Mythic Craft

Vera Videnovich had set up a tent to shield her greens and yarn from the drizzle at the arts and crafts fair by the cul-de-sac of Jackalope Coffee & Tea House, which also featured six other (slightly damper) vendors. “Vera’s a great soul,” said John Almonte, co-owner of the year-old Bridgeport cafe. “She’s one of the true champions of DIY and supporting bands in Chicago, and she worked for the Reader, so she’s a good person to know. A great soul, and her produce is incredible. I’m looking at her right now, thinking, ‘she’d better leave me some garlic.’ ” Videnovich is a proud jack-of-all-trades, and she’s not alone. Ruby Pinto, a barista at Jackalope, had set up a table with her jewelry and repurposed adornments. “I went to school for radio and then realized I hate media,” she says, smiling. I bought a Pogs pin (“100% BULLET PROOF”) from Pinto and indulged in some nineties nostalgia. A lesser reporter might have rolled her eyes at the preciousness.

The fair was very much a projection of its venue. Jackalope itself is an ode to Bridgeport’s craft-makers–it’s a twee utopia, a Raggedy Ann hodgepodge of Etsy purchases, original artwork, and old-time neighborhood artifacts. Two of the most recent additions are antique booths from Healthy Food Lithuanian Restaurant, which closed in 2009. Jackalope’s Bridgeport is a small town of craft beers, art galleries, and citizens willing to set up a table for a drizzly Sunday morning sale. The cynic might name this contrived; Almonte and January Overton, his wife and co-owner, call it intended. They gather connections and keep their friends and artistic collaborators close. The couple knows everyone–many vendors featured at the fair are regulars of the café’s Thursday craft nights, or have work adorning the walls or windows.

Is a crafts economy actually possible? It’s a way of living so deeply steeped in the personal, so reliant on winking understanding between neighbors, so full of maple bacon donuts and recycled vinyl bicycle saddlebags, that it seems childishly naive to think that this could work in any stable contrivance. But there is something starry-eyed about Jackalope, and somehow it does work. Almonte buys into it with unwavering faith in the good souls that he and Overton have willed into their cul-de-sac. “I haven’t met a bad person yet,” he says.