NORTH CENTER — With the opening of a new menswear space next to the original Hazel Apparel, David Vail continues to add to his mini-empire on Montrose Avenue.
"The neighborhood has been really supportive," Vail said modestly as he arranged a denim display — just in time for Father's Day.
Hazel, the gift shop, opened in 2001 at 1902 W. Montrose Ave., and eventually took over the two adjacent storefronts. Customers still clamored for more, urging Vail to add clothing to his mix of jewelry, stationery and accessories. He obliged with Hazel Apparel in 2011 at 1926 W. Montrose Ave., where men and women's clothing were racked side by side.
When Competent Healthcare vacated 1928 W. Montrose Ave., Vail saw an opportunity to expand Hazel once again and give his male customers their proper due.
"Men are very underserved [by boutiques] in this neck of the woods," he said.
"Now there's no fear of walking into a women's store," she said.
Actually, guys will have to navigate past Hazel's girly stuff to get to the more manly gear, which is accessed via an opening in the two shops' shared wall. Once safely in dude-ville, they can peruse the merchandise the way men prefer: no muss, no fuss.
"Men are just kind of ... they're more in and out. They come in and get what they need," Vail said. "We try to make it as painless as possible."
Longtime loyal customer David Peña could be found combing the menswear racks during the grand opening celebration for the new space on Saturday.
"It's not like walking into the Gap," said Peña, whose wife, Amanda, frequently eyeballs items for her husband when walking home from the Montrose Brown Line station. "They'll know to hold one in my size."
"We've been their biggest fans for a decade," said Amanda, the recipient of a number of pieces of jewelry bought from the shop for birthdays and anniversaries.
The couple, who are preparing to move to Milwaukee, said they're already planning monthly trips to visit their favorite boutique and shop owner.
"Dave's become a friend," David Peña said.
A dyed-in-the-wool Chicagoan, Peña found the perfect parting gift for himself as he heads to America's Dairyland: a T-shirt emblazoned with "IL love you forever."
Perhaps the pair could persuade Vail to open one more outpost to the north.
"Dave says he's done now," VandenBout said.