Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bad Retail Economy Strikes Holy Name Cathedral

The mother church for millions of Chicagoland Catholics is not immune to the ravages of the bad economy.  Holy Name Books and Gifts is closing its doors.  The announcement was made to parishioners on Saturday night (January 30, 2009).
The religious gift shop operated mostly independently of the cathedral.  It had its own owners and staff and even paid rent to the cathedral for the space in the basement. 
In addition to the economy, the shop was also significantly impacted by its forced closing for six months while emergency repairs were made to the cathedral's roof.  It re-opened just in time to feel the brunt of the economic downturn.
The store will only be open limited hours and only on weekends through the end of February.  After that the owners plan to leave the area in search of a quieter life.

Naturally, merchandise is being discounted to clear out the inventory.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Confection Selections in the Loop

It seems like you can't swing a lollypop without hitting a sweet shop in downtown Chicago these days.  That's a good thing.  In spite of setbacks like the closing of the Australian ice cream shop in Macy's State Street, and the closing of Moonstruck Chocolates on Michigan Avenue (home to the comfiest chairs and most senseless lack of wifi in the state), the chocolate biz seems very healthy.  Maybe in a recession, the simple things still hold their appeal.

Yesterday we went by More Cupcakes (1 East Delaware Place -- near Bughouse Newberry Square).  While not the smallest shop on Delaware Place (there are two smaller that we know of), it has its charms.  Spartan futuristic glass shelves hold a grid of cupcakes from which you can select.  They all looked yummy, but we didn't buy any because the store as a whole had that "oh-so-cooler-than-thou" vibe to it.  Cupcakes should be homey and inviting, not something out of Zoolander.  Maybe it's a good thing we passed, because the reviews of the shop on Yelp say the prices are way out of line.

The rehabilitation of Wabash Street continues to impress, and has drawn two new sweet shops near the back of Macy's Field's.

The first is called Sugar Bliss Café Boutique.  It looks very inviting, and has a miniscule seating area where you can watch the world go by.

The other is an old Chicago standby -- Fannie May.  After the bankruptcy a couple of years ago we thought we'd never see a new Fannie May outlet open, let alone one that's just two blocks from the flagship store on Michigan Avenue.  But let the tourists have the flagship.  If the future of Fannie May is tiny neighborhood shops like this one, then we're all for it.

Of course, our favorite chocolate place is a little hole-in-the-wall on Wabash around 11th or 13th Street.  It's on the west side of the street and it's a one-man operation where dozens of wonderful varieties of chocolates and truffles are lovingly made by hand in the back of the room.  The owner is super nice, and even if you can only afford one or two chocolates after a hard day at work or class, it's a great pick-me-up. All chocolates are priced by the pound, so our tip is to go for the chocolates instead of the truffles -- you get more for your money that way.

With all this sweet action happening on Wabash, maybe the street will change its name from Jeweler's Row to Confectioner's Row.

The Biggest Mall in South Korea is... Chicago!

These days lots of companies are cutting corners.  One of the ways they tend to do it is to skimp on their art production.  Instead of hiring professional graphic artists to design their web sites, they get the C.E.O.'s nephew Jimmy to cobble together an embarrassment of a web page.  Who cares, as long as it's cheap?  And instead of hiring a professional photographer to shoot their property, they'll just grab some exciting stock photos and clip art off the internet. Who cares, as long as it's cheap?

Well, as three French internet providers found out a few years ago when they all picked the same shot of the same girl to splash across their home pages, stock photography is rarely the right answer.

Case in point: The I'Park Mall in Yongsan, Seoul, South Korea.  It's the largest in that country, so it must have cost tens, probably hundreds, of millions of dollars to build.  But the "penny wise, pound foolish" people in charge didn't spend a couple of thousands dollars to have the property photographed.  Instead, they used a stock photo of Chicago's North Michigan Avenue on their web page to illustrate the dynamic shopping experience at I'Park Mall.

The photo in question has to be at least five years old.  It has the old "Marshall Field's" sign on Water Tower Place , and the old red Westin logo instead of the new blue one on the Westin Michigan Avenue .  Judging from the red lights at the top of 900 North Michigan , the photo was shot around Valentine's Day.

So let this be a lesson to all you big wigs out there -- if you cheap out on the photography, you'll only end up embarrassing yourself in the end.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Status Update: Flair Tower

Cranes are swinging and concrete is pouring at this Near North
residential tower.

Look for 27 stories of neo-classical goodness coming online on 2010.

Status Update: 353 North LaSalle

The last few panes of glass are being put in the top of 353 North Clark, the new office tower filling in what once was a surface parking lot across from Harry Caray's.  The design looks good, the glass is very transparent, and the base of the thing actually resembles the pre-construction sketches.  Miracle of miracles!

Can't wait to see what retail and restaurant opportunities develop in the podium of this building.

The bad news is what's happening across the street:
This surface parking lot is being replaced with... a parking garage.  Not much of an improvement there, unless there is extensive ground-floor retail.  I haven't heard much about this project, so we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed and wait to see what develops.

Slice of Life: Trump's Helix

While the building is still not completed, and the reviews are mixed, Donald Trump's Trump International Hotel and Tower is starting to grow on us.  The spire on top helps make it seem more complete, even though we dismiss it as a height manipulation stunt.  But the base is not without its charms.

The public sidewalk is still closed, but the parking garage is open and that necessitates a way to get in and out.  In this case, local shop SOM designed an illuminated helix tacked on to the north side of the tower.  The lighting is nice and adds a good bit of visual interest to what could have just been a hole in the wall.  SOM did a similar helix with another of its supertowers, the John Hancock Center.  But in Big John's case, it's only lit up during cold weather because the lighting is actually heat lamps to keep the outdoor ramp from icing up.

We still aren't in love with the top of Trump's Chicago tower, but the bottom is turning out nice anyway.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Crü Cut. Wine Bar Cheeses It

The rumor we mentioned a couple of weeks ago about a certain Gold Coast wine bar shutting down turned out to be true.  Crü is no more.
In its place will be "Feast: Restaurant and Bar" according to posters on Crü's now shuttered façade.  The posters come with a little rhyme:
Working the toasters
For early Gold Coasters
The eatery promises to be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  More good news -- the Goddess and the Grocer next door appears unaffected by the Crü shutdown.

Quickie: Nokia Flagship Store may be closing

Crain's Chicago Business reports that the flagship Nokia store at 545 North Michigan Avenue may be closing.

You'll remember that Nokia is the second cellphone flagship store on Michigan avenue.  Motorola briefly operated a store on the other side of the street for about two months to introduce and promote some handset that everyone has since forgotten.

After Motorola, the space was used as a publicity stunt by a frozen pizza company pretending to be a pizza parlor.

Status Update: Block 37

Work continues on Block 37 / 108 North State / Daley Mills, or whatever it is you want to call the new mall in the very heart of the Loop.  Or does it?

The work must be going on inside because there' plenty of activity, but little change to those of us on the outside.  The sidewalks remain closed.  Lanes of traffic remain blocked.  And as far as the untrained eye can see things haven't changed much in months.

Again, that doesn't mean that progress isn't being made.  It just means there are few outward signs of it.

What's in a Name? An Obamanation.

Lots of people are trying to cash in on Barack Obama's ascendency to the White House.  We're happy the hype is over and the nation's first half-black president can finally get to work and do some good.  But while the balloons and confetti are done flying in Washington, Obama is still being celebrated here in Chicago.

Case in point:

Yes, that hair salon is called "Obama's Hair Design."  It's in the Manhattan Building (431 South Dearborn).  I guess if Walgreen's can cash in with six months of Obama merchandising, we can't begrudge a local entrepreneur from attempting the same.  Still, this seems more appropriate in Hyde Park than in the Loop.
Obama's Hair Design (actual address is 433 South Dearborn) is owned by Mahmoud M. Elsheikh.  He registered the name with the state on November 12, 2008, one week after the election.  The name had to be re-registered because of a typo on the 25th (it happened to us once, too).  
Changing the name to "Obama" was probably not such a bad idea.  The business' previous name was Ossama's Hair Design.  Talk about an opportunity landing in your lap.  
There are actually eight companies in Illinois with "Obama" in their names that are not campaign-related.  There's a barbecue joint, a tax company, the afore-mentioned hair salon, a souvenir web site, and even a trucking company.

Status Update: The Building That Ate AMA Park

Sure, AMA Park wasn't an official park, but it was a nice patch of green in an area of the city that desperately needs some breathing room.  But there's no point is crying over it any longer, since this is the future.

"This" is the Hotel Palomar Chicago (505 North State Street), brought to us by the Kimpton Group -- the same people doing (IMHO) a great job with the Hotel Monaco, Hotel Allegro, and the Hotel Burnham.  This is Kimpton's first hotel in Chicago that isn't built into an existing historic building.

As you can see, the new building just inches from the beloved AMA Building (the striped building with the big hole in the top at 515 North State Street) is moving along quickly.  There's already glazing on the lower floors so interior work can proceed in defiance of the winter winds.

When completed, the building designed by John Buck Company will be 380 feet tall, have 36 stories, and boast 259 rooms.  That means it will be about 60 feet taller than the AMA Building.  It also means that some of the rooms should have a view right through the hole in the AMA Building.  Now that's a postcard I can't wait to see.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Daley Plaza Isn't a Trailer Park

What's the difference between the Daley Center and a trailer park?  The Daley Center isn't waiting until April to take down its Christmas decorations.  The last of the trees that made up the massive city Christmas tree have finally been hauled away.  This picture was snapped on Friday, January 23rd as crews were removing the last bits of it.  Still, the fresh scent of pine hung in the air in a soothing way.  It was a nice contrast to the incessant blaring of taxi horns as the hacks honk at invisible leprechauns on their dashboards or whatever it is that causes their antisocial insolence.

New Barney's Building Open For Business, But Not Barney's

The first business has opened in the new Barney's New York building on the corner of Oak Street and State Street.  But it's not Barney's that's open -- it's Citibank.
The bank moved from its old digs next to the Esquire Theater on Oak Street on January 15th, and opened its doors in the new location on the 20th.  The lobby has that new bank smell, but the bank as a whole is much smaller than the old location.

It's nice to see an oft-overlooked segment of North State Street getting some attention, but to tell the truth we're worried about the future of Oak Street with festering cavity that is the Esquire becoming a polyp on the retail scene there.  But then again, we should just have faith that something will happen with the property eventually.  After all, a watched boil never pops.

Illuminating Loop Art

The good news is that we're not on crack.  A few weeks ago I published a blog entry about the renovation of the CTA State/Lake elevated station .  As part of the renovation, the facade is now illuminated by color-changing LEDs.  It's very cool, especially with the Chicago Theater and WLS Television marquees right next to it.

When I published that entry I thought that maybe I'd been seeing things.  Someone who worked on the station renovation even wrote that he knew nothing about it. While I haven't been able to get down there on foot at night lately to confirm what I saw, I did at least see it again.

Once again -- on the 151 bus heading north on State Street, just before the turn eastward on Washington there it was again in all its glowing glory -- the "light bridge."  I've circled it in orange in this crappy camera phone picture  (yeah, I know my lawyer will have a fit for publishing camera phone pix shot on a CTA bus).

I really am going to make an effort to get down there and shoot it properly.  It's silly since I live and work maybe a dozen blocks away.  But somehow something else always comes up.

De Crane! De Crane! Boss, it's De Crane!

A year after construction crews popped the top off of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower to add another 25 stories to the 32-story structure, things are starting to wrap up.
Over the weekend (Saturday, January 24, 2009) the eastern crane (on the left in this picture, obscured by Aqua) began to slowly come down off of the tower.  That means the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois building has reached its maximum height of 796 feet -- quite a change from 411 feet before.

Also of interest is the slice of building on the far left of the photograph.  This is 340 On The Park, a condo tower.  When most people bought their units there they could look down on BCBS.  Now it's right in the faces of people who used to have western views.  Ah, the hazards of real estate in the big city.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Delight Is In The Details

The Chicago Tribune moved an article late last week about the newly revived Chicago Art Deco Society.  It's a group of people trying to preserve what little Art Deco installations still exist in the city.

Chicago is more of an Art Moderne metropolis, or at least it would have been if Maria Mies Ludwig Mies van der Rohe hadn't gotten in the way.  But there are still pockets of Deco delight here and there to behold.

And since the Tribune didn't see fit to include a link to the organization's web site, we will: The Chicago Art Deco Society .

Quickie: New restaurant for Block 37

The Chicago Tribune reports that a new Freshii will open in Block 37.  It's a Toronto-based company specializing in healthy foods.

Endgame: Talbot's Out at Chicago Place

After months of speculation and even a lawsuit, Talbot's has finally been forced out of Chicago Place.  That leaves the food court and Saks Fifth Avenue as the only operating concerns in the retail portion of what was once a vibrant vertical mall at the center of the Magnificent Mile.

Now, it's mostly abandoned.  The heat's turned off in the public areas.  The escalators have been turned off, too.  According to the Sun-Times, there's just one public elevator for accessing the food court.  The place is downright creepy.

But with the exit of Talbot's comes hope for something new.  In numerous published reports it was detailed that the owners of Chicago Place wanted to use the Talbot's space for a new Zara store.  That can happen now that the space is vacant.

But it seems strange to us that Zara would even want to be in Chicago Place.  The owner of Zara owns the block next door on Michigan Avenue -- the one with the Peninsula Hotel and the Pottery Barn that's becoming yet another Victoria's Secret.

So why would he want to pay rent to Chicago Place when there is tons of vacant retail space on the block that he owns?  Our hope is that he has a big deal in the works to fill the vacant space that was once American Girl Place and CompUSA.  We hope.

As an aside, the Zara guy took a $200 million mortgage on the Peninsula block just a couple of weeks ago, according to Crain's.  We don't know if that's significant or not.  We're not real estate "experts" and even those who claim to be don't seem to know what's going on in this economy.

Off Topic: HD Radio In Chicago

By now most people have heard an ad or two on the radio for something called HD radio.  If you've wondered what the difference is between regular radio and HD radio, it boils down to two things -- quality and content.

The quality of the sounds is better.  Even on AM.  In fact, I used to be an avid WGN Radio listener, but since it's not in HD, I simply can't stand the noise of regular AM in my ears anymore.  Sorry, WGN.  It's time to turn your HD transmission back on.

On the FM side, the sound is cleaner.  I won't say it's CD quality, but it's certainly better than regular FM.

The big thing is content -- people wonder what they will be able to hear with an HD radio that they can't with a regular radio.

We have an HD radio near the top of the John Hancock Center, so we put together a list of what we get on our radio.  Your mileage will vary based on your radio and your location.  But the radio does a great job of pulling in distant stations that weren't available before, even just regular FM ones.  So if you're in Chicago, you should be able to hear most of what we hear.

Here's the list.  HD-only channels are highlighted:

 88.1 WCRX Chicago Columbia College
 88.3 WDGC-FM Downers Grove Downers Grove High School
 88.5 WHPK-FM Chicago University of Chicago
 88.7 WLUW Chicago Loyola University
 89.1 WONC Naperville North Central College
 89.3 WNUR-FM Evanston Northwestern University
 89.5 WBEW Chesterton, IN Chicago Public Radio
 89.7 WONU Kankakee Olivet Nazarine University
 90.1.1 WMBI-HD Chicago Moody Bible Institute
 90.1.2 WMBI-HD2 Chicago Moody Bible Institute
 90.1.3 WMBI-HD3 Chicago Moody Bible Institute
 90.5 WRTE Chicago Spanish
 90.9.1 WDCB-HD1 Glen Ellyn Jazz
 91.5 WBEZ Chicago Chicago Public Radio
 92.3.1 WPWX-HD Hammond, IN Urban
 92.7 WCPT-FM Arlington Heights Talk
 93.1.1 WXRT-FM-HD Chicago Rock
 93.1.2 WXRT-FM-HD2 Chicago Rock
 93.5 WVIX Joliet Spanish
 93.9.1 WLIT-FM-HD Chicago Adult Contemporary
 93.9.2 WLIT-FM-HD2 Chicago 70's/80's
 94.3 WZOC Plymouth, IN Oldies
 94.7.1 WLS-FM-HD Chicago Oldies
 94.7.2 WLS-FM-HD2 Chicago Talk (WLS relay)
 95.1 WIIL Kenosha, WI Rock
 95.5.1 WNUA-HD Chicago Smooth Jazz
 95.5.2 WNUA-HD2 Chicago Jazz
 95.9 WEFM Michigan City, IN Variety
 96.3.1 WBBM-FM-HD1 Chicago Top 40
 96.3.2 WBBM-FM-HD2 Chicago Dance
 96.7 WSSR Joliet Adult Contemporary
 97.1.1 WDRV-HD Chicago Rock
 97.1.2 WDRV-HD2 Chicago Rock
 97.9.1 WLUP-FM-HD Chicago Hard Rock
 97.9.2 WLUP-FM-HD2 Chicago Heavy Metal
 97.9.3 WLUP-FM-HD3 Chicago Indian
 98.3 WCCQ Crest Hill Country
 98.7 WFMT Chicago Classical
 99.1 WMYX-FM Milwaukee, WI Adult Contemporary
 99.5.1 WUSN-HD Chicago Country
 99.5.2 WUSN-HD2 Chicago Country
 99.5.3 WUSN-HD3 Chicago Sports
 99.9 WCPQ Park Forest Talk
100.3.1 WILV-HD Chicago Adult Contemporary
100.3.2 WILV-HD2 Chicago Love Songs
100.7 WRXQ Coal City Rock
101.1.1 WKQX-HD Chicago Alternative
101.1.2 WKQX-HD2 Chicago Punk
101.5 WNSN South Bend, IN Adult Contemporary
101.9.1 WTMX-HD Skokie Adult Contemporary
101.9.2 WTMX-HD2 Skokie 80's
102.7.1 WVAZ-HD Oak Park Urban
102.7.2 WVAZ-HD2 Oak Park Gospel
103.1 WVIV-FM Highland Park Spanish
103.5.1 WKSC-FM-HD Chicago Rhythmic CHR
103.5.2 WKSC-FM-HD2 Chicago Dance
103.9 WXRD Crown Point, IN Rock
104.3.1 WJMK-HD1 Chicago Rock
104.3.2 WJMK-HD2 Chicago Oldies
104.7 WCFL Morris Religious
105.1.1 WOJO-HD Evanston Spanish
105.1.2 WOJO-HD2 Evanston Spanish
105.1.3 WOJO-HD3 Evanston Spanish
105.5 WLJE Valparaiso, IN Country
105.9.1 WCFS-FM-HD Elmwood Park Adult Contemporary
105.9.2 WCFS-FM-HD2 Elmwood Park News (WBBM-AM relay)
106.3 WSRB Lansing R&B
106.7.1 WPPN-HD Des Plaines Spanish
106.7.2 WPPN-HD2 Des Plaines Spanish
107.1 WZVN Lowell, IN Adult Contemporary
107.5.1 WGCI-FM-HD Chicago Urban
107.5.2 WGCI-FM-HD2 Chicago Hip Hop
107.9 WLEY-FM Aurora Spanish

 560 WIND Chicago
 650 WSM Nashville, TN
 670 WSCR-HD Chicago
 700 WLW-HD Cincinnati, OH
 720 WGN Chicago
 740 CFZM Toronto, ON
 750 WSM Atlanta, GA
 760 WJR-HD Detroit, MI
 780 WBBM-AM-HD Chicago
 810 WGY Albany, NY
 820 WCPT Crystal Lake
 830 WCCO Minneapolis, MN
 840 WHAS Louisville
 890 WLS Chicago
 950 WNTD Chicago
1000 WMVP Chicago
1020 KDKA Pittsburgh
1030 WBZ-HD Boston, MA
1040 WHO-HD Des Moines, IA
1080 WNWI Oak Lawn
1100 WTAM Cleveland, OH
1120 KMOX Saint Louis, MO
1160 WYLL Chicago
1180 WRTO-HD Chicago
1270 WWCA Gary, IN
1390 WGRB-HD Chicago
1430 WEEF Highland Park
1450 WCEV Cicero
1450 WRLL Cicero
1490 WPNA Oak Park
1510 WWHN Joliet
1530 WJJG Elmhurst
1590 WONX Evanston
1600 WCGO Chicago Heights
1690 WVON Berwyn