Monday, April 6, 2009

So Long, Ethel. You Will Be Missed

Crain's Chicago Business reports that five of the six Ethel's Chocolates stores in Chicago are going to close.

According to the paper, only the Ethel's in Skokie will survive the sweet, delicious carnage.

Back when L'Artisan Parfumeur skipped town, leaving a big black gap and cartoon swoosh marks on the ground floor of 900 North Michigan , we heard rumblings from other stores in the mall that Ethel's was on its way out.  But at the time we assumed they meant the 900 location, not all the Chicago locations.

Ethel's was a nice change of pace from Starbucks, Argo, and Caribou.  The drinks were pretty good, but not spectacular.  But sometimes you crave something different, and Ethels was it.  The chocolate was from New Jersey (it's owned by the company formerly known as M&M Mars), but it was good enough to fix the nagging in your brain.

In fact, we were Ethel's regulars at the 520 North Michigan Avenue ("Nordstrom Mall") location, probably stopping in there three or four times a week for a cup of hot chocolaty goodness.  Untill the wifi went away.  That was what killed it for us.  Starbucks, Argo, Caribou, Seattle's Best, etc... all have wifi.  So we went there.  Ethel's didn't have wifi, so we stopped going there.

Moonstruck Chocolates on Michigan Avenue didn't have wifi, either.  Now it's gone.

Do you see a pattern here, café owners?  We're talking to you, Café Descartes with the expensive Michigan Avenue storefront and minimal foot traffic!  You, too Lavazza across from City Hall!

Sure, at the Ethel's at 900 North Michigan you can wheeze off the mall's wifi.  But 900's wifi is so unstable that it's not worth the effort of even stopping in when there's there's three nice, reliable Starbucks connections within two blocks.

In the end, the café business is tough.  If you don't give the people everything they want, they'll go elsewhere.  It's easy enough to do now that coffee shops are on every third or fourth corner.  Ethel's didn't distinguish itself enough with the chocolate concept to overcome its shortcomings.  Again, it will be missed.

Interestingly, the 900 location isn't even mentioned on Ethel's web site.  It may already be gone.

Locations going out of business (or already gone):
The Shops at 900 North Michigan (900 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago)
The Shops at North Bridge (520 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago)
8 West Lake Street, Chicago
819 West Armitage Street, Chicago
28 West Jefferson Street, Naperville
527 Davis Street, Evanston


  1. Want some good news for 900 N Michigan Ave (more bad news for Lincoln Park)? The Store DNA 2025 at 2122 N. Halsted has a sign up saying it is moving to 900 N. Michigan in the Fall 09.

  2. Wow! That's a switcheroo. I think I've seen two dozen signs in the last five years from businesses leaving downtown and the Loop and heading north to Lincoln Park. This is the first one I can remember headed the other way.

    DNA will have plenty of room at 900. The mall has spent the last couple of years trying to transform itself into an "upscale" mall. For some reason it sees its competition as Oak Street, not Michigan Avenue.

    I don't know DNA 2025. Do you think the move will help the mall achieve that goal?

  3. Yeah, I guess I haven't seen many stores make that switch either, except DNA's former neighbor, Betsy Johnson. She moved her store to Chicago Place.

    DNA 2025 is pretty upscale. It sells multiple brands of pretty expensive denim. But it is definitely for the younger consumer. Its not really inline with Gucci, MK, MaxMara, but I bet diversity is good for the mall.

  4. According to the Trib, even the Skokie location is going out of business eventually.

    As for L'Artisan Parfumeur, I don't think their troubles were (just) in Chicago. I believe they closed all their stores in the US except for one inside Henri Bendel in New York.

    Maybe with Michael Kors (doesn't he still have to open a 2nd store sometime?) and DNA, 900 will get a boost of good news.

  5. You're right -- L'Artisan had a lot of problems. It's dumping all of its American stores and going all-internet. I don't know if the Montréal store will survive. It's possible, since it did very well.

    L'Artisan's problems go well beyond financial. It actually got fined by the city of Chicago for operating without a license.


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