The Little Traveler in downtown Geneva is celebrating 100 years in business and continues to be a destination shopping spot for people looking for gifts, wine, clothing, or that afternoon lunch or Sunday brunch.
“The Little Traveler provides a way of bonding between generations of families, especially during these times when people are looking for a way to connect with each other,” said owner Mike Simon.
The Little Traveler, at 404 S. Third St., is known for its unique items for sale and its staff members, some of whom have worked for the Simon family for decades.
Kate and Edmund Raftery bought the Victorian house in Geneva over a century ago where the shop now stands. Kate Raftery had a world traveler, Lucy Calhoun, send her unusual items during her travels, according to the Little Traveler story.
Kate Raftery displayed her treasures on the grand piano in the living room and invited her friends over for afternoon tea. The Geneva woman was then inspired to open a gift shop in Geneva, according to the store’s history.
She recorded her first sale in the store’s ledger on September 22, 1922.
The Little Traveler continues to play a role in the lives of generations who come to experience the 36-room Victorian home that offers a variety of products, including gourmet foods, wine, jewelry and finds in the Fair Trade and Christmas rooms. Guests come for lunch or sweets and Sunday brunch at the Atrium Cafe as well.
“We often have grandmothers, mothers, daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters who come to experience shopping,” Simon said.
Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns recently marked the store’s 100th anniversary on The Little Traveler’s front porch with a proclamation and presented a key to the city to Simon and members of the Raftery family, descendants of the store’s founder.
The Little Traveler created a web store during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020 until it was able to safely reopen, Simon said. Loyal shoppers loved the store’s curbside pickup these days, he said.
Mike Simon’s father, Sol Simon, bought the store in 1971.
Sol Simon had a dry goods store on West State Street in downtown Geneva. She also opened The Merra-Lee stores on South Third Street and later closed the dry goods store.
Simon got a call that Little Traveler was for sale. His father was intrigued by the idea of buying the store, Mike Simon said.
“My dad grew up in Geneva and said he could never afford to go on The Little Traveler. My father was successful with The Merra-Lee stores and was happy with his life, but he said there was something about The Little Traveler that intrigued him,” said Simon.
“He said he saw the store as a beautiful racehorse and if he could train it to run another race it would feel good. He took it on a personal mission to revive Little Traveler,” said Simon.
The Little Traveler offers special events throughout the year in honor of its 100th anniversary. In addition, Geneva companies have offered special promotions in honor of the little traveller’s centenary.
The Wozniak family of Algonquin attended the ice cream social held Saturday on the store’s front lawn in honor of the centennial. It so happened that they won first place in the store’s youth jingle contest.
“I thought it would be fun to write a jingle for the store’s 100th anniversary. We regularly come to The Little Traveler as a family,” said Andrea Wozniak.
Debbie and Steve Burrichter from Batavia have frequented The Little Traveler for the past 30 years.
“The Little Traveler has wonderful gifts for my wife,” said Steve Burrichter.
Linda Girardi is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.