How to Celebrate Women’s History Month in Illinois

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March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate, commemorate and study the role and accomplishments women have made. During this month, many countries celebrate International Women's Day (March 8), which honors the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and serves as a call to action for accelerating women's equality.

Women’s History Month began when Congress requested that President Ronald Reagan declare the week beginning March 7, 1982, as Women’s History Week. Then, five years later in 1987, the National Women’s History Alliance petitioned Congress to designate March as Women’s History Month. 

Today, so many of the one-of-a-kind small businesses in our Illinois Made program are owned and operated by talented female artisans with incredible stories. Here’s how you can get out and support them this March — and throughout the year.

Chicago & Beyond 

Scratch Goods | Chicago

Scratch Goods initially began on Etsy in 2011. Two high school friends, Maureen McClure and Elizabeth Leipold, created all-natural soap — which quickly began to take over each of their apartments. Over the past decade, the business has grown to include a full brick and mortar location and an expansive food-grade skincare line including masks, scrubs and lip butter. Everything is made from local ingredients like coffee beans from Dark Matter and beeswax from Bike A Bee beekeeper Jana Kinsman. 

Funky Rooster Tattoo and Art Gallery | Elgin

Sarah Mooney and Jose Manuel (Manny) were both working at a restaurant where they discovered their mutual love and appreciation of art, which led to the creation of Funky Rooster Tattoo and Art Gallery. Both Sarah and Manny want to alleviate the anxiety of getting a tattoo or purchasing a painting and strive to create an empowering environment for their visitors.

Katherine Anne Confections | Chicago 

Katherine Anne Duncan, owner of Katherine Anne Confections, was eight years old when she started making caramels in the kitchen of her family's Wisconsin farmhouse. Just two years later, she turned her hobby into a full-fledged small business, selling "Katherine's Karamels" at her dad’s office for 25 cents each. Now, visitors can enjoy homemade marshmallows, handmade caramels, or thick hot chocolate, all made with ingredients from local Illinois farms. 

Sue Regis Glass Art | Joliet

Sue Regis of Sue Regis Glass Art has been a glass artist since the age of 17. From her Joliet studio, she handcrafts beautiful glass art along with pieces that help the community memorialize their loved ones. She also specializes in teaching and hosting group events for adults and kids alike.

MASHALLAH | Chicago

Owner and designer Mashallah Ghouleh brings an eco-friendly twist to her handmade jewelry line, which she crafts inside her gorgeous boutique, MASHALLAH. The shop is operated like an art gallery, featuring expertly curated pieces that are works of art themselves — which is why Mashallah invites visitors to take their time and enjoy the experience. 

Brewpoint Coffee | Elmhurst

Owners Melissa and Angel say they started Brewpoint Coffee all the wrong ways: only six months into dating, both unemployed, no business plan and minimal coffee experience. But just six years later, Brewpoint is buzzing with popular specialty lattes and three locations in Elmhurst! 

Brown Sugar Bakery | Chicago

The James Beard award-nominated baker and owner of Brown Sugar Bakery, Stephanie Hart, says she truly fell in love with baking when she realized how really good desserts conjure up memories of childhood and the joy it brings people. You can find her signature caramel cake at the storefront in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood or at Navy Pier. 

The Milk House | Pingree Grove 

When owners Brook and Clint Carey were renovating the buildings on their farm, they got inspired by Brook’s love of ice cream and baking and Clint’s lifelong passion for local farms and produce. Thus, The Milk House was born, specializing in flavors that follow the seasons of Illinois, like bake sale lemon bar and cantaloupe ice creams. 

Phoenix Bean and Jenny’s Tofu | Chicago

Jenny Yang, president of Phoenix Bean and Jenny’s Tofu, strongly believes in the power of knowing where your food comes from, which is why the soybeans used to create her tofu are grown just 45 minutes away, ensuring freshness. The best part is, this tofu is ready to use, which means no more wasting paper towels! 

Higgins Glass | Riverside

In the early 1930s, Michael and Frances Higgins met at the Chicago Institute of Design, operated their own studio out of their Chicago apartment, and rediscovered and refined the ancient art of glass fusing — creating true works of art. Today, Louise Wimmer and her son Jonathan serve as the chosen successors to lead Higgins Glass, keeping their unique art alive at the small Riverside studio. 

TAKARA | Chicago

What began as a small accessory line 40 years ago has expanded to a boutique which celebrates individual spirit by owner, designer, manufacturer, and namesake behind TAKARA, Takara. She says she started her own line because the trends don’t work for her age group, and she wants to help her peers feel good. 

Ethereal Confections | Woodstock

Founded by college friends Mary Ervin and Sara Miller, who instantly bonded over their love of food, Ethereal Confections is Illinois’ first small batch bean to bar chocolatier. This means Mary and Sara source cocoa beans from across the world, sort them, roast them, then throw them into a machine that cracks the bean and pulls the shell off. From there, they grind the cocoa meat with sugar to create chocolate.   

KOVAL Distillery | Chicago

Sonat and Robert Birnecker left their academic careers behind to found KOVAL in 2008, the first small-batch urban distillery to open in Chicago since Abraham Lincoln was President! KOVAL Distillery is most known for their bourbon and dry gin, and offers tours, tastings and classes. 

Great Rivers Country

Lagomarcino's | Moline 

For over a century, Lagomarcino’s has been serving old-fashioned homemade sweets like chocolates and ice cream sodas. Beth Lagomarcino, third generation co-owner, says her grandmother became very upset when her grandfather bought a hot fudge recipe from a traveling salesperson for a whopping $25. Today, Lagomarcino’s is known for their hot fudge, or as Beth’s grandfather would say, the best $25 he ever spent.

Mississippi Mud Pottery | Alton

The name and colors of Mississippi Mud Pottery are inspired by the natural beauty of the Mississippi River, which is in direct view of the storefront. Owners Felicia Breen and Chad Nelson are passionate about not only making pottery, but educating visitors by inviting them to ask questions while they work — and are happy to give an impromptu tour of the space!

Riley's Vegan Sweets & Eats | Peoria

Riley Greenwood, founder of Riley’s Vegan Sweets & Eats — Peoria’s first 100% vegan bakery — says her mother inspired her to be professional and fierce in business. Since 2017, Riley has offered sweets in addition to family-sized meals, with the location boasting a cupcake and coffee lounge. 

My Just Desserts | Alton 

Follow the locals’ lead and swing by My Just Desserts early for homemade desserts like double-layer pumpkin pie and toll house brownies. Yvonne Campbell, previously head baker, recently took over the business and every morning freshly bakes 9 to 13 pies! 

Navarro Canoe Co. | Rock Island

Sue and Bruce Peterson found their second career by chance on Craigslist — the opportunity to resurrect one of America’s most beloved canoe companies. At Navarro Canoe Co. everything is handcrafted — no two canoes are alike, even if it's the same model, since the wood is always different. Sue and Bruce don’t think that they're simply selling a product, but an heirloom that families can pass down generations. 

Eckert’s Country Store & Farms | Belleville

Family owned Eckert’s Country Store & Farms strives to create memories in the country. Angie Eckert, vice president of retail operations, says her favorite thing to see is multiple generations of a family spending time together on the farm.

Land of Lincoln 

CBPB Popcorn | Champaign

In the beginning, Ajza and Alven Allison made shaved ice and popcorn, but began to focus more on popcorn when shaved ice wasn’t selling in the winter. Today, CBPB Popcorn isn’t just creating 18 flavors of gourmet popcorn; the Champaign establishment also makes candy apples, homemade fudge, and chocolate dipped treats. 

Curtis Orchard | Champaign

One day in the 1970s, Debbie Curtis’ dad decided to transform the family farm into an apple orchard. A few decades later, Curtis Orchard is run by Debbie, along with her husband Randy Graham, and has expanded to include a pumpkin patch, a bakery and more! 

Firefly Grill & Restaurant | Effingham   

Kristie and Niall Campbell intentionally designed Firefly Grill & Restaurant so guests would feel like they were stepping into the couples’ home, with a deep emphasis on the kitchen and the on-site farm. As Kristie and Niall say, mother nature owns all the rights to the menu. 

Flesor’s Candy Kitchen | Tuscola

In the early 1900’s, sisters Ann and Devon Flesor’s grandfather Gus immigrated from Greece and began selling homemade candy, malts, and phosphates at Flesor’s Candy Kitchen in Tuscola, where word spread about the delicious sweets and quickly became a local favorite. 

About 75 years later, Gus’ son suddenly closed the business. Ann and Devon stepped up to reopen Flesor’s, and were able to re-purchase the original marble soda fountain, as well as many of the booths and displays. Luckily, almost everything from the old store had been sitting in an antique dealer's warehouse, as if patiently waiting for Gus' legacy to return. 

Marcoot Jersey Creamery | Greenville   

Sisters Amy and Beth Marcoot grew up on their family’s farm raising Jersey cattle solely for milk for seven generations. When their parents were thinking about selling the farm, the sisters returned home, and with their childhood friend, Audie Wall, began perfecting their cheesemaking techniques. In 2009, the trio founded Marcoot Jersey Creamery, and the rest is herstory

Danenberger Family Vineyards | New Berlin

After a tornado damaged her family’s farm, Susan Danenberger saw an opportunity to fuse together wine-making and science, taking her wine hobby to the next level with Danenberger Family Vineyards.

Trails to Adventure

17th Street BBQ | Murphysboro

Founded by late pitmaster Mike Mills, the award-winning 17th Street BBQ continues to flourish with his daughter Amy at the helm. A self-described barbeque heiress, author, consultant and PR whiz, she was named one of the "12 Most Important Women in Barbecue" by Thrillist. The establishment has been raved about in Vogue, Good Morning America, Today, and Food Network for the best ribs! 

C’s Bees | Anna

What initially began as a honey hobby grew into a business. After retiring from 27 years in education, Crystal Housman brings the passion and love for the bees into her products at C’s Bees, including honey candy, bath and body products, whipped honey, hot honey, honey suckers, honey caramels, lip balm, lotion bars, beeswax candles, and more!

Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch | Makanda 

On the 10 acres sprawling Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch, a mother-daughter duo creates handmade clothing and other items out of genuine alpaca wool. It all started when daughter Morgan was searching for a softer yarn with which to make her crocheting goods. Not finding a local supplier, she decided to learn how to raise, shear, skirt, and spin alpaca fiber into yarn. In addition, the ranch offers tours where visitors can feed alpacas! 

St. Nicholas Brewing Company | Du Quoin

While going out for bike rides, Abby Ancell always noticed several wineries in the area, but was craving a local brewery. Around the same time, a deteriorating building from the 1870s — built along the railroad and operated as a hotel and meeting spot for travelers — was on the verge of demolition until Abby decided to revamp the former watering hole to create St. Nicholas Brewing Company. In addition to 12 varieties of beer, St. Nicholas Brewing also serves food such as artisanal pizza. 

Looking Ahead

In Chicago, continue to celebrate women this summer at VERSA, a two-day festival — produced by and in celebration of women artists and creatives — that will give attendees an open, inviting space to recharge and connect. The festival will feature live music, inspirational speakers, comedy, and culinary and visual art across five stages in Chicago’s iconic Lincoln Park. See you in Chicago on June 11-12!

Learn more about VERSA's lineup in this Chicago Tribune article.

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