Village Smithy

(Todd Wallace) In the 1970s, I spent a lot of time in my parents’ fourplex at the corner of 18th and Grand. There were two apartments on the second floor, and on the first floor, there were two former stores, one a butcher shop complete with meat-smelling meat locker, and the other a pharmacy. My parents ran Wheels Bike Shop in the side that used to be a pharmacy, and the Sydnors ran the Village Smithy.

(Racine Journal Times, April 26, 2001) Lenore and Hal Sydnor opened the Village Smithy in May 1974 on the corner of 18th Street and Grand Avenue. Lenore and Hal came to Racine in the fall of 1968 as intern teachers, and were hired by Racine Unified in 1969.

Teaching art for six years was a very rewarding experience, and not one that Lenore consciously thought about giving up. But as the desire for sterling silver and interesting stones to set grew in the classes taught at Park High School, Lenore discussed with her husband how they might buy these things in quantity and make them available for students. The dream grew to include fine art papers, pens, ink, macramŽ and pottery supplies, and all the tools necessary for jewelry making of all types.

“Hal was constantly encouraging me to look into the companies that might supply the various items I wanted to have available to people in Racine, since the closest art supply store was in Milwaukee,” Lenore says. “Teachers and friends had begun to request jewelry made by me, and I needed supplies and a place to work.

“The more I talked about it, the more Hal urged me to find a place to rent, and establish accounts with the suppliers I needed. I wrote letters, received catalogs, and carefully chose the most basic items that I thought area artists would want. Then we checked on potential rental spots suitable for a little retail store.”

The building on the corner of 18th Street and Grand Avenue had last housed a grocery store, so there was a lot of cleaning and painting to do, as well as building shelves and display units.

“Hal did a beautiful job making display cases for jewelry, a rack for all the art papers, and a large center area for pottery and other crafts by local artists.”

Many artists were represented, all on consignment, both in two-dimensional and three-dimensional media. Even though there were so many supplies, a kiln, a work area for jewelry making, and a large variety of area artists’ works represented, the store looked a little empty on opening day. So a last minute decision was made to buy house plants to sell. Hal made shelves with plant lights, and soon filled them up with a great assortment of plants of all sizes. They also carried the necessary plant foods, insect sprays, etc. for healthy indoor plants.

It soon became apparent that the store was filling a need. Jewelry repairs began coming in, as well as orders for hand-crafted jewelry, pottery and macramŽ. The time spent at the store was overtaking the time spent teaching, and the Sydnors started to look for a more central location for retail.

“Downtown Racine buildings were available at reasonable prices, and there were other young craftspeople in shops in the 300 block of Main Street who encouraged us to move there,” they said.

The building at 332 Main Street had been the home of Weiser Meats for a long time. The building had plenty of room for storage, display and a large work area. Over the years, there have been many changes in the products carried and the decor. But for more than 27 years, the store has provided fine jewelry repair and exquisite custom designs. The store incorporated V.S.O. Ltd., which is the Village Smithy Originals, stamp placed inside custom pieces.

Known for a variety of styles and fine craftsmanship, V.S.O. Ltd. has been a successful Downtown business through many changes in Racine.

“We welcome all the development taking place, and the excitement that has been created by large projects, such as Johnson Wax and the Racine Art Museum buildings,” said the Sydnors. “We are proud of what we have accomplished, and intend to continue the tradition of service and innovative design for years to come at this location.

“Racine has been a wonderful place to work and raise a family, and the many customers, who have become friends over all these years, are the reason we want to continue to serve this community.”

Dennis Tully: This submitted Journal-Times photo shows Ed Hansen and his wife Eunice in their auto parked in front of W. F. Zalewski grocery store at 1743 Grand Ave. (at right).

That grocery store was later Grand Avenue Grocery. It was adjacent to Christensen Pharmacy which was on the corner of 18th and Grand Ave. which is now a vacant parcel.

The photo is dated 1921.