By Nicole Briese
Tucked into slots between the everyday Subway or bank, the boutiques of Old Town’s Wells Street are easy to miss. Keep your head down or lose yourself in a cell phone conversation, and you’ll pass them right by. You won’t be aware that upon entering these inconspicuous shops, you’ll suddenly find yourself on a Windy City Melrose Avenue filled with chic shops that the stars often flock to. Beyond the shops’ modest exteriors, you’ll find trendy, polka-dotted stools and shiny, ballroom-style staircases.
“It’s definitely here,” Kimonique Woodward, owner of one of Old Town’s newest additions, Uri Boutique, says. “[It’s] just about people knowing about it.”
With everything these stores have to offer and a growing economy for the area, it shouldn’t take long for the word to get out. On the clothing front alone, at least four boutiques have opened up here within the last nine months. Additions like Nicole Miller, One Yellow Shoe, Gray and, now, Uri, see the shopping taking off. “I see it being the next Bucktown [or] Gold Coast area,” Woodward says.
Anne Courtade, manager of Nicole Miller, shares a similar sentiment. She says that after spending ten years on Oak Street, the store is thriving in Old Town. “We’ve had a lot of success here so far,” she says. “I see it continuing, especially as [Old Town] grows into a retail area.” The rumored addition of more restaurants in the region and the consequential traffic definitely won’t hurt. “I think it’s going to become a big shopping destination,” Courtade says.
And the boutiques of Old Town are working together to make sure of it. Take their Third Thursdays event, for example. On July 19, a group of ten-plus stores offered complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to shoppers, along with joint discounts on merchandise. “We all kind of work together with making the money,” Woodward says. Courtade agrees. “Oh yeah,” she says. “It’s a group effort.”
That isn’t to say that each store doesn’t offer something unique. Open just a month and a half, Uri is the place to go when looking for something different. “With Uri, it’s very high end, yet elegant,” Woodward explains. Offering designers like the German Heikejarick and Ardistia (whom Woodward says is “known for her hardware”), the store is small, but what is there is exquisite. Also stocked with Chicago favorites like Mackage coats and Gustto handbags, the store is a tad pricey (a pair of Alvin Valley slacks will run you about $290), but if you have somewhere special to be, Woodward says Uri is your shopping destination. “[Uri is great] if you have a big event to go to and you want a unique piece.”
Laura Schoch’s Gray, open in Old Town since May, is an instant favorite, reminiscent of celebrity staple Kitson. The store’s open, airy layout offers everything from t-shirts and , Union jeans to sundresses and halters. With prices as varied as the designs, you can score a cute top for $46 or a more elegant one for $159.
Open since late October, the leader of the boutique newbies, Nicole Miller, offers glamazons runway-ready designs with dresses and tops and models flaunting the clothes on a TV overhead. The prices are high, but so is the fashion—and the status of the Miller label.
Need pumps? Old Town’s latest offers those too, with the March addition of basement-based One Yellow Shoe. Playing light oldies and boasting eclectic brands and styles, the shop offers pumps that are slightly more affordable than the upscale Miller and Uri. Shoes average $64-$89, and the service is warm and friendly, as demonstrated by store employee Kelly Hageman, who readily chats with a customer on the comfort of a specific pair.
She says her boss, owner Tammy Brody, actually lives in the neighborhood. “She was like, ‘I’m sick of the rat race, our neighborhood needs a shoe store,’” Hageman says.
These boutiques, combined with local vets like Josephine and Sara Jane, offer a fashion- forward future not only to Old Town, but for Chicago’s general shopping scene. Woodward, for one, laughs at the thought of scavenging through too-tightly packed racks in an attempt to find not only a likable item, but one in her size.
“Boutiques are taking over anyway,” she says. “Who really shops in department stores anymore?” (Nicole Briese)
Uri Boutique, 1445 North Wells, (312)475-9002; Gray, 1361 North Wells, (312)573–0750; One Yellow Shoe, 1543 North Wells, (312)337-7551; Nicole Miller, 1419 North Wells, (312)664-3532