Madison is far too much to take in at once. It is an enchanted place that requires multiple visits to really get the full effect. I am admittedly biased. Ever since I went to school there (I won’t say how long ago), I have wanted to go back. The quality of life is high, the population liberal, the electorate educated, and you get what you pay for. It is not cheap to live in Madison, but it is not Chicago, either. It is called the Athens of the Midwest and it has many of the trappings of a place far more urban, with cultural events, global fare, and nightlife galore.
Despite its cosmopolitan flavor, the people of Madison are distinctively Midwestern. There is a collective social consciousness and the shared suffering of long, harsh winters. Strangers will say hello, mind their p’s and q’s unless there is something to protest, and extend a very generous and big-hearted hospitality your way so long as you’re not messing with other people or the planet.
I love visiting and it is a hard place to leave at the end of the day. When I cross the Stateline heading south, I can almost feel the clouds gathering as quickly as they dissipated on my way there. When I am in Madison, I have the occasional urge and desire to never come back to Rockford. It has that draw for me. It is a reminder of the greatest and freest years of my life.
This past Saturday, my wife and I rolled into town to explore southwest Madison and Fitchburg and to undertake one of our favorite weekend diversions, antiquing. Wisconsin and northern Illinois have many impressive antique malls, swap meets, flea markets, and menageries of “stuff.” Madison’s culture of conservation, reusing, and repurposing makes it a veritable treasure trove of antique, thrift, consignment, second-hand, and vintage establishments. Odana Road has a bevy of these stores clustered together. The three that we try to visit when we go antiquing are Odana Antiques and Fine Art, St. Vincent De Paul, and The Pink Poodle. Each offers a different type of antiquing experience.
We started at Odana Antiques, the most upscale of the three. While a bit on the pricey side, they have the rarest, highest-quality goods. The store is apportioned nicely into various rooms which have the wares and furniture neatly organized and easily accessible. Many antique malls I have been to seem to be more organized clutter than anything else or have a barn-like feel that make finding the right antique seem more like a needle-in-a-haystack chore than anything else. Odana Antiques is a great cross-section of Americana and leans more toward the artistic and rare than the kitschy and chintzy. We didn’t find anything to take home this time, but your imagination has license to explore and imagine what you could do if you had enough space (and not a little bungalow) and if money were no object.
We walked next door to the St. Vincent De Paul thrift store (St. Vinny’s). St. Vinny’s is a common sight in Wisconsin and there are multiple locations within Madison proper. St. Vinny’s is a traditional thrift store, with much more variety and much more foot traffic than Odana Antiques. The bargain basement prices bring in a diverse socioeconomic cross-section. Rather than rare finds, St. Vinny’s has chattels, plates, dishes, paperbacks, men’s and women’s apparel, furniture, and a wide variety of day-to-day needs. What you can find, other than the basic essentials, is truly unique, odd, and fantastic items that make for good talking points. There are vintage T-shirts, glasses with funny sayings on it, and memorabilia that is interesting in its own interestingness. They have the kind of clothes and goods that outside-the-box thinkers and threadbare-budgeted college kids can afford whilst still making a bold statement to those around them. Their inventory turns over far more frequently than more expensive secondhand stores, but unlike Odana Antiques, which is more for the sophisticated taste, St. Vinny’s is a great store for Everyman and the profits go to a good cause as well.
To our chagrin, the third store we usually go to on Odana, The Pink Poodle, had relocated and we were met with a moving sign. They specialize in vintage, chic, and flamboyant clothing and accessories. (Admittedly, the store is more for my wife’s penchant than mine). We would later come to find out that their new location was actually just further down on Odana so we will catch them the next time down the trail.
Here are links to Odana Road’s finest secondhand establishments:
The Pink Poodle (6676 Odana Rd., Madison, WI):
Odana Antiques & Fine Arts Center (6201 Odana Rd., Madison, Wisconsin):
St. Vincent DePaul (6301 Odana Rd., Madison, Wisconsin. Also, 1309 Williamson St., Madison, Wisconsin):