Chris Dunn was able to combine her passion for photography, her community and travel into a unique business after taking a life-changing phone call from her dad while moving back to Pekin from Singapore several years ago.
“We were at the airport, and my dad called and said, “I bought the building,’” Dunn said, referring to property at 410 Court St. in downtown Pekin. “He said, ‘You can do something with it or I’ll rent it out.’ ”
Dunn decided to do something with it, opening her shop, idunnthat Photography & More, in 2015. The store specializes in local and international photography, as well as a variety of handmade crafts.
While she had sold some of her photography previously at the Marigold Festival, Dunn had never considered opening a retail shop before. Her husband, former Pekin Mayor Rusty Dunn, has supported her decision from the beginning, particularly since she had photographs all over their home.
“I had every flat surface covered,” Dunn said with a laugh. “So this became my creative space.”
The shop’s clever name came from Dunn’s first email address. “I’ve always done upcycling, and I’m constantly working with my hands, so it’s like saying oh, I done that,” she explained. And while she’s heavily into photography, the full name of the shop reflects Dunn’s artistic reach beyond just photos.
“My favorite thing to do is take the photography and incorporate it into something else,” said the mother of four. “I love old suitcases. So I made a light box out of an old suitcase, and I have one of my photographs in front of it. I like to incorporate those two ideas.”
In addition to photographic prints, the shop sells everything from cards to mats to journals made from old books. She also hosts visiting artists, including a fabric artist, sculptor, photographers and an artist who makes jewelry out of flowers.
Among the most popular items in her shop currently is Dunn’s local photography. “People want the postcards, the notecards and Christmas ornaments,” Dunn said. “Those are very popular with people who don’t live here anymore and visit around the holidays. But you never know what somebody’s going to want. It’s a fine line of producing a lot of stuff that may or may not sell.”
In June, Dunn is starting what she hopes will be monthly pop-up classes on various projects, such as string art and wreaths made with pages torn from old books. The time and date for classes will be posted on her Facebook page.
Dunn’s interest in photography began in high school when her older sister, Stacey Nannen, took a photography class. Soon after, the two sisters both bought cameras and Dunn ended up minoring in photography and majoring in marketing at Illinois State University.
“I thought at the time that I wanted to go into advertising,” she recalled. Instead she started working as a teller at CEFCU straight out of college and built a 12-year career there, finishing as a mortgage auditor when her husband’s Caterpillar job took the family to Singapore for a year.
Dunn’s photography was mostly family- and travel-centered during her CEFCU years, but she’s always loved being behind the shutter. “I have thousands of pictures. When we went to Ireland, I took 4,000 pictures,” Dunn said.
Looking around her shop, she added, “When I was growing up, I never would have imagined I’d be doing this. The first time I tried doing the Marigold Festival was on a whim. But I did well, which means it was enough to cover the entrance fee, so to me that was a success.”
Dunn said she loves the shop’s downtown location, where she has felt embraced by the community.
“We could live anywhere, and we chose to come back to Pekin,” said the 1984 Pekin Community High School graduate. “I think people are surprised by what Pekin has to offer. I would like to see the spirit of the downtown community happen all over the city.”
Due to a recent decision to accept a job as Pekin Community High School’s head swim coach after the long-time coach left the district, Dunn’s vision for her shop is evolving.
“I’ll still be open, but I may not have set hours every week,” she said. “I’m moving more toward commission work. My whole new philosophy is it doesn’t have to be so structured.”
She plans to have a booth at the revived Pekin Farmer’s Market and will continue to participate in the Fourth Fridays art connection events.
For more information about idunnthat Photography & More and current shop hours, visit the shop’s Facebook page by searching for Idunnthat - Photography & More on Facebook.