Fairchild's suits Dunlap to a tea

Jenny Freeman

With more people having to settle for stay-cations this year, instead of dream vacations to Europe, people are increasingly on the look-out for exciting and unique things to do close to home.

Fairchild’s and Her Majesty’s Tearoom in Dunlap provide not only a one-of-a-kind experience, it also, quite literally, brings all things British to you.

Whimsical, eclectic, stylish, and down right goofy are just a few adjectives that come to mind when navigating around the jam-packed displays of merchandise in the gift shop attached to the tea room.

It all fits into the owners’, Jackie and Jerry Gillam, philosophy on life and what they call their “obsessive nature.”

“I think people need to have more fun and take life less seriously,” Jackie said.

She said she carries merchandise in the store that makes people happy, whether that means stylish Chanel knock-off shoes or underpants for squirrels made by a mother “concerned for the decency of the neighborhood squirrels.”

As she moves through the store and points out each merchandise display, she notes all of her and her husband’s “loves.”

“As you can see we love Scottish sheep. We love cowboy and cowgirl stuff. We love anything that has to do with horses,” she said.

“We love anything vintage — vintage tin toys, vintage chenille Christmas ornaments. We love sock monkeys.”

One section of the store, which the Gillams call their 50’s Dime Store section, has items like I Love Lucy breath mints in a tin box marked: Lucy’s Pre-dic-a-mints.

In the same section are several “bacon products”— a bacon wallet, bacon Band-Aids and many other bacon items.

“We decided bacon is like fairy dust. You can put it on anything and it makes it better,” Jackie.

But one theme is prevalent throughout the crowded store and tearoom: British memorabilia, British products, and British culture.

It is evident even before entering the tearoom.

The entrance is set off the sidewalk behind a slightly overgrown garden reminiscent of an English cottage garden.

British magazines are laid about for diners to read.

There are also several framed letters from the British royal family written to the Gillams in response to their letters. One is from the Queen herself.

There are tiaras at all the tables and each one is a replica of a real tiara in the Crown Jewels collection. Gentlemen are offered King Arthur’s crown to wear.

All the teapots, china and silverware are, of course, from England. The Gillams handpicked all the antiques on the infamous Portobello Road.

A 1957 Austin London taxicab sits in the back of the store. Customers can have tea served in the taxi upon request.

“We bought the taxi on one of our many trips to England and we drove it around for a while before it came to rest at the shop. It was especially difficult learning how to drive stick in reverse,” Jackie said.

The Gillams are the only distributors of the British clothing line, Barbour, in Illinois. It is a line with three royal seals given by the royal family to products they use and endorse.

Jackie said her obsession with Great Britain started with fairy tales, princesses, thatched-roof cottages, Shakespeare and the Beatles.

She met her husband, Jerry, while working at Higbee’s department store in Cleveland. Jackie has a background in interior design and Jerry worked in the home furnishing department.

In 1983 they opened a store together in Peoria before moving the store to Dunlap in 1999. They bought two other buildings across the street and opened a garden shop and tearoom in 2002. Then in 2005, they added on to the existing tearoom, moved the gift shop into the same building as the tearoom and closed up the garden shop.

The Gillams share their taste for the unusual and fun, as well as a passion for cooking.

“We took a course at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and learned how to make bread and pastries,” Jerry said.

Although the course they took was in Paris, the menu at Her Majesty’s Tearoom has mainly British fare like a puff pastry with cream and lemon curd as well as fresh out-of-the oven scones served with clotted cream and preserves.

There are several different themed tea parties offered for parties at any age including a flower faerie tea, an Alice in Wonderland and Mad Hatter tea party.

Three teas are served during a meal: a fruity tea to start with, a pot of the Queen’s tea with the meal, and a dessert tea to finish off the meal.

“Above all, we really want people to feel comfortable and at home here. All rushing should stop at the door and relaxing should begin when you walk into Fairchild’s and Her Majesty’s Tearoom,” Jackie said.

The Gillams serve their tea every Wednesday through Saturday at 11 a.m. by reservation.