Holidays hopping for Char Crews in Hinsdale
Richard Crews and his mother, Char at Char Crew Inc. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2013 2:20AM
HINSDALE — The Char Crews store in Grant Square is filled with displays of beautiful china plates and sparking crystal.
Behind the scenes, however, workers hustle between tall shelves and around tables in the back rooms, wrapping gifts, packing them for shipping and moving them out for delivery.
“They are a seamless team,” the owner, Charlotte “Char” Crews of Oak Brook, said.
During the holiday season, the store ships at least 100 items a day. Impressive volume for a business that started 36 years ago selling silverware from the second floor of a bank building.
Crews, who grew up in Oak Park, was at her Oak Park-River Forest High School reunion in 1975, when she mentioned she would like to start a business. That casual remark prompted a call from friend who had space to rent in the former bank building on the northeast corner of Washington and First streets in Hinsdale.
She knew a woman who had a good business selling sterling silver tableware in Mississippi, where Crews and her family lived for 20 years, so that’s what Crews did.
She was able to sell the silverware in her shop for less than what the department stores did.
She had to court the silver makers, however. A Hinsdale resident who was a vice president with Oneida was her first connection.
“The firm comes out, interviews you and surveys your store,” Crews said. “You have to display at least 10 patterns.”
Once she had Oneida, about a dozen other silver makers followed suit. When her customers started asking her, “Can you get me china? Can you get me crystal?” Crews decided it was time to expand. It was her delivery man who decided she would need a new location.
“I had this UPS driver Dennis. He said, ‘I’m not lugging china up all these stairs.’”
Dennis found Crews space in what was a car repair shop in Grant Square. The garage was renovated for Crews. Soon the store was carrying all the big china companies and china was outselling silver. Eventually, her landlord told her she had to move to her present store, at 8 Grant Square.
Because many customers came from the North Shore, Crews also opened a second location in Wilmette.
In addition to traditional manufacturers Waterford and Baccarat, and china companies from Limoges, Char Crews added modern designers, based on customer demand, such as Vietre, Nambe and Micheal Aram.
The rise in the price of silver also has caused a shift.
“It’s $36 an ounce,” Crews said. “It was $2 an ounce when I started. We still have brides register for it, but it’s stainless and silver plate mostly that girls are registering for.”
The store registers about 200 brides a year.