A Self Defined Weirdo
One Strange Bird is many things. It’s a gift store containing of unique handmade what I call a whole bunch of useful useless things. Things you can totally do without, but why should you? As you enter, there is a whole wall full of handmade greeting cards priced at five dollars and more, then there are displays of handmade jewelry, purses, t-shirts that jump at you with messages such as Yes way Rose, Someone in Chicago Loves Me, Be Silly, Be Honest, Be Kind. Coffee mugs, handmade with Chicago skyline and Wicker Park motifs. They have custom made baby clothes and they hold BYOB art and craft classes for adults in which you can bring your wines and beers and learn how to paint or create handmade objects. And they have don’t BYOB kid’s art classes as well as several kid’s camps all through the year. You can see enough stuff as you walk past their double width glass store front, your eyes are treated to a whole slew of interesting tidbits that you can’t help but nudge the door open and enter to browse. What got me in was their sign on the door: Come in, WE ARE AWESOME. And when they are closed, the flip side of the sign says: Sorry, we’re CLOTHED.
All the time that I have stopped by and walked past the store, so far I have bought all of three products – a couple of unique greeting cards and an expensive cork screw, which was on sale. Even though I am always on the look for something unique, something special, whether or not I buy it depends on whatever I end up buying “finds me”. That is most of the time. Normally I don’t exactly go out looking for things, especially books and greeting cards – but I like to browse. And then suddenly the product finds me, tugs at me and then the price is hardly a factor. Other than the fact that handmade and as unique as the products are at in One Strange Bird, most of them are geared towards women and kids. And yet, I often stop by – just to chat.
As of this writing, June of 2018 – friendly as can be – always smiling and pleasant Nicole Northway owns and operates the store. She is an artist, entrepreneur, teacher and many other things, among them a great conversationalist. It’s delightful to chat with Nicole and talk about things and about her daughter Emerson and I talk about my blog Playboy Stories and my daughter and her family in Portland, Oregon and all. And how this precocious young woman started her first venture at 22 selling hand made t-shirts and her own art work while she still lived in St. Louis, Mo. She came to Chicago in 2008 to earn her MFA from the University of Illinois. She started her first store called Etsy Shop back in 2009, and then for the self defined “weirdo”, more appropriately called One Strange Bird in 2011, both on North Avenue near Western. In 2013, She moved to the current location on West Division.
As I browse her shop and see t-shirts and coffee mugs and tell her:
‘I wish you would have a coffee mug or a t-shirt which says Humboldt Park on it. I would buy it in a nano-second.’
‘I don’t think it would sell, because even the people who live there, never want to admit that they do.’
‘Well, I live in Humboldt Park and I am proud of it.’
‘We lived in Humboldt Park too, and all that shootings and all. We had two guns in the house.’
I tell her that has all changed enormously since I moved here eleven years ago. Even though during the first few years it was not unusual to see impromptu shrines pop up around trees in memory of the ones shot down – it is now getting rarer and rarer. Though just a couple of weeks ago I saw such a shrine for a young man called Taco, Live For Ever, and a year or so ago, there was someone killed right outside the Mexican fast food restaurant, Guerreros in plain sight of the people inside dining or picking up their food! But still! Rosa, the owner’s daughter who works the kitchen tells me matter of factly I saw it with my own eyes a man being shot down right there – pointing at the spot on the side walk right outside the place.
Curiously, the next morning, I was sitting outside of Letizia’s sidewalk, telling the barista Cara about the shooting of the night before, I noticed a young couple with two kids sitting at the table close by. When they got up to leave, the man of the group walks up to me and asks:
‘Were you there at the shooting last night?’
‘No I just heard the gunshots. I live a few houses north of there on Maplewood.’
‘Be careful for the next few days. Especially late in the night. Just in case. It was a gang related shooting and some of them may well return for revenge.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I am a cop, and was there last night.’ Instead of flashing his badge, he lifts his shirt and I see a gun tucked at his waist under his pants. But still!
‘I’m glad it’s changing.’ Says Nicole. Yes indeed. So much so that Alex, my neighbor across the hall even bought a t-shirt emblazoned with colorful Humboldt Park on his chest!
Come August 1, 2018, I am going to miss stopping by and talking to her, but when you are born with the name like Northway, you’ve got to keep moving upward and onward. Ironically, she is moving south to Florida. Touché! But the comforting fact is, the shop is being taken over by – in Nicole’s words “New Mama!” Emily Gloekler, with whom I have had a brief encounter when I saw Nicole working on the t-shirt press and enthusiastically walking up to her – I am so happy you’re here. To which the woman sitting at the table on the right quipped – well, thanks, who am I? Chopped liver? Excuse me! Hope not. Gives me hope that soon as Nicole leaves, there will be Emily to carry on the creative spirit.
© 2018 Haresh Shah
One Strange Bird, 2124 W. Division Street, Chicago, Ill. 60622 -773 276 4420 www.onestrangebird.com
Before moving on to the next story, thought I share with you what it is about Division Street that has me so fascinated that I would want to devote so much time and energy to really sit down and write about it.