It's been a while since I've written anything good about Oak Street (or, indeed anything at all), so it is with much delight that I recap some of the recent events that have been happening in the neighborhood.
The big news is, of course, the opening of the new Hermès store. After seeing a raft of other boutiques set sail for other shores, it's great that this has finally come to fruition. The old Barneys New York space at 25 East Oak Street was huge in comparison to its neighbors, and there was much wringing of hands over having that much vacant space on such a prominent corner.
As you know, part of the building was segmented out for other retail, but Hermès took the bulk of it -- 7,000 square feet -- to replace the location at 110 East Oak Street where it opened in 1989. I found this photo of the renovated store on the internet (sorry, no photos of my own -- I'm still traveling), and although the changes are subtle, it no longer looks like Barneys.
Outwardly, the "Barneys New York" badge that was carved into the third-floor roofline is gone, replaced by large raised letters on the first floor for people across the street, and a smaller set for pedestrians. The Hermes branding has gone up on both Oak and Rush Streets, and most importantly -- the signature red Barneys awnings have been replaced with creme colored, Hermes-branded ones that match the rest of the facade.
Inside, the store is described as "roomy" -- an adjective that one would be hard-pressed to use to describe the old Barneys space, especially on the first floor. It was a maze of counters and shopgirls and product displays fighting for attention. As unappetizing as the warren was for regular shoppers, the bridal fitting area was a disgrace, and the back of the house was even worse. In the end, the move to build a new Barneys New York store at 15 East Oak Street works out for everyone involved -- Barneys, Hermès, and their customers.
But with a clean slate to work with, Hermes was able to stretch out and properly feature its products in a more elegant environment. Credit goes to Rena Dumas Architecture, which is the legacy of Rena Dumas whose fingerprints are on every Hermes store around the world. The old Hermes space was just 3,000 square feet; less than half of its new digs. According to Women's Wear Daily, the new space is ideally suited for selling clothing, as Chicago is one of the strongest women's clothing markets for Hermés. Shoe sales are also expected to double, as Hermés has gone from a few shelves of shoes into a proper shoe department.
I'm not sure if they are the most expensive items in the Chicago store, but there is mention in WWD that you can buy crocodile suitcases at the Oak Street store. They start at $68,000. A little more affordable, and even more exclusive, is a $375 scarf which was made for the Chicago store, and is only available there.
I've seen some photos of the opening day in the trade press, and it looks like it was a literal circus, complete with stilt walkers, women in jockey costumes, and more. That's great, as the winter and spring were not kind to Oak Street. It needed some kind of big event to wake it from its grey malaise.
And the good news isn't isolated to just this one store. There have been a number of major and minor openings in the neighborhood, some filling in prominent space that was left vacant. From the Belgian bakery that took the place of Sur la Table on Walton Street to the Gap 1969 store that slotted into the former Jake space on Rush, things are looking up. And the fewer vacant storefronts there are, the better the neighborhood looks, which attracts more people, and more stores.
Also expected to come to the Gold Coast and Near North Side in the near future: Keep an eye out for Comptoir de Cotonniers, Topshop, Vince, HomeGoods, and Nordstrom Rack. While not all of these brands are at the top of the retail food chain, there's a good mix that will appease locals, international visitors, and tourists from I states.