If you’re from outside the Chicago area, Wicker Park may conjure up images of a crappy Josh Hartnett movie or of an outdoor flea market selling porch swings.
I’d like to introduce you to the Wicker Park that Chicagoans know and love.
The site of much gentrification, the neighborhood (map) has changed from a predominantly Puerto Rican community to a haven for artists, hipsters and anyone else who thinks of themselves as alternative. It’s the home of James Iha, former guitarist of the Smashing Pumpkins, serves as the backdrop to High Fidelity and is headquarters to Internet music giant Pitchfork Media.
Wicker Park also boasts some of the best vintage stores in town (though not the most inexpensive) and great rock clubs (though many venues such as the Double Door are 21+). It’s definitely an alternative to the yuppie haven of Evanston. It also has quality independent record and bookstores.
Here’s your handy-dandy guide to what you won’t want to miss in Chicago’s hippest neighborhood:
Vintage, consignment and resale shops
Store B. One of the best genuine vintage shops in town, this store sells dresses, houseware and accessories from the ’70s, ’60s and even earlier. It’s an antique store without the dust. The clothes are organized by color, which makes finding a proper size a struggle, but going through the racks and finding ridiculous prom dresses from the ’80s is half the fun. Finds include a beautiful lemon yellow-and-white chiffon dress from the ’60s in tip-top shape and going for $78.
Store B also sells the work of independent artists and crafters from the area. The wallets made out of newspaper (but laminated to be practical) are $14.50.
Recycle It. A higher-end resale shop with top brands like Tahari and Citizens of Humanity, it’s not cheap — but neither is the feel. Roomy and bright, it’s more boutique than resale, which makes a $133 Marc Jacobs dress feel like a steal.
Buffalo Exchange. A chain resale shop, Buffalo Exchange carries great brands at good prices. Some digging can score a Penguin polo for $16.50 and a genuine Members Only jacket for $24. The store also has a good selection of men’s clothes. Its racks are well-organized and the staff provides fantastic service without giving off the stereotypical Wicker Park hipper-than-thou vibe.
Brown Elephant. All proceeds from this thrift shop go to HIV/AIDS care. Selling clothes, toys, electronics and just about anything else, variety is the name of the game. Sadly, that variety means less-than-appealing outfit choices, though for a great price. Racks include $6 dresses and $4 shorts. Also found was a factory-sealed box of KISS-opoly — heart be still.
Lenny & Me. Cute as a button, this resale store has name brands, lightly worn, at a good price. Forty-two dollars can get you a Built By Wendy dress. They also have a small selection of Halloween costumes, such as Girl Scout sweaters for $20 and a Heidi (the one who wore lederhosen) dress for $68.
Akira. Though not cheap, Akira is hip. With great clothes, great brands and great styles, this store carries everything from their own $24 tops to $199 People’s Liberation jeans with star cutout detail on the back pockets. They also have a separate store for shoes, and another for accessories.
Scour the clearance racks for $19.99 cut-out flats as well as BCBG, Marc Jacobs, Mossimo and other designers. The staff is helpful, though the security guard checking shopping bags at the front is a bit inconvenient.
Music and books
Reckless Records. It’s what comes to mind when you think of a High Fidelity-esque record store: hip, independent and a bit cramped, but filled with heart. Reckless carries new and used CDs and LPs at great prices and from different eras. LPs are as cheap as $2 used, and guaranteed to work.
Quimby’s Bookstore. This is not the store to visit for the new Dan Brown novel, but if you’re in the market for poetry anthologies, small-press graphic novels or magazines with all sorts of tattooed and pierced faces on the cover, this is the place. There’s even a photo booth in the back of the store.
Milk and Honey Cafe. Coffee is a staple of life, and so is a good muffin. Milk and Honey offers big windows and pumpkin bars to die for. (Imagine the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever had turned into a cake with cream-cheese frosting. Mmm hmm.) The staff is great, although seating can be quite limited.