Not just coffee. Not just art. Your choice at Buzz Cafe!

Not just coffee. Not just art. Your choice at Buzz Cafe!

By Kelly Pollock, feature writer for The Buzz Cafe

The art on the walls at Buzz Café is such a part of the experience that many customers might not stop to wonder how it ends up there. The answer comes from Charlie Doyle, the art manager and new full-time morning manager. “The process is very relaxed. You contact me, sign the artist agreement, we correspond, we meet, and then your art is on the walls,” he says. “We’re very flexible with what kind of art we consign. It just needs to be family-friendly since no one wants to answer complicated questions over pancakes.”

The restaurant takes a 25% commission from all sales and art tends to sell exceptionally well over the holidays. “Some people stop in just to buy a piece of art. No coffee, no pastries, no food. Just art.” says Charlie. Since taking on the role of art manager in the spring, he has enjoyed becoming immersed in the diversity of the art and the artists who are showcased.

Meet three of those artists below:

Mimi Comerford

Mimi and her husband Rick live on Harrison Street just down the street from Buzz Café. A few years ago, they purchased the commercial building that formerly housed Magical Minds Studio and converted it into their home. “The project took about eighteen months, but we love it. It’s a fun space to live in,” says Mimi.

Her family has a long history of involvement in the arts. “My great-grandfather was a prominent architect in California, my grandmother attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1913, and my father was an artisan tinsmith,” says Mimi. When the time came for her to go to college, however, she took the advice of her business-minded mother and majored in marketing. “My mom told me that I would never be able to support myself as an artist and that I should get a business degree. So that’s what I did,” Mimi laughs.

Since then, she has spent her professional life working in sales and currently has her own consulting company working in the art supply industry. So how did she end up with her art on the walls at Buzz? “I started getting free products from my work and I just started dabbling. I found it therapeutic and satisfying to create something out of nothing,” says Mimi.

Mimi’s current passion is fused glass and she makes ornaments and wall art using the kiln housed in her home studio. She starting selling at Buzz over a year ago and gives part of her ornament sale proceeds to Dawn Center Rescue, a non-profit that specializes in hard-to-adopt dogs. “I’ve always loved that Buzz features community artists. It really makes for an interesting space.”

Jen Keller, Jen Keller Art

Jen Keller has been an artist her entire life. She grew up in the Chicago suburbs where she “was always involved in art and theater as a kid and throughout high school.” She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Costume Design and a Master of Fine Arts in Traditional Illustration and in between spent five years as the owner of a dog-walking company.

She describes her work as “Stylized Realism.” Says Jen, “It’s not quite realistic, but it’s based in reality. The work at Buzz Café (part of the Keller Kiddo Designs line) is all researched heavily to get the animal’s anatomy correct, then it is hand-drawn and hand-inked. Then I scan it into the computer and add the color. It has a modern, clean style that works well in decor.”

In addition to her children’s art, Jen also creates pet portraits and greeting cards and has done illustration work in the publishing industry. When she’s not working as a full-time artist, Jen keeps busy as a full-time mom and loves spending time with her husband (a professional soccer coach) and daughter.

While art and family are her primary focus, the passion that inspired her years as a dog walker continues to show up in her work. “I love animals which is why I’ve dedicated my artwork to showing them in all sorts of different lights. From my nursery art to my pet portraits I hope to bring joy and a sense of connection to the world around us.”

Rebecca LesStrang, Artimiss

Rebecca is the youngest artist on the walls at Buzz Café. She is ten years old and a 5th grader at Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest. Her dad Christian lives in Oak Park on Lombard Avenue just up the street from the restaurant. “Buzz is my local hangout and I asked about getting Rebecca’s art on the walls. Charlie has been a great champion and took Rebecca under his wing,” he says.

Abstract art is Rebecca’s specialty. “Sometimes I drizzle the paint on the canvas like Jackson Pollock or I might paint the canvas all one color and then drizzle glitter on top of it,” says Rebecca. Her business name is Artimiss because “my business is art, and I’m a young miss. And one of my favorite books is Ready Player One and I like the character Art3mis.”

While she doesn’t have her life mapped out yet, Rebecca knows that she wants an artistic career like fashion design or interior design. “I’m really into fashion and the way things get put together. When I buy an item of clothing, I can see my entire closet in my mind and I think what would go great with it.”

But for now, Rebecca is just excited to have sold some of her pieces and plans to rotate her inventory in the new year. And what’s her favorite Buzz treat? “Definitely the hot chocolate,” she says with a grin.

Oak Park Arts District Gift Guide 2021

Oak Park Arts District Gift Guide 2021

By Kelly Pollock, feature writer for The Buzz Cafe

Need to do some holiday shopping? Check out the businesses of the Oak Park Arts District. They have gifts for everybody on your list!

For Her…

Purple Sun Arts (142 Harrison Street) is celebrating the season with a holiday lights sale—find a tag with a colored gem and save 10-25% off the price. They have beautiful handmade cards, jewelry (get three pairs of $10 earrings for just $25), and bath items (felted soap for $16). Visit www.purplesunarts.com or call 708-948-7443.

For Him…

Trying to buy for the man who has everything? Pamper him with the Presidential Treatment at Valdo’s Barbershop (128 Harrison Street). This $75 package includes a clay mask to remove impurities, a haircut, and a hot towel shave with steam. It’s the ultimate luxury! Visit www.valdosoakpark.com or call 708-628-3025.

For The Kids…

Do the kids already have too much “stuff?” Why not gift them something a little more “experiential” this year? The Oak Park Arts District offers an abundance of classes for kids of all ages including acting (The Actors Garden at www.theactorsgarden.com), dance (INTUIT Dance! at www.intuitdance.org), and art (Kidcreate Studio at www.kidcreatestudio.com). Many classes start in January and would make a great holiday gift for your budding actor/dancer/artist!

For The Family…

Want to start a new holiday tradition? Stop by Bead in Hand (145 Harrison Street) for their Snowflake Ornament Drop-In workshops on December 20, 21, and 23 from 1pm-4pm. Ornament kits are available in three sizes—Small ($6), Medium ($12), and Large ($15)—and are appropriate for ages 6 and up. Visit www.beadinhand.com or call 708-848-1761.

For The Host…

Headed out to a last minute gathering? Pick up a pie to share from The Happy Apple Pie Shop (226 Harrison Street). Flavors vary week to week but Signature Apple, Apple Crumble, and Chocolate Chess are always available and prices start at $24. Or if you need something savory, call ahead for a quiche ($22) and it can be ready in an hour. And don’t forget to plan ahead. December 13 is the last day to place your Christmas pie order. Visit www.happyapplepie.com or call 708-606-0037.

For The Music Lover…

Pop in to Val’s halla Records (239 Harrison Street) for a Mystery Gift Package of five records for $20. Sure to please anyone who loves vinyl. Or jump in with a Starter Kit that includes a turntable and two powered speakers for $249. It’s ready right out of the box for quick set-up on Christmas morning. Can’t decide? Buy a $50 gift card for someone special and get a $5 bonus gift card just for you. Visit www.valshallarecords.com or call 708-524-1004.

For The Crafter…

Dye Hard Yarns (210 Harrison Street) has everything for the knitter on your list. Want to give a gift that will bring joy throughout the year? Consider a Sock-of-the-Month subscription. For $179.99, your gift recipient will receive a skein of hand-dyed yarn and a sock pattern every other month for a year—a total of six shipments. Visit www.dyehardyarns.com or call 708-613-4456.

For The Taco Lover…(And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love tacos!)

Taco Mucho (220 Harrison Street) is a recent addition to the Arts District but their tacos, margaritas, and churros are already quite popular. After a long day of shopping on Harrison, sit back and enjoy some delicious Mexican food or stop in for a gift card that would make a great stocking stuffer for everyone on your list. Visit www.tacomucho.net or call 708-434-5740.

Happy Holidays from the businesses of the Oak Park Arts District!