By  on January 28, 2008

With its online business substantially outpacing store sales, Chicago-based contemporary fashion retailer Active Endeavors plans to close all its units and become strictly an online retailer.

"The stores had become a bit of an albatross," said chief executive officer Drew Davis. He noted that his Web site,, generates more than $10 million in sales each year and continues to grow by 20 to 30 percent annually. Sales at his stores were flat.

Initially opening as a women's and men's shop for outdoor gear with labels such as The North Face and Patagonia in 1985, Active Endeavors added fashion items in the Nineties, most recently carrying trendy pieces from Trovata, Rachel Pally, Rebecca Taylor and Daftbird.

At its peak, the company grew to five stores, with two in Chicago, one each in suburban Glencoe and Evanston and one in Boulder, Colo. But it gained a national and international audience as an online retailer, launching its e-commerce site in 2003. This month, the company closed its last Chicago store on Armitage Avenue and the one in Glencoe. Its third unit in Evanston will operate as an outlet through February, and then will close.

The response was both immediate and surprising, said Davis, who now has some 150,000 regular online customers, most from the East and West Coasts. About 20 percent of his Web-based business is international with a mere 2 percent of its clients from the Midwest. "Without the distractions of the myriad tasks it takes to run brick-and-mortar stores, we will be able to focus on bringing the most exciting collections to a very popular Web site," Davis said, noting plans to add Abaeté, Helmut Lang and Hanky Panky to the site this spring.

Davis also cited increased competition at his Chicago location on Armitage Avenue, where Intermix recently opened, and sluggish sales at specialty stores in general as factors in his decision.

"I don't know if it's a trend, but it's a reality," he said. "Brick-and-mortar stores are struggling and online is still growing.

"When we started in 2003, it was dicey," he said of doing business online. "Now people trust it."

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