ELSAH — Companion artisans share an outpouring of good taste in a small village rivaling the style sense of resort communities on U.S. coasts.
On the banks of the Mississippi River, the Look Factory’s Julie Harper and the Merchant On Mill’s Kelly Wooldridge became preoccupied with self-taught art and access to what discerning shoppers like, which eventually led to following their hobbies of not only upcycling and repurposing, but, in their stores, offering items that are hard to come by from brick-and-mortar stores.
The Look Factory, owned by Julie and Jason Harper, primarily an apparel store, opened last year in August, in an unlikely place. Neither lived in the bucolic historic village but somehow had an affinity to it. The pair traveled extensively in Europe — still do — and were looking for such a “place” to settle. Julie found her true livelihood in a dress boutique, The Look Factory. It’s couture to the ninth degree — at about half the cost.
“I don’t want to price clients out of things, I want them to be able to enjoy what I have to offer here,” Harper said.
Far off the beaten path, on Mill Street in Elsah, Harper, through her store, offers designs not found until now in the United States, yet Elsah-centric T-shirts are on full display.
“I’ve evolved to get European imports, brands no one has ever heard of shipped to the U.S.,” Harper explained.
Shop a bit during Elsah’s Home for the Holidays House Tour
Elsah-based specialized retailers and artisans are sweetening the annual Home for the Holidays House Tour, with extended hours Saturday, Dec. 7, at independently owned galleries and boutiques.
Each year, the Historic Elsah Foundation sponsors and organizes the Home for the Holidays House Tour, but since last year’s event, several artistic and innovative entrepreneurs moved to or nearby the historic bucolic village, not only to live, but to follow their hearts. Passions include art, upcycling, repurposing, vintage, European goods, fine antiques, housewares, general store, bath and body — and reinvention — to create and carry one-of-a-kind items, as well as favorites, like, The Neighborhood Line candles and lifestyle brands Michel Design Works soap, lotion and hand towels, and Beekman 1802 goat’s milk products — with gift sets!
• Peace Works: A Market with a Mission, 7 Mill St.
• The Look Factory, 43 Mill St.
• Merchant on Mill, Barn at 43 Mill St.
• Sisters of Elsah Art Studio and Gallery, 108 Mill St.
• Elsah Galleries, 18 LaSalle St.
• Elsah General Store, 22 LaSalle St.
Harper specializes in linen and cotton, some brands only sold in Florida, in Naples, Palm Beach and Key West.
“Our theme is genuinely boho, gypsy, relaxed, free-thinking — for all ages,” Harper said. “More of style than a demographic.”
Harper designs and makes items for sale in the shop, from rare velvet, to used linens from French workers’ jackets. She deconstructs the items and makes them her own, sometimes with an evocative quote from an 17th century French book.
Merchant On Mills’ Kelly Wooldridge has been friends with Harper for years, and it was a natural progression once she saw the barn next door. She rented the barn where she sells upscale items such as lifestyle brands Michel Design Works soap, lotion and hand towels, and Beekman 1802 goat’s milk products.