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Flown in from the Global Skies

Haresh Shah

I can now report with a sigh of relief that Emily Book Gloekler, the new owner of One Strange Bird certainly isn’t chopped liver. In the short eight months since she has taken over, you can’t help but feel the new energy and enthusiasm in the products and the activities that defines this store as a different kind of place. Outwardly, the store is the same, the feeling of warm friendliness and ease that makes you want to pop in, browse and linger, remains the same. Most of the basic product categories are still the same, such as abundance of hand made greeting cards, coffee mugs and t-shirts. It is also filled with one of a kind artisanal jewelry and other lovingly hand crafted objet d’art as before. But there are more of all of them, and you see wider variety. Interestingly, the ex-owner Nicole Northway and the current Mama, Emily Gloekler both originally stem from the state of Missouri, and they both bring the down home mid-western sensitivities in their store and the products. Emily adds to that an international dimension. The difference between  winding down and starting anew is certainly palpable.

The store is the place for the people looking for something other than run of the mill commercial products. They are looking for something special, something personal and something unique for very special occasions and people in their lives. Gift is not just a gift – a well thought out personal gift is one step above. The store changes its focus for all the special days of the year, be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year. Valentine’s Day, St’ Patrick’s, Easter and Mother’s Day. It amazes me to see how fast its window display and decor changes soon as one holiday segues into the other.

Emily comes back to her mid-western roots via an extended stay in Tanzania, someone who has not only traveled wide and far but has also lived in various countries.  Not yet forty, born and grown up in Prairie Village, Kansas, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Northern American University, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Ten years later, she picked up her Master of Arts in International Development from the  University of Kent in Brussels, Belgium. Her professional trajectory include trading Foreign Exchange in Chicago, Microfinancing in Bangladesh, Kenya and Tanzania and then moving to global health, working for Population Services International, also in Tanzania.

What started it all is Emily becoming pregnant in 2012 with her now six year old daughter Evie. While on the maternity leave from her PSI job, on impulse she began making clothes for her yet unborn daughter. All the mothers and mothers to be around her loved what she created, so much so that at some point she acquired a sewing machine and hired help to meet the demand. She also started making hand crafted one of a kind jewelry and other artisanal stuff.

Instead of going back to work at the end of her maternity leave, she took off a year to expand her little cottage industry – now under her newly formed company Kipepeo (Butterfly in Kiswahili) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  When Evie was one year old, Emily’s relationship with her father was falling apart, resulting in her leaving him. Following her split and facing financial constraint, Emily went back to work for PSI. However, she continued to produce handmade designs and work part time at Kipepeo.

Three years later and still operating from home, it began to get a bit crowded between her workers and her customers constantly milling around. The brand and the concept had grown. It became apparent that she needed some sort of an outlet away from home – a pop up shop. Helen Espey Kelly – a close friend of hers owned a weaving company and offered space for her to be able to do just that. Not too long after, she realized that what was up until then a sideline, could well be viable as a full time venture and opened up Kipepeo retail shop at Slipway Shopping Center.

On the parallel track, even with Kipepeo up and running, her contentious relationship with Evie’s father had gotten down to an all time low, in which their daughter was becoming a pawn as they began to negotiate the terms of un-dearment. It got to the point where she no longer felt comfortable in that environment. Something needed to be done. Emily packed up her daughter and eight suitcases and moved back to the States on February 1, 2018. The reason Chicago because during her two plus years of stint working for the Foreign Exchange in the city, she had acquired a condo in Wicker Park, which she was renting out. She at least had a home to come back to.

While still in the process of getting settled and with Evie enrolled in school, Emily frequented the neighborhood stores – among them Paperish Mess and Komota, both in West Town on Chicago Avenue. And of course One Strange Bird on Division. Actually she walked past the store almost everyday while walking Evie to her school. One day she just called Nicole at OSB and asked her if she would be interested in carrying her jewelry. Nicole said sure – on consignment of course – even without asking to look at what she had. The store sold so much of Emily’s stuff that she would often hang out at the shop. Nicole mentioned too bad because she was soon closing the store and moving to Florida.

Ever so entrepreneurial, Emily wondered:

Instead of closing down, why don’t you sell the shop?

Why? Are you interested? Nicole asked.


And so they began to talk. The rest as the saying goes, is history. Emily promptly took over the shop as of August 1, 2018.

Since then Emily has put her heart and soul into the store. With her seductive granular voice and the smiles she welcomes every browser, perhaps also a buyer, putting them at ease, which also works to her benefit when she holds her BYOB craft evenings and sans BYOB kids’ camps. Other than being a shop for things different and unique, to borrow from it’s website: One Strange Bird is an event space/art studio that features a carefully curated selection of apparel, accessories, and gifts from local and national designers.  Not to mention featuring creations form her store and connections in Tanzania where she travels frequently and it has also resulted in her acquiring unique merchandise from her stop overs in Turkey. The art studio offers a welcoming environment. It’s the perfect place to express your creative side and unwind after a long work week. A wide variety of classes from terrarium building, painting, print making, and collage are offered. And they are fun!!! Additionally, the studio offers kid’s art summer camps, private events and parties.

The events bring out Emily’s skills as a teacher and an instructor and a group leader. She is natural in these varied roles. And this strange bird and single mother, if not exactly thriving yet, sure promises to do just that in not too far of a future.

◙                                                                                                                                                                © 2019 Haresh Shah                                                                                                                            ◙                                                                                                                                                                One Strange Bird, 2124 W. Division Street, Chicago, Ill. 60622 -773 276 4420 /

◙                                                                                                                                                            RELATED STORY

ONE STRANGE BIRD                                                                  

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