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In Store: the bonds that tie

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Earlier this year Daniel Wegner spent several weeks collecting Chicago "things." First he chiseled off a thumbnail-size piece of an original paving stone he owns from pre-Chicago Fire State Street. Next he gathered three leaves of ivy from Wrigley Field. Then he asked Marshall Field's for four inches of a branch from the Walnut Room's holiday tree and contacted a Lemont quarry for some limestone that matched the kind the Water Tower is made of. Unable to carve out a piece of bronze from the Marshall Field's clock, he got the store to give him an old panel from an out-of-commission elevator that used the same kind of bronze. He also went down to North Avenue beach with an airline-size empty Jack Daniel's bottle and filled it with lake water. And he bought a box of Frango mints.

He packed all of this up and sent it to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University, where the stuff was photographed--micrographed actually--to determine the molecular structure of each item. Then it was only a matter of time until Wegner, the national merchandising director for Stonehenge Ltd., was pushing a new line of neckties based on what he describes as the molecular structure of things associated with Chicago. The only thing Wegner couldn't figure out was how to get a fresh deep-dish pizza to Tallahassee. The problem was solved when he saw a billboard on the Kennedy that said "1-800-Call Lou." "So I did," he says. "It was reasonable--$25 to Fed Ex it--the one with everything. They loved it in Tallahassee."

It's a recent afternoon and men of all ages and walks of life are grabbing the neckties off two round, dark wooden tables. Scores of men are draping the ties--three, four, five at a time--over their forearms. Irwin Sternberg, president of Stonehenge, takes out his "brag book," a scrapbook showing Molecular Ties' other successful unveilings. He points out that Stonehenge has had several deals in which proceeds benefited good causes. For example, there was the Miracle Collection--16 ties based on the molecular structure of drugs used to treat rare childhood illnesses. Money was donated to Johns Hopkins University. With the Ben & Jerry's edition, two flavors were "translated into molecules"--Wavy Gravy and Chunky Monkey--and the proceeds were used to help starving kids. Then there was the Cocktail Collection, in which the molecular images of drinks--white-wine spritzers, for instance--were imprinted on ties to benefit MADD. Sternberg looks at the book. He remembers the slogan for that campaign--"The only way to tie one on before driving." For the Chicago Collection, Marshall Field's and Stonehenge have donated $20,000 to the Chicago Historical Society.

A portly guy in his 60s is a couple of feet away frantically lifting up one tie after another. He's a lobbyist--but he won't say for whom. "Let's just say I work for people who want to do business with the state," he says.

"This whole thing is a lot of bullshit," says a distant male voice. There is dead silence. Heads turn toward the voice. It belongs to a thin, handsome guy about 40. He picks up a Marshall Field's clock tie--whose pattern resembles acorns--and carries it in the direction of the cash register. Everyone looks relieved.

"None of these ties fits in with my needs," says the lobbyist. He puts down a State Street granite, which looks like a conglomeration of dripping paints, in favor of a Water Tower limestone, which looks like an array of smudged paints. "I'm more of a Jerry Garcia guy." (Jerry Garcia ties--based on the musician's artwork, not molecules--are also a Stonehenge product and are on a nearby table.)

"Now look at this ivy," he continues. "It's not bad. But it touts Wrigley Field. And the Cubs. That's reason enough not to wear it. I'm a south-sider, can't you tell?"

A Stonehenge representative picks up a deep-dish pizza and a Frango. "What really sells is a pattern," she says. "The bottom line is a tie has to be a good-looking tie. But with these, you also have this great story to tell."

The lobbyist picks up a lake water, puts it on his forearm, then on top of a white shirt, rubs it through his fingers a few times, and finally places it back on the table. "It's just not me," he says.

--Bonnie McGrath

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Daniel Wegner photo by Randy Tunnell.

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