Between North Avenue, Western Avenue, Division Street, and the Kennedy Expressway sits a neighborhood where artists, hippies, families, students, blue-collar workers, hipsters, and yuppies all live harmoniously. This neighborhood is Wicker Park and it can only be described as eclectic.
The neighborhood gets its name from its founders, Joel and Charles Wicker. In 1870 the brothers purchased eighty acres of land on which they built a handful of houses. In the aftermath of the Chicago Fire, Wicker Park became home to many notable wealthy Chicagoans. But sometime around WWI the neighborhood became a working class community. There were so many Polish immigrants living in Wicker Park at the time that the intersection of Division, Milwaukee, and Ashland became commonly known as the “Polish Triangle”. By the 1970s the neighborhood had fallen into complete disorder; Wicker Park had become a dirty and crime-ridden home for the poor. During the mid-1980s revitalization efforts coincided with the arrival of the artists, beginning the neighborhood’s transformation into a bohemian community filled with independent boutiques.
Today Wicker Park is bustling. The streets are jammed pack with stores that sell everything from books to clothing to music to tattoos. Trendy minimalist stores are mixed in with vintage shops and cozy bohemian boutiques. Many of these stores tend to cater to a young and relatively casual client, with the average client in their mid-twenties or thirties. As a result, prices rarely fall above $200. Many of the clothes are either vintage or vintage inspired. Shopping in Wicker Park often feels like you are walking through a very stylish friend’s home. This vibe probably comes from the fact that furniture and adorable knickknacks are often sold right alongside clothing and accessories.
The majority of the stores are located on Milwaukee Avenue, North Avenue, or Division Street. The Silver Room, located at 1442 North Milwaukee Avenue currently carries fifteen local jewelry designers as well as five local t-shirt designers. The back of the store has also been transformed into a gallery space that showcases local artists.
Another store that is dedicated to local artists is the RBG Lounge, located at 1420 North Milwaukee Avenue. It is a street-art co-op that serves as both a studio and a showroom for artists of all types. Their wares range from vintage pieces to graffiti inspired clothing, to one of a kind t-shirts.
The neighborhood is also home to the original Akira store. In less than a decade this local boutique has become one of the most widely known Chicago stores and today there are fifteen locations all across the city.
In addition to hosting countless local boutiques Wicker Park is also home to a fantastic music scene and numerous galleries. During autumn the neighborhood hosts the Coyote Fall Festival of the Arts in which over 150 artists come together to sell everything from paintings to house wares to jewelry to plush toys. In a similar vein, less than ten years ago Renegade Handmade (1924 West Division Street) was opened by the same women who launched the first Renegade craft fair. The store carries handmade goods from all types of artists, a handful of which are local.
It is this meshing of art and clothing that has made Wicker Park what it is today. In this neighborhood people from all walks of life coexist harmoniously, and the stores that line the streets mirror this melding. The clothes are eclectic and so are the people that wear them.
Photos by Hannah Howcroft. Illustration by Teya Bozhilova.