2013 – Huffington Post – “Stuart Grannen, Dishes On Diner Food, Preservation And Roller Derby”

CHICAGO  03/08/2013 01:16 pm ET

Architectural Artifacts founder Stuart Grannen knows a gem of an artifact when he sees it, and in April will be celebrating 25 years of having the largest architectural antiques store in the country. One thing though: Just don’t call it salvage.

“No, no, we’re not a salvage store — a salvage store is you when you walk in and there’s an old guy with a half-dead cat and his half-eaten lunch from two days ago on his desk. That’s a salvage store,” the good-natured Grannen recently told HuffPost of his 4325 N. Ravenswood Ave. shop.

While Grannen distinguishes his wares (think Tiffany glass and mid-century Italian lighting) from those of salvage stores, he also notes the difference between his efforts and those from shops like Anthropologie and reality television.

“Total BS,” said Grannen. “Same thing with ‘American Pickers’ and all that. It’s unreality. I’ve been doing it for 50 years and it’s nonsense. I get approached at least four or five times a week from people wanting to set me up with a TV show. If you want to film it how it really happens, I can do that. But they don’t want that, they want to make entertainment out of it.”

Much of Grannen’s work involves digging around homes, using cranes and taking big risks to life and limb. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there — a lot of antique dealers are about buying an old lunchbox and selling it for $50. That’s not what I’m about.”

Grannen said the real treasures — like the one’s he’s selling at his 25th anniversary auction April 5-7 — include a fountain from the old Morton Salt estate, “the best stained-glass windows” from Europe and “little folk art paintings that might sell for $5.”

Asked if preservationists are leery of him for taking the jewels of old buildings and selling them piece-by-piece, Grannen points out both he and they are working toward the same goal: “Preservationists are my best friends.”

In the latest edition of our ongoing My Chicago interview series, Grannen recently spoke with HuffPost ahead of Architectural Artifacts’ 25th anniversary celebration.

Where in the city do you live and how long have you lived there? You know where the Hideout is? I live right [around] there. I foolishly didn’t buy the lot on the corner, but mine is a warehouse I restored, a 100-year-old building. It’s a little tucked away and I hollowed out the building; really modern, lots of glass, but it has all the old structures. I’ve built plenty of houses, but it’s a very fun, very interesting place. It’s just me there now so I’m like the neighborhood watch.

What is your age? What is your occupation? I’ll be 56 in a week and I am an antique dealer.

What was your first job in Chicago? I didn’t have one! I came here and started Architectural Artifacts.

Which Chicago “celebrity” — living or dead, real or fictional — would you have over for dinner? What would you talk about? Right off the bat I’d say Louis Sullivan. I’d say, “Louis, what the hell is wrong with you?”

I like his architecture — I’m not a big Victorian fan — but his stuff was so out there and so organic that I like it. It’s beautiful stuff. Would I have my house like that? No. But the guy, to put it mildly, had some balls. He had this theory of architecture and design and everybody after a little while said “no, you’re wrong,” and he stood up for himself and he believed in what he believed in. People said “Louis, you’re done,” and he suffered for it, and was penniless, but in the end he was sort of vindicated I suppose. He was this genius. He stood up for what he knew was right. I just like that.

Where is your favorite place for a nightcap? You know, I don’t drink anymore, so I’d say the Hideout.

Where is your favorite place to grab a hangover brunch? Milk and Honey on Division. I have most of my business meetings. I just like it there, it’s friendly, it’s fun.

What are your go-to spots when you have visitors in town? I go to Irazu with friends from out of town, Graceland Cemetery. Most of the time they want to come see the damn store and I say, “You go ahead, I’ll go somewhere else.” Or, I might go see the roller derby with them. Old Town School of Folk Music, The Hideout, those types of places.

What is the last cultural event you saw in the city? What’d you think? I have to travel every weekend so I guess the last thing was the [Windy City Rollers] roller derby. I like weird stuff like that or the county fair.

If you had to have your last Chicago meal for some tragic reason, where and what would it be? I know already. It would be the Diner Grill on Irving Park Road. Not to take away from any of the wonderful spots in Chicago, but it was my first meal in Chicago. I would have a ham and cheese omelette, wheat toast well done, a glass of orange juice, and then I’d close my eyes, walk on to Irving Park Road and get hit by a bus.

Cubs or Sox? I go more by the field. I don’t care for either of them, so I’d say Wrigley Field. Cubs by default. Wrigley Field is a venerable institution. Also, I’m not very domestic, but I have a lot of ivy at my house, and last year, every single day I’d rush home to water the ivy. I feel for the ivy at Wrigley Field.

Wicker Park, 1993 or Wicker Park, 2013? No question about it, 1993. Cindy, I think was her name, at Earwax. I sold her a lot of stuff and then bought it back a year or so ago [when it closed]. I can tell you exactly — since I have the sign right behind me in the office — 1528 N. Milwaukee. A buddy of mine who is an antiques dealer was buying a building over there at that address. He said “come on, let’s go in on it.” It was 150 thousand bucks for a five-story building and I said, “Are you out of your frickin’ mind? Who would want a building there?” And he said, “OK..” And I’ll never forget that, what a dummy I was.

Chicago-style hot dog, Chicago-style pizza or Chicago-style politics? Well, I can tell you this: If you eat the hot dogs and eat the pizza, you’ll become brain dead just like the politicians. The politics is — I don’t like stupid, and I’m not saying I’m all that smart — it’s stupid. At least be a little bit smart; take a bribe for $30,000 — not $3,000 and get caught. I eat pizza a lot, and there used to be a place on Southport that became a Red Tomato and is now no more, but it’s probably my favorite pizza ever. The building turned into an Athleta, but I used to be able to walk in the back door, get a Coke out of the refrigerator, they’d make me a slice and I’d give a slice to my dog.

What advice would you give to a new Chicago transplant? Find a winter house someplace south. That would be my first thing. I always tell people it’s a really easy city to live in and work in and make a life in. Do that, then take some of that money and go explore the world. I don’t have any kids, but I imagine it’s a good place to raise kids. Do your living here, but then go explore.

What do you miss the most when you’re not in Chicago? This may not answer your question, but I love to leave Chicago — and I love to come back.

If you could change just one thing about our fair city what would it be? People’s attitudes. Chicago’s a world-class city. It’s about more than the Bears or the Cubs — there’s nothing wrong with those — but we have some great art out there. We have some great architecture. Let’s start promoting it. Like Navy Pier; what an incredible opportunity to really make something really world class and instead they make a kiddie land out of it. It could have done a lot better. That’s my thing with Chicago. It strives for mediocrity. Why shoot for the middle? I hate to sound like a jerk here, but you asked. The potential is here, but it seems to be OK to be a “second city.” I hate “good enough.”

Describe Chicago in one word. “OK.”