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International Pothole Registry Pokes Fun at Pocked Streets

By Alex Parker | April 13, 2014 8:44am
 Dave Stern, inset, sells pieces of authentic Chicago potholes through his tongue-in-cheek website, the International Pothole Registry.
Dave Stern, inset, sells pieces of authentic Chicago potholes through his tongue-in-cheek website, the International Pothole Registry.
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DNAinfo/Quinn Ford

CHICAGO — For $54, you can name a star after a loved one.

But if you're like Dave Stern, "I don't know many people who are worth a star, but I know a few people who are worth a pothole."

For the fair price of $6.99, Stern will provide you with a semi-official certificate naming one of the city's many potholes after the person of your choosing. Stern, 50, runs the International Pothole Registry, a tongue-in-cheek venture that promises a gift that will last forever, "or for a while, depending on budget cuts."

The Old Irving Park resident started the registry in November, after noticing the latest generation of potholes pocking city streets.

"I [started] noticing potholes in November being a more vibrant crop than usual," he said. "I thought, 'I'm always looking for some nice self-deprecating shtick,' and I thought this might be fun."

Visit the Pothole Store online and you'll find a wide array of products for the city denizen who has rumbled through streets stripped to the brick: earrings and necklaces made of debris ($3.99); baggies of marijuana-themed pothole fragments called Skokie Tokie and Wabash Hash ($3.29); even certified pieces of authentic Lincoln Park and Bridgeport craters ($1.94).

"This year of potholes has been so out of the ordinary, people see the humor in it, and they're very appreciative of it," said Stern, who is upfront about the absurdity of the project. "I'm literally selling dirt."

Some of his top sellers include a domed pile of dirt and stone chunks, and "potholepourri," which emits a fragrance he won't divulge.

"I'd say the Gold Coast potholes smell a little more upscale and French restauranty than the Rockford potholes," he said.

Stern said a bride even purchased 20 pothole necklaces for her bridal party and future in laws.

Stern, who runs a boutique Chicago-centric book publishing house called Eckhartz Press with partner Rick Kaempfer, said the store and registry has brought in a few thousand dollars, so far. It's been a good outlet for him after losing his sales job during the recession, he said.

"You have to find different ways to reinvent yourself," he said.

With Mayor Rahm Emanuel announcing new initiatives to fill the thousands of potholes that emerged after this record winter, Stern said he doesn't blame the mayor for the city's pothole plague, nor is he trying to make a political statement with the site.

"It's not Rahm Emanuel's fault we've had the worst winter [in recent memory], and I really think city crews are doing the best they can," he said. The city has fixed more than 175,000 potholes this year.

As teams of city workers and contractors go about filling the city's potholes, Stern thinks he'll be back in business next winter.

"It's a seasonal business," he said.