To the acquisitive, the passing of a treasured retail establishment is a momentous occasion. When certain shops close their doors, faithful patrons may find themselves feeling lost and bereft, as if they had been abandoned by an old friend. Many local acquisitors experienced just this sensation when Goodies abruptly went out of business last year after almost a decade on North Halsted.
Goodies occupied a distinctive place in the pantheon of Chicago retailing. No other emporium offered so splendid an array of what a friend of mine calls “nerdabilia.” At Goodies, such staples as Groucho glasses, Snap-E-Gum, plastic dog turds, rubber vomit, itching powder, whoopee cushions, TV Magic cards, joy buzzers, eye-blackening kaleidoscopes, and invisible ink were perennially available and affordable. Cheesy toys and games dominated the merchandising mix, which also featured jewelry, hair and body adornments, gift items, disguises, and a lot of things best described as trinkets–not unlike those you’d find in a Cracker Jack box. When the store expanded in 1987 to its larger location in the former Flatiron Laundry building, it added a photo booth, vintage apparel, and a soda fountain that was a great place for a birthday party.
But it wasn’t just the inventory that gave Goodies its singular character: this whimsical, cluttered exercise in inspired silliness was dedicated to glorifying kitsch and exalting the tacky, the tasteless, and the tawdry. Though everything sold at Goodies was intended to provide pleasure, virtually nothing there had an actual, serious, useful purpose. Each purchase was in some measure an act of self-indulgence.
After they’ve pulled up stakes, old friends don’t usually return. Regrettably, it’s the same with stores. But those still yearning for a taste of Goodies-style delirium can rejoice, because owner and originator Ted Frankel is back. His new store, Uncle Fun, opens Sunday on Belmont near Southport, and he promises that it will more than live up to its name and its legacy.
Frankel assures us he didn’t close Goodies of his own volition. Goodies had become a family business, but not, ultimately, a terribly convivial one. As he explains it, after he brought in his sisters as partners and expanded, they fired him, then dissolved the business against his will. He is still embroiled in litigation with certain members of his family and estranged from just about all of them, but he doesn’t want to dwell on it. “There’s a point where you have to say ‘forget it’ and start over,” he says.
As you might expect, Frankel’s store is pretty much an extension of himself. “I’m really shy,” he says, “but when you’re surrounded by fun stuff, you open up.” And he does. His effusiveness over “fun stuff” comports with his simple vision for Uncle Fun, which seems drawn from some uncomplicated memories of childhood. “It’s supposed to be like a safe space on a Monopoly board. When you leave, you’re out in the real world,” he says. “But inside you can laugh and be messy and find cheap stuff to buy and have fun.”
When Goodies was dissolved, the remaining inventory of “cheap stuff” was sold, but, Frankel says, “If you’re good at getting it once, you can get it again.” He is certainly good at getting it, and his special talents have enabled him to acquire some interesting new merchandise for Uncle Fun.
Actually, “new” is a relative term when you’re talking about offbeat items that have apparently been lying untouched in some warehouse, attic, or basement for decades. As Frankel points out, “The toys may be worthless, but the packaging is great. A lot of it is becoming collectible.” Much of it is fascinating as historical artifact, as the record of a simpler time.
For example, Uncle Fun has a plethora of bar accessories from the 40s and 50s, including drink holders resembling little jockstraps (“For Your Highballs,” according to the package), rubbery coasters shaped like breasts, and napkins imprinted with “naughty” limericks. These items seem almost an ironic joke in light of 2 Live Crew’s rap, Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs, and the NC-17 movie rating. Or maybe, as Frankel suggests, they’re just “fun junk.”
Whether or not these things are “junk” depends on your point of view, but whatever you decide, they are certainly fun–like just about everything at Uncle Fun. The opening party is this Sunday, November 11, at 1338 W. Belmont, from noon to five. The store will be open regularly noon to seven Wednesday through Saturday, noon to six Sunday. Call 477-8223.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.