When it comes to fashionable boutiques, Chicago’s really been struggling as of late.
Wicker Park’s beloved Hejfina closed at the end of September. The store, which was my favorite retailer in Chicago, carried brands like Acne, Rag & Bone and Preen, which are not as easy to find there as in New York.
Then, it was Maria Pinto. The Michelle Obama favorite opened up her stand-alone boutique in the summer of 2008, only to close it permanently this month. She also shuttered her wholesale operations.
And just this week, the long-plagued Jake finally announced it would close.
Each of these retailers has a different story to tell. Heiji Choy Black, the owner of Hejfina, said that she wanted to spend more time with her family. She also told TimeOut Chicago that “the way people shop has forever changed in this difficult economy.”
Pinto, who’s been in the industry for quite some time, might have relied too much on her celebrity endorsements. While Oprah, and of course Obama, are fans, her audience is quite local and quite niche. Pouring money into a store during one of the worst recessions in history mightn’t have been a smart idea.
Jake, as you may know, has had some difficulties when it comes to paying designers and manufacturers. So there’s no doubt why they’re closing.
But it does seem strange to me that three highly-influential Chicago boutiques would close over the course of one year. Sure, New York has lost several shops, but we have many, many more than Chicago does. There’s no doubt that it’s a design-centric city, but it’s much smaller, which means that it just doesn’t have the population to host the same number of amazing retailers.
When I chatted with Heiji Choy Black years ago about her store, she told me that Chicago shoppers are different than New Yorkers. They tend to do two big shopping trips a year and that’s it. With New Yorkers, it’s a weekend sport where we pick up items here and there.
Maybe this difference in shopping strategies has to do with the string of closings, but I’ve never lived in Chicago, so I haven’t had the chance to observe shopping habits over a long period of time. What do you think? Why are Chicago’s most fashionable retailers disappearing?