Vintage Spirits

Dan Knispel

Stevie Koerner and Dan Knispel walk into a bar. They both order the same drink: a whiskey ginger. “It was one of the first things we realized we both loved,” recalls Knispel of one of their first dates three years ago. The two soon realized that taste in alcohol was not the only thing they shared. Today, Whisky Ginger is the vintage shop they run together out of their storefront apartment. The space allows the pair to carefully curate their own world.

The tiny store, located in Pilsen’s Chicago Arts District, is more of a showroom than a retail outlet. It is currently open by appointment only, and most of its business is conducted online through Etsy, a sort of e-crafts-fair-meets-grandma’s-closet for the hip and creative (or just the latter–see “Regretsy.com”). Whisky Ginger’s front room is artfully cluttered with globes, ornaments, and repurposed wooden shelves. One wall is devoted to a chalkboard, and another is covered in golden letters and vintage signage.

Koerner and Knispel share their loft with a tabby cat named Motown and a plastic deer adopted from a shooting range. The couple’s apartment is separated from their store by just a thin homemade wall. If the physical separation between shop and home is a bit flimsy, the aesthetic separation is non-existent. The idea of vintage resale stems, in fact, from the combination of the couple’s love of collecting and their inability to dismiss a good find. “We like junk shopping anyway. Might as well buy everything that we like,” shrugs Koerner.

They maintain their selection with frequent trips around the Midwest, where they pack their Jeep to capacity or hitch on a trailer. They avoid searching too close to the city, they say, because urban finds lack the depth and charm of country counterparts.

There is a certain contradiction between Whisky Ginger’s emphasis on personal touches and its virtual existence online. The carefully chosen and crafted items nod towards old-town artisanal, but there’s no old town and almost no physical shop. A full retail store is not practical, and it’s not necessarily what the couple sees as the future of their business. “A brick-and-mortar store is a lot of work. We’re not even open for regular hours, and it’s a lot of work,” Koerner says.

Instead, Koerner and Knispel are part of a community of young crafty creatives who have used the distributive powers of the Internet; Etsy is what let Whisky Ginger find its niche. Before their entrepreneurial exit, both Koerner and Knispel went to art school and took jobs in the industry, but found corporate creative work unfulfilling. “It takes a toll on you. You feel less creative, even though you’re producing work. I wanted to take a step away and do something with my hands as well,” says Knispel.

Both have side projects in crafts and refurbishment: Koerner is a jewelry maker, while Knispel makes furniture and stickers (“Hello Wars,” a Hello Kitty and Star Wars mashup). Had it not been for Etsy and Whisky Ginger, Knispel predicts that he would have been a carpenter like his father and grandfather. As for Koerner, “I probably would have done something that I hated,” she says with a laugh, “and then come to the same conclusion: that I needed to make things.”