Grew out of Allen Display, a window decorating business started by Don and Shirley Allen on the South Side in 1973. Sold by them to their granddaughter Rachel Allen Larrivee, in 2013.
Wait, Larrivee, don’t I know that name?
Yes. Rachel is the daughter-in-law of Green Bay Packers announcer Wayne Larrivee.
What is the origin of Props Unlimited?
Shirley: My husband was working at the Boston Store in the display department. He would do freelance work. We go to the point where he could exist on his freelance and we started making our own props.
How did you figure out how to build all that stuff?
Shirley: It does seem like a monumental task! And in retrospect, it was. Seeing as we were not gifted with carpentry skills, our props were very simple in the beginning, but we always had the vision of what we wanted them to look like. Over time, we got to the point where we had to hire someone who had the skills to build what we designed.
How did Rachel come to buy it?
Rachel: I had some friends who were starting their own event planning business. I said to them, my grandparents have this rental company and they have been thinking about retiring; would you be interested in buying their business? They weren’t really interested. I was driving home, and I said, “You know what, why am I trying to sell my grandparents’ business to my friends? Maybe it’s something I want to do.”
How many clients do you have?
Rachel: Hundreds. It is very seasonal. In the fall, we do a ton of high school homecomings, and then in the spring, proms. In the summer we will do a lot of corporate picnics and then there are a lot of nonprofit events in the spring and fall. We have about 12 Santa thrones. Two or three of the weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, every single one of them is out.
What is your most unusual item?
Shirley: Everything is unusual.
Rachel: I do have a giant oversized light switch that flips on and off. We made it for a customer who was doing a monument lighting ceremony.
What are humorous situations you have encountered?
Rachel: Anytime you load a life-size baby elephant into a 4-star hotel elevator,it is hard not to chuckle.
Who is your competition?
Rachel: As far as this comprehensive prop inventory, there really is no competition. I get calls from California saying I can’t find this in L.A. And I say, “I’m sorry, but we are in Milwaukee.” ◆