Penelope's Boutique makes it's mark on Chicago's fashion scene

Interview with Joe Lauer, co-owner of Penelope’s, a men’s & women’s clothing boutique in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village/Wicker Park.

Store location and hours:
1913 West Division Street
Chicago, IL 60622

Mon - Sat 11-7, Sun 12-6

Do you get a lot of feedback from customers on your website and Facebook? How does this affect your business?
We have blog on the website to update customers on store events. About a year ago we started doing e-commerce and have gotten a great response. I do most my shopping online and I think a lot of people do the same. So we’re excited we can offer that option.

Any upcoming store events?
We host art openings throughout the year as well as a warehouse sale, so check back for dates.

When did you open Penelope’s and what was the inspiration behind it?
We opened in Fall 2002. We saw a void in the market for stuff that we wanted to wear at this price point. It’s become really popular to shop locally and keep an independent spirit in the neighborhood. A good 75% of our business is from customers that live within 2 miles of the store. It’s nice to be able to go shopping and to restaurants close to home and feel part of a community.

Why did you decide to open your store in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village? Tell us what you love about your neighborhood.
We’re just south of Wicker Park and Bucktown which are bustling areas on the west side of Chicago. Ukrainian Village is a little more laid back and residential.  Division Street is a great shopping street with cafes and double wide sidewalks and an old school Chicago atmosphere which we love.  When we opened, there were not many other stores catering to the style and desires of the people living there.  Division Street has become more of a retail destination just within the last 3-4 years.

How does the visual design of Penelope’s brand your retail identity and/ or affect customers’ shopping experience?
It’s laid out with an eye towards color and theme. It’s not organized by brand. It’s more like shopping in someone’s closet than shopping at a big box store. We have a classic aesthetic. We use a lot of old displays, furniture, and fixtures. We’ve got a compartmentalized wood shelving unit from the 1950’s to display some of the men’s clothes. Our fixtures are mostly mid-century modern and they create a nice atmosphere in the store.

How do you decide which lines to carry in your store?
Our aesthetic is clean, classic lines. We carry some young designers we find interesting also. Nothing over the top. We have an emphasis on value. If something is more expensive, we make sure it’s worth the extra money and it’s of higher quality.  For women, we carry some French lines with dresses between $100-200. For men, we have some Swedish lines like Our Legacy with shirts around $150. We also have Shades of Greige shirts for $95. We try to offer options under $100.  Our emphasis is on clothes you can wear everyday either dressed up or down, and we have a few special occasion items mixed in.

How long have you been carrying Spiewak Outerwear? 
About 4 years now. I like the fact Spiewak’s been around for a really long time. I like their heritage and history. I feel like there’s a lot to be said for learning what works and what doesn’t over the span of many decades. Spiewak take the best elements of vintage styles and really makes them look good with contemporary fabrics and silhouettes. It’s definitely priced so that real people can buy the jackets. Chicago winters are brutal. Chicagoans demand a lot from their outerwear, and Spiewak is our #1 winter  coat  line.

Besides Spiewak, what other lines inspire you and inspire loyalty in your customers?
For women, A.P.C., Sessun, Built by Wendy. For men A.P.C. is a classic French line that makes clothes that are a classic style with updates fits. Also Hyden Yoo, and a Swedish line Dunderdon all of which have been around for a while.

What are the two most important pieces every man and woman needs to add to their wardrobe for this winter?
A heavy winter coat because it’s really cold this season. Also, a great pair of well-fitting jeans. Our best selling men’s jeans are A.P.C. which come in three styles, all out of heavy raw denim. They start out stiff, but loosen up soon enough and fit perfectly.  

What are your personal favorite items at Penelope’s right now?
Messenger and briefcase bags from Property Of which are mostly waxed canvas. I like the men’s button down shirts and sweaters from Hyden Hoo that have a great slim fit and they always have great patterns.

What was your first job in the apparel industry?
Honestly, this is my first job in the apparel world! I quit my restaurant job to help my wife Jena run the store. Luckily she had a lot of experience in retail.

Promo Code: Spiewak  Valid for 15% off Spiewak in-store (or online) purchases at Penelope’s through March 1, 2010. Can not be combined with any other promotion or discount.


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