Dear Winnetka shoppers: How much do you know about the stores, restaurants and coffee shops in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff? And those of you in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff: How much do you know about Winnetka?
Daily North Shore has a hunch the answers are going to be “not too much.” It’s possible some Winnetkans might even wonder “Wait – where’s Lake Bluff?” — so we embarked on a fun holiday feature designed to introduce lucky volunteers from Winnetka to an afternoon of lunch and shopping in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, and volunteers from Lake Forest and Lake Bluff to do the same in Winnetka. The common denominator: The shoppers were unfamiliar with stores in the neighboring town.
“Project Shop Nearby” began on Tuesday, December 9, when two women from Winnetka traveled north for their assignment. On Thursday, also at my invitation, two Lake Bluff women will venture south to shop and dine in Winnetka. (I’ll write about that on Monday.)
Tuesday’s assignment was totally fun and productive. I met Susan Marren and her sister Kristin Starr for lunch at Inovasi, a restaurant that anchors Lake Bluff’s charming downtown shopping district. Our goal was to have a quick bite — quick enough to leave ample time to hit about a dozen stores before our kids got out of school. The concept of a “quick lunch” was the only problematic element to the plan – for two reasons. Inovasi’s crispy Walleyed Pike and Beet Salad were too good to hurry through; and Susan and I are old, old, old friends — going back to our days at New Trier. There was a lot to talk about!
But there was also a lot of ground to cover, and we carried forth. So as not to play favorites with the businesses – we did not have time to hit every store – I took the shoppers to retailers based on their holiday shopping lists, which included various price points for family members ages 5 to teen to long-past retired. We first popped into the gift stores Peg Ann Kompany in Lake Bluff, where we found many necklaces that we wanted to purchase for ourselves, and Voila!, where we admired the selection of clothing and household decor.
After visiting just two stores, we already required coffee fortification. Fortunately there’s a coffee shop in Scranton Alley called Prairie Espresso, which is one of the most unique coffee shops on the North Shore — so small you can’t see it from the street because it is literally the size of a storage closet, and I mean literally literally – the space it occupies once was a storage closet. Here’s a photo of Scranton Alley, followed by an image of Prairie Espresso:
Lattes warming our hands, we crossed the street to visit Mary Mowry, an eponymously named jewelry store that sells unique jewelry — you can even work with Mary to design a one-of-a-kind piece. Here’s a photo of Susan and Kristin talking to Mary, who makes all of her jewelry by hand:
We also visited the Spice Merchant for interesting curries and whimsical teaapots, followed by a stop at Wisma where I insisted they each buy a bottle of the Basil Lime Vinaigrette. If you have not tried it yet, go get some!
“Lake Bluff is adorable,” said Susan. “I love the restaurant, the charming town, train station and all the fun stores. Even on a gloomy day it is so cute.”
Time flies even when it’s cold and grey out, so we hopped in our cars and headed over to Lake Forest, where we shopped at Jolly Good Fellows; Salmesbury Hall; Lillie Alexander; The Mustard Seed; Initial Choice; and Gerhard’s Bakery, finding many interesting gift ideas along the way. Store sales reps were cheerful and welcoming at every stop, including the owner’s dog at Salmesbury, who greeted us like we were old friends.
Said Susan: “It was so great to walk around Lake Forest. You really do have a great selection of stores up there and such nice people!”
Next up: Daily North Shore will travel to Winnetka with two Lake Forest women. Come back for the follow-up story next Monday!