HYDE PARK — After a difficult winter, the owner of What the Traveler Saw said she is closing her shop and thinking about moving to a warmer locale.
“This last winter drew a line in the snow for me,” said Laurel Stradford, the owner of the international gifts and decorations shop at 1508 E. 55th St. “I forced myself to come down here and no one showed up.”
She said she has accepted that the 10-year chapter of her life running the store is ending and it’s time to move on to a new — and warmer — part of her life.
“If I had to do it on my own, I would go and sit in Bali right now,” Stradford said, adding she will continue organizing trips overseas for South Siders, but will close the store at the end of June.
She said she was on the fence about closing the store going into the holiday season, and slow sales and her aging mother in California convinced her it's time to take a step back and help her mother and work on her book.
While traveling the globe for products for her store and as a former executive for Revlon, Stradford has explored her complex family history and is now eager to finish a manuscript she’s spent decades researching.
The tome will likely be dense with luminaries of Hyde Park, including Stradford’s aunt, Jewel Stradford Lafont, the first black woman admitted to the University of Chicago Law School. She said the story would not be complete without the story of her great-grandfather, J.B. Stradford, who was charged with starting a riot in Tulsa, Okla., in 1921 that left 36 dead and 35 blocks of the city burned down, before he was exonerated in 1996.
Stradford’s mother, a descendant of the British aristocracy, immigrated to Hyde Park in the 1950s.
“Part of the reason my mom brought us here is we were mixed race and in the 1950s it was still illegal to be mixed in certain places,” Stradford said.
Stradford, who also did stints writing travel articles for Ebony magazine, said she is looking forward to getting back to the daily grind of writing.
“I’ve got a '50 Shades of …' something to write, too,” she joked.
In the immediate future, Stradford said she's planning host parties for her regular customers and sell off the final items in the store, including a more-than-100-piece, gold-plated cutlery set from Thailand.
“I’m happy about the journey, where I’ve been, where I’m going — I’m almost euphoric,” she said.