Mother of Delmar: Winslow’s Home

| Scene Reporter

When Ann Lipton walks around her store in jean shorts, sandals, half-moon reading glasses and her mild, relaxed smile, she exudes a motherly quality. Which is why it is not surprising that Winslow’s Home, a postmodern general store located west of the Loop on Delmar, was started out of concern for her daughters.

“They never knew [the] part of me that worked,” she said, sipping coffee she had brewed minutes ago at the store’s coffee bar. “I wanted to show them a different side of me, and the fact that I can still be a good mom and pull this off.”

A former commercial designer, Lipton let herself go.

“I’m thinking of moving the books over here,” she said, pointing to a wall with cardboard gift boxes from Maine and alien-like oil and vinegar dispensers from Amsterdam. Walking around the store, I saw, among other things, cast-iron cookware, homeopathic medicine, children’s games—none of which have batteries—maps of world cities, wine, pliers, garden hoses and toenail clippers.

“We sell a ton of rubber ducks,” she said. “I don’t know why.”

In this way, Lipton also acts as sort of a mother for her community, the approximate 1.5-mile radius of University City that houses about 9,200 people. She notes that while the Delmar Loop is nearby, the area has no convenient access to hardware stores, grocery stores or even toy stores.

“[They] have taken the most essential, core goods and services out of our neighborhood,” she said. “If you need something, you are resigned to getting in your car.”

She says that residents, including Chancellor Mark Wrighton and other members of the University, have responded positively to Winslow’s Home, a statement affirmed by the disappointed people of all ages who peeked through the window. It happened to be a Monday, the one day of the week the store is closed.

As a mother, Lipton is also trying to expose her daughters to the working world as well as their local community. Her daughter Madeline Lipton, 13, works in the kitchen. Here, Ben Poremba, the head chef and one of two Israeli nationals on staff, tries to vary the menu regularly while sticking with organic ingredients.

Katie Lipton, 15, is notoriously picky and so she fits in better in the store. But even she is starting to like the store’s produce, most of which is grown in the Liptons’ personal garden or by local growers. A whiteboard behind the cash register advertises the new eggplant sandwich by proclaiming, “Even Katie likes it!”

“We have the luxury of growing things for taste, because it doesn’t have to travel,” Lipton explained.

In every way, the Liptons are entrenched in the workings of Winslow’s Home. Randy Lipton, Ann Lipton’s husband, is a commercial real estate agent, but he moved his office to the area above the store. Just as he is very supportive of her work and finds time to help sometimes, Ann Lipton is very supportive of his.

In 2006, Ann Lipton bought an 82-year-old defunct general store near her house and masterminded a complete renovation, not only replacing worn supports, plumbing and fixtures, but replacing them with identical materials and designs.

Even though Lipton worries a lot about waste, over-packaging, unhealthy food and pollution, she does not side with people who say that department stores are the problem.

“I guess what I think was shortsighted was the way we have designed our cities in such a way that the car is the link between where you work, where you live, where you shop,” she said. “If there were at least essential services around where people lived, maybe it would be different.”

As mentioned before, she uses only organic food and does not sell products with batteries. She keeps a storeroom full of fresh produce and flowers in what she says used to be the meat locker.

When she talks about environmental issues, Lipton, in a way, begins to sound like the mother of the world. She sees problems with the way people live, but she has enough faith in them to think that they would change if given the opportunity.

“Every person who walks here, that’s probably one less car driven,” she said.

“You don’t have the luxury to waste the way my parents did and, frankly, the way we did,” she said. “I don’t think we can afford any longer to live in oblivion and be politically correct.”

She also supports the global community by hiring some staff through Catholic charities and the International Institute. Two of her employees are Eritrean, one of whom, Aramdan, cannot speak very much English. He gets by because Poremba knows a moderate amount of Arabic.

An important aspect of being a mother is knowing when to let things go. During our interview, she interrupted me to take a call from Madeline, who is traveling to Champaign-Urbana on her first ever road trip. Lipton seems unfazed, even excited.

In the same accepting way she handles her daughters, Lipton knows how to accept the fact that the world does not yet wholeheartedly support her way of doing business. For instance, organic farming is rarely feasible. She could never sell her goods wholesale because the prices would be too high. She also realizes that durable goods can no longer be produced locally because people require a certain level of quality. She argues that transported, durable goods leave less of a carbon footprint than food products that must be constantly repurchased, simply because fewer objects are being moved.

“But that may be my own way of justifying it to myself,” she added.

Lipton is anything but complacent, but she is also anything but perfect, she said walking out to her imposing white Jeep. She needs a big car for farmwork, but she still drives to and from work and to and from her daughters’ school daily.

“I like to view this whole thing as relevant to who we are today,” she said.

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