Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Suburban Renewal: A Marshall Field's Finds New Life

I don't go the suburbs very much.  When I moved to Chicago I sold both of my cars and became one of the few people happy with the service provided by the Chicago Transit Authority.  And although I travel a lot, most of my trips begin with a cab ride to O'Hare airport.

But every once in a while I'll hope a Metra train to see where it goes, and one of the places I sometimes land is Lake Forest.  I go there about every three or four months because of a particular appetizer served at a particular restaurant a few minutes walk from the train station.

If you haven't been up there, there's a nice little town square on the west side of the Metra station, complete with a couple of restaurants, some women's clothing boutiques, a book store, a toy shop, and a city hall that is for some reason inside a (presumably) fake lighthouse.

At the heart of the retail square is a building that used to be a Marshall Field's.  In my travels, it was the smallest department store I'd ever seen.  Two floors above, and one below grade, it carried mostly women's fashions and accessories.  The people on Lake Forest should be applauded for keeping the local retail trade alive for so long, and not giving in to the lure of nearby malls.

But when Macy's swooped in and bought the chain from Target, this store was one of the first on the chopping block.  It's a real shame, too.

But it's a tribute to the people of Lake Forest, it's town leaders, and the shortsightedness of a certain New York-based mega department store chain that almost immediately, renovations began to transform the building and make it ready for new stores.

Now, the first of those new stores has opened.  "J. Crew On-The-Square" has opened on the north side of the building, complete with signs emulating the Marshall Field and Company signs that are still in place.  It's small, but still carries a fairly good variety of basic J. Crew merchandise.

There's more good news at the south end of the building, where building permits and coming soon signs herald the arrival of bluemercury, the DC-area cosmetics spa chain.  It's a new brand to me, but my friends in the know in the Gold Coast are surprised and jealous that a location is opening in Lake Forest. Apparently it's ultra high end, and they believe it would be better placed in 60611.  That seems to be true, based on what I overheard in J. Crew where one woman was explaining to another one what "bluemercury" is and neither really got it right.

If you do take the Metra up to Lake Forest to take a look around, try to go when your hair is a little long. There's an old fashioned barber shop operating inside the Metra station.  Wear a trench coat and a fedora and go when the Cubs game is on TV.  The close your eyes while being shaved and imagine you're living in Chicagoland in the 1940's.

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