There are those of a certain age who might expect black light posters, love beads, and a guy named Sunshine behind the counter upon descending the stairs into basement space. However, except for the rock vibe, Grassroots is an entirely different version of cool.
However, cool wasn’t the primary objective for owners Todd and Joy Rhodes when they set up shop. In fact, the couple had family in mind when they opened for business on 2005 S. Cook Street. “I guess we’re a crossover between Americana and Rock,” Todd Rhodes said. “We choose rock as our version of Americana that we represent and that’s why you see all kinds of things that are musical here.”
The rock vibe at Grassroots is obvious: t-shirts featuring Rolling Stone Magazine’s greatest hits, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles and other music-related artwork are displayed throughout the store. Rhodes is up front about his love of music and how it’s affected his choice of merchandise. “Music-wise, I’m a drummer. I used to DJ, I follow music, I took music history classes in college. I’m just about good music,” he said.
Nevertheless, Grassroots is not just about the golden oldies and the kids who frequent the store seem to get that. They check out piles of t-shirts and racks of fashion, art and accessories in a laid back atmosphere.
Current music plays through the speakers and Rhodes encourages local artists to drop off CDs for sale. This summer he will host open mics in the driveway just outside the downward staircase that leads into his store. “We trying to be known as the home town store,” Rhodes said. “We want to support local ideas, local businesses, local artists, whatever we can do to support that, we’ll do it.”
Visual artists are also represented. Among other examples, in a section of the store put aside for skateboarders, there are one-of-a-kind hand painted boards by an artist named Matt Tomczyk who has also decorated some guitars on display. “It’s a good example of someone who’s very artistic,” Rhodes said.
A long rack of men’s clothes on the far wall of the store refers to music rather than blatantly displaying it, most running toward what is best described as rocker chic. There are well tailored, button down shirts, some more hard edge than others. Jackets are of the same style; some are more "gentleman rocker" while others just skirt that edge, but everything is wearable across the generations from teenagers to Boomers.
Rhodes describes the clothes as, “…American inspired, edgy alter ego, sometimes kind of stuff that fits what they’re (families) are looking for.”
There’s a smaller rack for women and girls, including a line by Sheryl Crowe and baby onesies emblazoned with the logos of AC/DC and Alice Cooper are tucked in next to the skateboard section.
Savvy Consumers will recognize high-end brands, but the prices are a revelation; they come close to bargain basement compared with the identical offerings at the national department stores where they’re usually found.
Rhodes credits his 20 years in the apparel industry with a strategic sales development company for the variety and down-to-earth prices for his merchandise. “I work with manufacturers and existing companies we help them fine tune their product and even create product and then go sell it,” he said. “I sell wholesale, so I sell to Nordstrom’s, I sell to Dillard’s, I sell to all kind of major stores throughout the company. So, I can pass the savings on to my customers.”
A taste of international fashion is also directly associated with Rhodes’ alternate career. Unlike many specialty shops, which tend to buy merchandise close to home, Rhodes travels to the fashion centers of the world. Along with the U.S., he shops in London, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Germany, Paris, and Copenhagen.
Despite his globe trotting, Rhodes sees his business as a local, family enterprise. “My wife and I wanted to start a separate business that we can grow into as a family as kids get older,” he said. “Being that I’ve had my fingers in apparel for over 20 years and have relationships with tons of companies, we thought this would be a good way to go. We thought that Barrington was starved for something really cool and different.”
“We want this to be anyone’s who comes here,” Rhodes added. “We want it to be their store.”
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