By Michael Workman
As spring finally settles into summer, tired of living on dust bunnies and SNAP benefits, I decided to start delivering Newcity instead of just writing for it. Go all in, as it were. A few weeks ago, wading for the first time into the delivery route that takes me out into the summer heat of the recent weeks’ warm-up, I’m cruising through Andersonville, where the expansive Roost Chicago corner shop on Clark Street catches my eye.
Its front door explodes out onto the sidewalk with what looks like a department store’s worth of repurposed and reclaimed wood. Parking the car, I saunter up around the corner and in through the entrance, a pretty sizable wraparound display ringing where I first spotted the wood planking, and there are a lot of very closely curated vintage items: a barn bench, large brown ceramic potters, weathered wood stools. Inside, there are arrays of old weight scales, alongside the usual sorts of eccentric objects you’d find in any knowledgeable and wittily selected vintage-store collection of objects like a lamp made of weathervane rooster and stacks of old Willie Nelson and Jethro Tull 8-track tapes.
Owned and operated by Daniel Malone, Roost also interpolates its vintage collection with a wide array of handmade wares, including shelves upon shelves of Decorware and other scented candles with names like Ocean Driftwood and Pumpkin Spice in wide, cork-stoppered jars. They’re strewn veritably throughout the store, amongst the rustic selections that litter every available surface, and in the rear of the store, there’s a nook called The Hutch, reserved for fine dishware. It’s great, and a real resource for people in search of a shop with signature style: they also do custom ceiling-hanging lamps in a variety of colors made of that apple basket-type of chipwood.
These sorts of shops have always had a place in Chicago and everywhere, yet there’s this newly evolved sense of retail expansiveness to it, this defining sense of the preciousness of the handmade. I’m sure much of the explosion in regional production economies is to some degree a matter of necessity, given the higher cost of living in general. And it’s pleasing in a very considered home-making way, one that feels inclusive and inviting. If there’s a roost to rule, may as well do so with patience, and a drop or two of subtlety.
It’s notable, as at Roost, that there are certain types of common handmade consumables that seem to come out of Chicago in some volume, and the hand-poured scented candle business certainly holds a strong market share here. I’d already previously written, for instance, on artist Kevin Lemel’s Raw Candles, whose devotion to aromatherapy as the locus of his artistic practice is pretty impressive for someone like me, who is just now starting to get a sense of smell back after twenty years as a cigarette smoker (smoking arrests your taste and smell abilities to the point of zero). Lemel also casts his candle-making, for instance, as a lifestyle accoutrement while attending the International Mr. Leather conference, as a matter of “candle slavery.” Scents in the “kinky candles” line include Leather + Night Blooming Jasmine and Leather + Jungle Rain + Ylang Ylang. Saucy, indeed.
Continuing on that day, I shop the strip in the area and at each new place it seems as though I’m able to come across any of numerous locally produced brands, of which candle-making efforts large and small are a large portion of the output, with seemingly infinite variations of aroma: the Logan Square Candle Co.’s hand-poured Cedar Vanilla, for instance, or options for Amber Lavender and Jasmine Spice, all delicious sounding. And the “candle studio” (I confess to not knowing of such a thing prior to encountering theirs!) of Artumie, another Logan Square operation, putting out small-batch runs of vegan soy wax varietals with synaesthetic sounding scents such as Cedar & Thyme, Bergamot & Basil, Rosemary Lavender and, as a former smoker, my favorite: the Tobacco Pipe. What a way to spend an afternoon!
And it doesn’t end there, of course, there are tons of uniquely Chicago-handmade options: I also discovered the Windy City Beard Elixir (I have one of those sprouting these days), packaged in alluring little black eye-dropper bottles, simultaneously compelling and faintly ominous. And, one of my favorite finds that day, the super-weird Revolver (two handguns are crossed on the label) handmade vegan deodorant stick, “an elite assassin of odor that you can trust.” Shocking exactly just how deep and how broad the DIY handmade experiment has gone these days, isn’t it? Unsurprisingly, this variety continues in almost every product vein imaginable, from children’s clothes to craft kitchen options including locally made olive oils and pastries, and the like. It’s wonderful, as the summer season opens up to the artisan tour of the festivals, to be reminded just how prolific and diverse the local artisan maker scene is here in Chicago.
Roost Chicago, 5634 North Clark, (773)506-0406, firstname.lastname@example.org.