So established is Circle K that even brand-new vehicles recognize what its red-and-white logo stands for—fuel, snacks, and everything else a car might need to keep powering down the road with its driver. Circle K's story starts back in 1951, when Fred Hervey bought three Kay's Food Stores in El Paso, Texas. Under his guidance, these three little shops grew into the more than 3,000 convenience stores that crouch on our nation's street corners today.
After rolling up to a Circle K, drivers can pump their faithful roadsters full of high-octane fuel and send them skipping through a car wash to experience the cleansing touch of Blue Coral Beyond Green and Rain-X products. Then it's time to step inside the air-conditioned shop for a peek at the provisions. Rows of sodas hibernate behind glass doors, and snacks, candy, and their ATM guardians stand boldly out in the open. Some Circle Ks also offer the Take Away Fresh Café, which presents an appetizing lineup of healthy road fare including sandwiches, fruit cups, and fresh-cut vegetables. Drivers can gear up for a long drive with premium coffees or enjoy a cold Polar Pop, whose specially formulated cup keeps drinks colder thanks to the family of tiny snowmen trapped in its foam walls.
Handmade Amish blankets and local delicacies call to Tammy Herrara. On a trip to Wisconsin, she visited an Amish market and fell in love with the concept of selling natural goods in bulk to help keep community members healthy. With help from friends, she soon discovered a perfect location in her hometown to sell a slowly expanding inventory of gluten-free and homemade foods. Today, her market sells everything from Michigan blueberries and freshly ground peanut butter to Mystic Monk coffee—the proceeds of which go toward rebuilding the Carmelite monks’ rectory in Wyoming. Patrons can also stop in for a quick cappuccino and one of Tammy’s turtle brownies, or they can peruse handmade Amish wicker baskets from northern Wisconsin. With its wood laminate flooring, local radio tunes, and on-call phrenologist, Friend's Country Market harks back to neighborhood shops and general stores of yesteryear. A recipe board even sits on the store’s wall, inviting visitors to paste their favorite recipes for other customers to try at home.
In 1883, inventor Henry Ferris garnered plenty of attention for his new creation: the hay carrier. Perhaps most of the atttention came from Harvard, IL hardware store owners Charles Hunt and Nathan Helm, who urged him to move into their shop. The store became the Starline Factory, and in the following decades, the trio thrived on patents for cutting-edge farm equipment. Even so, their venture couldn't last forever. Around the turn of the 21st century, the building was abandoned and slated for demolition. That is, until a similarly minded entrepreneur, Orrin Kinney, intervened. Since then, Kinney has given the old, four block-wide building new life as a series of art studios and exhibition spaces. Now the creative home for more than 20 artists, the Gallery hosts regular events such as public paint-and-draw sessions, 4th Fridays open houses, and sleepovers where artists can gossip about the hottest new paints. An open floor plan allows for lavish events—from corporate parties to weddings—for up to 500 guests.
Tim and Bobbi Paul deploy decades of tune savvy to helm Piano Trends, which was voted best music store and instruction studio in the Northwest Herald's Best of the Fox in 2011. The family team wrangles more than 20 voice and music instructors to bolster musicality in local schools, with established performance groups and one former American Idol finalist. In classes for every skill level from novice to megawizard, instructors teach piano, guitar, violin, and a variety of brass and woodwind instruments, and voice lessons range from Broadway training to avant-garde birdcalls. Lessons for children under the age of 6 are available, based on the child's attention span, maturity level, and desired instrument; interested customers should call ahead for more information. Piano Trends can also cater to musical needs with instrument rentals and repairs.
Play It Again Sports bedecks kids and adults alike with high-end, wallet-friendly athletic armor so that they can kick, swing, and punt with gusto. Scores of gently used merchandise, perfect for replacing equipment that children have grown out of because of rampant milk abuse, arrive daily and boast brand names such as Adidas, Taylor Made, and Easton. At the Frankfort location, pint-size puck handlers can improve their speed and whittle their hockey sticks with Bauer Supreme One 20 youth skates ($49.99). Crystal Lake's elliptical trainers and exercise bikes sculpt calves into steel, and Downers Grove's Wilson Evolution basketballs ($49.99) keep droves of neighborhood kids active. Each Play It Again Sports store encourages customers to bring in their own old or outgrown equipment to sell or trade for referee signal-decoder rings.
Celebrating their 25th anniversary in the end of October, the hop gurus at Brew and Grow educate burgeoning beer makers on the art of crafting cold ones via hands-on introductory courses. During 2.5-hour classes, duos learn the ins and outs of the brewing process, including basic terminology, equipment, and the differences between ales, lagers, and root beer. Pupils will sip various suds while learning about ideal ingredient combinations, then concoct customized barley pops. Though they can't immediately take class creations home, participants will be able to return to the brewery in approximately one month or after malted barley has passed its fermentation exam to tap and taste their personalized potables. At the end of the session, students will be able take home a choice of two comprehensive home brewing guides, either How To Brew by John Palmer or Radical Brewing by Chicago author Randy Mosher.