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Red Balloon Kids Store To Open Southport Shop, Fight 'Big Box' Takeover

By Serena Dai | March 26, 2014 6:34am
 The Red Balloon children's boutique sometimes hosts storytelling events.
The Red Balloon children's boutique sometimes hosts storytelling events.
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Facebook/The Red Balloon

LAKEVIEW — Longtime Chicago children's clothing and gift store The Red Balloon plans to open on Southport next spring — adding a third location to its repertoire of neighborhood shops.

Red Balloon will be taking over a storefront at 3651 N. Southport Ave. in a new building that will be finished by the end of the year, said owner Jennifer Pope.

Opening on Southport made sense after growing from its first spot in Bucktown at 1940 W. Damen Ave., which opened in 1998, and its second location at 5407 N. Clark St. in Andersonville, which opened in 2005.

Now, the business is finally starting to feel stable after the economic downturn, and a third store was in order, Pope said.

"Someone's gotta do their part to fight the national big box encroachment," she said.

Pope opened Red Balloon as a children's furniture store, starting off by driving to West Virginia and Ohio in a truck to find vintage pieces to refurbish. As families started moving into Wicker Park and Bucktown, people started asking for children's clothing.

She started going to trade shows and stocking that, too.

Pope is "very passionate" about small business, she said. Back then, most of the shops near her in Bucktown were also independent and also run by women.

She's seen both Bucktown and Andersonville's commercial corridors change and attract more national retailers through the years. Then once the recession hit in 2008, she saw landlords wanting to lease to safer bets — which usually meant chains.

Pope considers local real estate owner Frank Campise, landlord to Red Balloon's building on Southport, to be "unusual" for renting to smaller businesses like her, she said.

"I hope that starts changing," she said. "I hope there are landlords that are going to start seeking independent businesses."

Campise owns several properties on the street, including buildings that house national companies like Starbucks. He's been vocal about the market dictating a street's businesses, regardless of whether it's a chain or not.

Red Balloon fits well on Southport, he said.

"It's a ton of young families," he said.

Pope's boutique is known for its "initial tees," colorful U.S.-made cotton T-shirts with initials on them. Red Balloon also hosts events for children throughout the year, including The Storybook Mom, sidewalk art contests and an annual free ice cream party.

"We're a neighborhood kids store," Pope said. "We started with kids stopping by to say hi to us on their walk home from school. We're looking forward to bringing that to Southport."