Best Of 2000

Best Source of Illicit Accessories: Crystal Wizard Shop

The concept of the "head shop" has proved a durable one, weathering the changing winds of youth culture by offering a reliable menu of illicit accessories. Such places may be best known for their, uh, "tobacco"-related goods -- water pipes, rolling papers; you get the picture -- but the real charm and interest come from what else the proprietors fill the shelves with. Look away from the smokers' stuff, and you'll see the real character of the place.

As befits their longtime South Side location, the Crystal Wizard Shop has survived by incorporating a good amount of metal-fueled menace into the hippie template. Its storefront fits in perfectly with the rest of neighborhood, a forgotten corner of the city where industry and alcohol share the sidewalks. The place has such a sinister vibe that during the satanist scare of the '80s, schoolyard rumors abounded that the Crystal Wizard was headquarters to an unholy coven of Beelzebub enthusiasts.

Now that we're all a little older and Nancy Reagan is just another rich matron, the Wizard seems more quaint than ominous. Its pentagram medallions and metal-band patches recall a simpler era, when white America's working-class rebel youth liked their denim torn and their hair (and roach clips) feathered.

But metal isn't the only element here. There is much evidence of the Wizard's hippie roots in its Tolkienesque candles and crystals. There are some de rigueur supplies for the stoner's dorm room, such as a marijuana flag in reggae colors. For the truly advanced degenerate, a covered case ("Adults Only!") offers a few unremarkable sex toys. On the opposite wall, there's even ... whisper, whisper ... some bondage stuff with a Nazi slant. The leather strikes a strange contrast with the awesome action-figure collection that lines the walls behind the counter (the toys are tantalizingly, frustratingly "Not for Sale").

Today's observer of teenage America will find that it's easy for any kid to quickly acquire the accoutrements of rebellion and that they don't really raise adult eyebrows anymore. The grownups have wised up, for the most part, and they see now that lip rings and Korn CDs, unappealing though they may be, aren't gonna keep Junior out of heaven. But it wasn't that long ago that suburban parents sent punks and metalheads to deprogramming camps for owning the kinds of things that the Crystal Wizard offers. Stop by and catch a heady whiff of teenage evil, 1986 vintage.

-- Jason Toon

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