Chi-Town is Buy Town: Shopping in The Windy City
Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright once stated, “Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.” Many visitors and residents understand where this sentiment comes from. Known as the “city in a garden,” it seamlessly blends its iconic skyscrapers with its charming cobblestone-lined historic areas and incredible park space. Indisputably the urban beacon of the American Midwest, people flock here from nearby environs to the far corners of the earth to experience everything from the amazing cuisine to the unbeatable music scene. Theater and art flourish here as does a thriving museum culture. Symbolically, it holds a crucial space in the center of the country which seems to bridge the great cities of the coast. It should come as no surprise, then, that it’s a shopper’s mecca as well.
If you’re looking to buy, well — just about anything — then Chicago probably has it. It’s not just a cultural hub, it’s a literal crossroads in America. More trains come into this town than any other in the nation. Lake Michigan’s busy ports in Calumet, Skokie and Chicago proper bring in goods from the world over. And O’Hare International airport is still one of the busiest hubs on the planet, ushering in millions of people year after year. All this activity makes shopping a perfectly natural element in this wonderful metropolis. Whether one seeks out the finest of luxury goods down to an elusive tchotchke in some oddball secondhand store, the adventure of acquiring desired goods is wide open here. Ready to quest for some favorite items? Here’s a quick guide to shopping in Chicago.
No roadmap to Chicago’s top shopping destinations would be complete — or should even be started — without the crown jewel for customers: The Magnificent Mile. This decidedly upscale district basically runs along a premium corridor of North Michigan Avenue. Starting at its south end where the DuSable Bridge crosses northward over the Chicago River, the stretch reaches all the way up to where Oak Street merges with East Lake Shore Drive. Lined by famous landmarks such as the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower and the Chicago Water Tower, it’s a grand thoroughfare that makes people feel about as metropolitan as you can get. This is the part of town that inspires all those songs and musicals!
All along the mile, one will pass a comprehensive selection of high-end department stores. If you’re not the sort to become overwhelmed with such an embarrassment of riches, you could literally spend days exploring these vast spaces. Global brands will also be found in great quantities, housed in fancy boutiques offering their top-of-the-line wares. Expect everything from luxury watches to popular sports apparel and gourmet foods. Kids can plunder toy shops while grown-ups can interact with gadget houses. Jewelry, home goods — even pets — will find a store to their liking here! Much of these offerings will be found in the Mile’s many high-rise malls, allowing a bird’s-eye view for eagle-eyed shoppers.
Down to Earth
For those who find the dizzying splendor of the Miracle Mile a bit too overkill, there are plenty of Chicago neighborhoods that have more basic shopping experiences in-store … as well as some fairly unexpected varieties. Up closer to the famed Wrigley Field, the eternal home of the Chicago Cubs, the Lakeview neighborhood offers a more alternative sort of shopping experience. Here, the walking is strict of the horizontal variety (unlike the Magnificent Mile’s vertical bias) with street-level storefronts beckoning purchasers with niche shops offering things like comic books, cigars, leather jackets and plaster gargoyles. It’s a warmer experience than the glitz of downtown, and the local neighborhood vibe spreads into the cafes and bars here.
Another pleasant place to stroll on the more eclectic shopping hunt would be the Wicker Park area. The tree-lined streets here are life-affirming and the artsy ambiance seems to be inspired by the verdant beauty. This is the sort of place where a cute mom and pop restaurant provides repast and pauses between the many mom-and-pop boutiques that seem to try to outdo one another in originality and style. Think used furniture stores with charming pieces. How do gift emporiums selling items so unique you can’t wait to surprise friends back home sound? While it all feels gritty and bohemian, it’s a perfectly safe place to take a jaunt through. Whether you shop upscale on the Mile or more relaxed away from it, Chicago will fit your tastes.