When it comes to the state of retail in Chicago, there’s some good news and some bad news.
The good news is upscale retailers continue to seek, lease and launch locations in the affluent Gold Coast area. Among the most notable are Marc Jacobs leasing space for a Marc Jacobs Collection boutique at the corner of Rush and Walton Streets in the Elysian Hotel, and Michael Kors launching two shops at 900 North Michigan Avenue — a first-floor Michael Kors Lifestyle space in the 900 Shops and a street-level Collections store eventually replacing Stuart Weitzman there.
Meanwhile, North Damen Avenue in the city’s edgier Bucktown neighborhood continues its rapid retail transformation, going from a hip haven populated with locally owned boutiques to a landing pad for more national and international brands. In the past few weeks, Bebe and LeSportsac opened stores, with Lululemon and Club Monaco poised to launch locations on Damen on Friday. Joe’s Jeans and Jill Stuart plan to follow suit in the next few months.
The bad news? The sliding economy is catching up with the Windy City. Demand for retail space fell 16 percent from last year, vacancy rates are at a 16-year high along Michigan Avenue — and then there’s Chicago’s increased sales tax, which, at 10.25 percent, is among the highest in the U.S.
North Michigan Avenue, known as Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, saw retail vacancy rates edge higher, to 6.3 percent from the 4 percent rate of the past four years, according to an annual survey by real estate firm CB Richard Ellis Inc.
Jeff Kuchman, author of the 2008 Chicagoland Retail Demand Study, found major retailers are scouting for 66 million square feet of space in the Chicago area, 16 percent less than last year. But Kuchman, a principal with Mid-American Real Estate Corp., who surveyed retailers, developers and retail brokers, said conditions aren’t all doom and gloom: “Metropolitan Chicago will continue to be bolstered by the fact that most retailers still view this area as critical to an overall Midwest expansion strategy.”
The transition, however, is palpable.
“You don’t see the huge [retail] growth we’ve seen in the past few years,” said Melissa Gamble, the city’s director for fashion arts and events. “There’s no question it’s a tough market, but I think we’re holding our own.”
“There’s definitely a slowdown,” echoed Lorraine Adney, a broker and local vice president with McDevitt Co.
Although Adney notes Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, home to Hermès, Graff, Tod’s and Prada, continues to attract interest from luxury retailers, she predicts a backlash to Chicago’s high sales tax, which this month rose to 10.25 percent from 9.25 percent. By comparison, New Yorkers pay just under 8.4 percent and Los Angeles shoppers pay 8.25 percent.
At Blake, one of Chicago’s most upscale boutiques featuring finds from Dries Van Noten, 6267 and Marni, co-owner Marilyn Blaszka said some customers are complaining about the tax hike, but it hasn’t stopped them from buying. She does wonder whether more affluent customers will ship items to their second and third homes to bypass the city’s hefty tax. Tax rates in the suburbs vary, depending on the area, but all are lower than the city’s tax, ranging from 10 percent to under 7 percent.
Jim Wetzel, an owner of the Jake men’s and women’s specialty store with two shops in Chicago and another in suburban Winnetka, has encountered just that dynamic.
Although Chicago’s higher sales tax has not yet put a dent in overall business, Wetzel said, “We have certainly seen a rise in city clients asking to have bigger-ticket items transferred to our Winnetka location or requests for items to be sent out of state to people’s lake or vacation homes.”
“It starts to register little by little,” Adney said. “At first, it’s pennies more, but it’s going to build up over time. It doesn’t inspire people to come into the city to shop. It’s cheaper to shop in New York.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast