In Store: buy it, break it, or leave it be | Calendar | Chicago Reader

In Store: buy it, break it, or leave it be 

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Ed Crabbe turns to the lounge chair blocking an aisle at Harvest, the resale shop he operates with his wife, Cathy, in Rogers Park. He carts the chair out to the sidewalk and positions it just so. Then he goes back into the store for more chairs, an end table, shelves, a lamp, and a coatrack. Soon he's fashioned a fresh-air parlor on the pavement.

It's one of a series of outdoor room settings. Wine glasses grace a bistro table with matching chairs, bringing a touch of Paris to the corner of Greenview and Jarvis. Other collections are more haphazard: a Schlitz beer sign rests against a stack of books by Shakespeare and Dickens, all atop a computer table.

"I do this by myself every day, even in winter," says Crabbe of his sidewalk decorating. "If people want to take a seat, they're welcome to. Sometimes I show artwork, and one time I put out a movie screen and a projector, though I didn't have a film to run. What I love is that I've created a world that people can look at, yet it will change into something new tomorrow."

Even with all that merchandise on the sidewalk, the shop is stuffed with rugs, books, religious paintings, mirrors, old cameras, and wing chairs. A long glass case contains jewelry, and there's a bin with turn-of-the-century photographs selling for $2 apiece. Its sign reads, "Need relatives?"

The Crabbes also use Harvest as their personal space. Besides setting up his outdoor showroom, Ed paints furniture and abstract artworks. Sometimes he plays a brightly colored conga drum. He enjoys posting questions on the windows in water-soluble paint, promising a 10 percent discount to patrons who answer correctly. A recent puzzler asked: "Who said, 'To alcohol--the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems?'" (Answer: Homer Simpson.)

"You go into other shops like ours, and the owners tend to be kind of surly," says Cathy. "But we're friendly. We feel glad that you are charmed by what you buy here. If you break an item, we say, 'That's OK--just come again.'"

As a young man Ed worked as a janitor, following in the footsteps of his Belgian-born father. "The trade allowed me to support my family," he says. "I had a good life with my kids, and there was enough money for toys for me--trucks and tools and boats. But the job of a janitor becomes draining. There's the phone. When you go home and see ten messages on the answering machine, you're pleased. When a janitor sees ten messages, he knows eight of them are tenant complaints--the roof's leaking and the toilet is stopped up--and he can't put anything on the back burner. There's also the assumption that the guy behind the broom doesn't have a brain. You can't get rid of that social misunderstanding, no matter how erudite you are. In the end the job was negative for my self-esteem."

He quit five years ago and got by on construction and painting jobs. He and Cathy had been stockpiling furniture from tenant castoffs, garage sales, and alley picking. They have five children from their first marriages, and some of the furniture went to setting up apartments for their offspring. But enough of the stuff remained that they began to talk about turning their avocation into a resale shop.

Cathy had her doubts: "My father ran grocery stores, and I know that in retail you're consumed by the business. I don't think Ed really understood that. We had five children, eight grandchildren, and the building we lived in. We were kind of busy, don't you think? And here we were bringing another burden to the family."

They considered taking the space at Jarvis and Greenview, but Cathy was troubled by the location, which at night attracted drug sales and prostitution. Yet Ed liked the broad sidewalk in front and the chance to be more inventive. When the landlord lowered the rent, the Crabbes signed the lease.

Harvest opened in May 1999, just as Cathy lost her job managing a trade association. Merchandise came from their own basement and two basements that Ed had cleaned out--one of which made them rich in lamps and pictures with a nautical theme.

Now the Crabbes, both in their 50s, hold down part-time jobs outside the shop. They're busier than ever, frequenting auctions and estate sales and taking articles on consignment from neighborhood folk. "People come by and say, 'Aunt Tillie died and we live in Barrington--we have to get rid of her stuff,'" says Cathy. "So we go have a look, even if it's at an odd hour." They're also learning the peculiarities of the resale trade, she says: "To do this right you have to know about the quality of various rugs, the difference between vintage and antique, and what works in small apartments, which is what we have in Rogers Park."

Ed opens the store at 2 PM, though he's sometimes late. Cathy tries to keep him presentable. "I'm a fix-it kind of guy, and I can look pretty grungy," says Ed. "Cathy forces me to wear a collar shirt instead of a T-shirt at the store. Today I come across as somebody without limitations. I'm not what I was. I'm a merchant now."

Harvest is located at 1447 W. Jarvis, and it's open from 2 till 9 Tuesday through Saturday. Call 773-761-0220.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dorothy Perry.

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