Chicago Shopping Advice to Manolo: Get Out in the ‘hoods!

Lynne Kiesling

The irrepressible Manolo is infesting Chicago and about to shop on the Mile of the Magnificence (not the Mile of the Miracles). My advice to Manolo: get out in the ‘hoods! I love Michigan Avenue and Oak Street as much as any other shopping hound, but the plenitude of capitalism means that most of the shops there are ones you’ll find in other large cities: chains and department stores.

If you want to have fun with regional shopping when you travel in the US, I firmly believe that you have to seek out neighborhood shopping areas and boutiques. For a long time the boutique-y neighborhood street in Chicago was Armitage Avenue, which is still a shopping staple combined with great late-19th-century architecture. But over the past decade other neighborhood shopping has evolved, as more people look to shop in distinctive and non-chain shops.

Such shopping neighborhoods include my own Southport (with great shops like Freesia, Red Head, Trousseau, City Soles, Krista K, and Jake), Division Street in Bucktown/Ukranian Village (including a Zen yarn store called Nina), Milwaukee/North/Damen in Bucktown/Wicker Park (where my favorites are Helen Yi, Clothes Minded, and Jade), Wells Street in Old Town (with old reliables like Handle With Care as well as lots of new shops in the past year), and Lincoln Square (Traipse for shoes, Merz for European toiletries).

This Frommer’s entry on Chicago shopping is a bit out of date, but captures the essence of my argument.

Such places are where you get the real fiber of a place, so to speak. So Manolo, high thee to the neighborhoods to get super fantastic!

3 thoughts on “Chicago Shopping Advice to Manolo: Get Out in the ‘hoods!

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  2. Why are there so few if any independent “boutique” shops on Michigan Ave? National brand stores in new rapidly developing areas (suburbs) are logical because of start-up costs and the nature of mass development. But Michigan Ave is, of course, not the downtown boulevard in Round Lake and has lured shoppers for quite some time. Granted, start-up costs have always been high on Michigan Avenue. So have boutique shops never existed on Michigan Avenue? Did once boutique-oriented shops expand outside of Michigan Ave and thus abandon the boutique approach? Did the natural turnover of stores bankrupt boutiques Michigan Ave and only “corporate” stores could fill the space? Or do boutiques only succeed in smaller environments (spaces are large on Michigan Ave) where operators can better manage inventory? Did the days when boutiques serves a smaller and different clientele define which neighborhoods could support boutique and/or direct consumers away from Michigan Ave? I can deal with the realities but it pains me to walk down every main drag in the US and find the same stores. Style does not exist within economies of scale and possible, entrepeneurs can halt the egomania of needing to spread the idea of fashion everywhere and can settle in one Michigan Ave location. Sigh. (but please don’t touch H&M).

  3. Brian,

    Good questions all. I’ve never thought of the issue beyond high rents, so I don’t have any good answers. But there are some boutiques in streets adjacent to Michigan Ave. (Clever Alice, I think, on Franklin, which is a bit far, and a couple near Chestnut and Dearborn). My sense is that it must have to do with having the marketing budget and the supply chain logistics to make the high rents worthwhile.

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