Crystal Lake’s ‘Flagship’
The conversations are as colorful as the flags at The Flag Store.
The story of The Flag Store in downtown Crystal Lake is steeped in history and is as much about Main Street, USA, as it is about the international community. And shopping at the store is as much about its array of flags as it is about discovering the little treasures that its owners bring back from their travels.
Flags and Much More
The Flag Store is located in the former Raue Hardware building at 69 N. Williams St., originally run by the famed Raue patriarch Ben Sr. This 1912 space, complete with original tin ceiling, hardwood floors, rustic shelving reaching to the 12-foot ceiling and original storefront lights, is probably the most original building in town, according to owner Edna McCall, who opened The Flag Store there with her late husband Doug in 1990. Today, she runs it with son John McCall.
As its name implies, The Flag Store has innumerable flags, including international, military, college, sports, historic and seasonal — of all shapes and sizes. If they don’t have it in stock, they can order it. The store also features large flagpoles.
“Where else can you buy a 20- or 25-foot architectural flagpole off the wall?” Edna asked.
Edna said she is proud The Flag Store is a member of the National Independent Flag Dealers Association (NIFDA), an organization made up of flag dealers and manufacturers from across the United States and Canada. In 2000, she was honored with the Betsy Ross award for her service to the organization as editor of the NIFDA newsletter.
Flags are the tip of the iceberg. “If you are looking for a gnome, angel, chicken, fairy, rabbit, Santa or wind chimes, you just might find it here,” she said. “We’re known for unusual gifts you won’t find anywhere else.”
Many of the store’s “pleasant surprises” are imports that can be traced back to Edna’s many travels — whether on a regional road trip or time spent overseas — such as Scandinavian dolls, table runners and towels.
Edna is proud to feature disc-style Porter Music boxes. The cabinets are imported from Italy and the component is handcrafted and assembled in Randolph, Va. (where the Music Box Museum is located). Fashioned after the heirlooms of Victorian Europe and America, Porters are known for blending the grace and elegance of fine furnishings with the moving tone and depth of superior musical instruments. “This music has become the sound of our store,” Edna said.
Sports memorabilia is another huge seller. “Blackhawks gear has really gained momentum with the new ownership by Rocky Wirtz in 2007,” John said. “We had to scramble to stock up on Blackhawks products because their demand skyrocketed so quickly.”
Collegiate and professional team popcorn pots and birdhouses are other huge sellers.
The Flag Store is not surprisingly also home to some of the most fascinating conversations in the county, particularly when veterans arrive. “We love to listen to vets’ stories,” John said. “It’s a rewarding experience for both parties.”
Doing Business Downtown
The McCalls have a long history doing business in Crystal Lake. In 1975, they opened The Print Shop there. They moved the business into a former drugstore next door to Raue Hardware. Today, The Flag Store displays old cabinets and medicine bottles near the checkout in the back.
“Printing was Doug’s first love,” said Edna, who is a proofreader by trade. “He’d been doing it since high school. Even when he was drafted, he continued in the printing business doing map reproductions.”
At this time, the McCalls became friends with their hardware store neighbor Lucile Raue, the last surviving member of the celebrated Raue family. In her will, Raue gave the McCalls rights to the first bid on her store when she passed away.
Doug sold the printing business in 1985 and retired. “He was finally free to do what he wanted with his time,” Edna said.
The retirement was short-lived, however. The printing bug bit again in 1990 when some of his former customers asked him to come back. “He helped them out in a place he rented on Grant Street,” Edna said.
That year, the McCalls, who were Rotarians involved with the international service program, began their flag business out of necessity.
“I had difficulty finding international flags for guests from other countries through the Rotary — there just weren’t many sellers,” she said. “I thought it should be easier.”
On Thanksgiving Day 1994, at the age of 90, Lucile passed away. As promised, the McCalls were able to bid on the building and moved The Flag Store there by June 1995. Edna’s mission to ensure the Raue name did not die with Lucile had just begun.
The Raue Connection
Ben Raue Sr. was born in Germany in 1866. After learning to be a watchmaker, he immigrated to the United States in 1883 and eventually found his way to Elgin, Ill., where he was employed by the Elgin National Watch Co. He opened his own jewelry store in Crystal Lake in 1892. With time, his business evolved into a hardware store. “It was not unusual for a hardware store to include a watchmaker and jeweler,” McCall said. Ben Sr. operated Raue Hardware until he retired at the age of 89.
As a prominent citizen in Crystal Lake, Ben Sr. served on the Board of Education, Park District Board, organized the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce, was president of Home State Bank and served as mayor for two terms (1923-1927). During his tenure in those positions, the Main Beach building was constructed and the first paved street was completed.
Ben Sr. married Dora Brown of Cary Station in 1892, whom he met at the watch company. They had four children: Ethel, Beno, Leone “Tone” and Lucile. Because none of the children ever married, Lucile, who inherited Raue Hardware with Beno after their father died, was very concerned the name would be forgotten. Edna made it her mission to make sure the Raue name lived on in the very place that was shaped by this successful and generous family.
Edna was on the committee that decided how the Raues’ money was spent in the community. The Raue estate was a major contributor to the renovation of the old El Tovar/Showplace Theatre on Williams Street. Today, it is the restored and ever-vibrant Raue Center for the Arts.
As a tribute to the generosity of this watchmaker and his family, on the southwest corner of Williams and Brink streets stands the 21-foot-tall Raue clock, which was erected in 1997. It was Edna’s research and travels that led her to Electric Time Co. in Medfield, Mass., which manufactured this massive timepiece from molds of a vintage Seth Thomas clock. “We were thrilled to get the clock,” she said. “This clock was the first of its kind. Since that time, the company has constructed several more clocks, which are located across the United States.”
Also that year, the Raue home on Crystal Lake Avenue, in which the family lived for 93 years, was donated to the Main Street program — a program Edna and three other community members got off the ground in 1996. This program promotes the revitalization of downtown commercial districts.
“I knew Lucile wouldn’t want that house to be split up into a multi-family house,” Edna said. “I wrote a proposal to have it donated as part of the program. The upstairs was to be used as offices, with the lower level furnished as it might have been in 1900.”
In the front of The Flag Store, patrons will find Lucile’s desk, which she used as a bookkeeper at the hardware store.
A Viable District
Edna is proud of how far the Main Street program has come. “Downtown has always been viable and has become more so now that we have the program in place,” she said. “Any given Saturday night, downtown is packed.”
In the daytime, a family can drive or take the Metra and shop the many historic and new independent boutiques, and enjoy a warm meal at one of the many cafés or pubs. “As you [enter downtown], you may sense that feeling of stepping back into a slower, more relaxed, friendly atmosphere,” Edna said.
Heisler’s Bootery, for example, is a family-owned shoe store that has been around for more than a century. Edna has written booklets on a few of these remarkable, long-established entrepreneurs, which are available at her store. “When I think something or someone is worthy, I write about it,” she said.
A Small World
Edna McCall’s fascination with the world beyond her doorstep began when some of her classmates were drafted into the Korean War when they were only 17.
At the same time, two German exchange students started at her high school.
“We thought it was unfair that these young boys were drafted to go to war at such a young age,” she said. “But the exchange students helped to fill the void. They turned out to be the best ambassadors for their country. While we missed our American classmates, we all embraced the exchange students and vice versa.”
She knew at that point that if she ever had her own children, they would have an option to participate in the exchange program. “The program makes the world a smaller place,” she said.
The McCalls began welcoming exchange students into their home when their daughter Lori started high school. They hosted students from Austria, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, the Philippines, Bolivia, Japan and other countries. “My kids and the students learned a lot from each other,” Edna said. “We’ve made lifelong friends through the program.”
Lori went to Japan her senior year and John spent his junior year in Finland and one summer in Austria as an exchange student. “It’s a privilege to learn about different cultures and countries,” John said.