Meet Mike McGraw, Pullman's Fred Sanford

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Mike McGraw traveled the world as a flight attendant, made candy at a South Side factory and served dinners on refurbished Pullman train cars on the East Coast.

He's waited tables at Smith & Wollensky downtown, mixed cocktails at fancy rich-people parties and done some house-sitting at Barack Obama's place. He's worked so many odd jobs he can't remember them all.

These days, McGraw's a treasure hunter in Pullman. He stalks flea markets and salvage shops, raids his aunt's barn in the country and searches alleys in the city.

He hawks the best of his finds -- an 1880 railroad luggage cart, art deco lamps and antique furniture and cornball bric-a-brac -- like a hippie Fred Sanford at Dig it! Pullman, 11208 S. St. Lawrence.

Most days you can catch McGraw outside the place smoking a cigarette, wearing a tie-dye shirt and chatting up locals. Sometimes, he's the guy who keeps rascally neighborhood kids in line.

He considers his shop a "movement" more than a neighborhood business -- which he'll tell you isn't always a great thing when rent is due.

''The movement isn't just about making money. It's about taking Pullman from the condition it's in and trying to improve it in any way possible," he says. ''Visually. Spiritually, and inspiring kids in the neighborhood to be more involved in their community.''

But that's probably what makes McGraw and his shop fit in so perfectly with a neighborhood that struggles terribly with preserving its history and planning for its future.

Pullman's resale shop philosopher, McGraw insists the stuff in his store and the neighborhood itself -- which locals saved from a developer's wrecking ball in the 1960s -- remind that good can come from what other people consider junk.

''There are always ways to reinvent how something can be used in a different way," he says. "Whether its a hub cap clock or turning an old farm implement into a coffee table, there's a way to reinvent the way something can be used."

So McGraw, 43, spends a lot of time making sure his neighbors and their kids feel welcome when they visit his reinvention of his shop, that former soda fountain Bob's Sugar Bowl.

Since opening in 2005, McGraw has sold enough antiques to stay in business, and even sponsored bus trips to a water park and train museum. He even got his pal, Oprah's chef Art Smith, to make gingerbread houses with local kids at Christmastime.

"I want them to have some memories of their little neighborhood store like the people here did in the '40s and '50s and '60s and '70s ... Memories of going there and meeting so-and-so, or sitting on their favorite stool."

And a shopkeeper who sold treasures.

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Thank you Mark for a great article,the kids in the store today were asking for a signed article,too funny!! Mike McGraw

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on April 6, 2007 12:37 PM.

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