WICKER PARK — Toms Shoes, a West Coast-based retailer that donates one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold, could be opening a dedicated storefront on Damen Avenue, while Shinola, a Detroit-based watchmaker, is moving a few doors north of the possible Toms outpost.
Both retailers' Chicago entries — within a few doors of each other on the same Damen Avenue block — were reported by Crain's last week, though the Toms Shoes lease at 1611 N. Damen Ave. inside a former Caribou Coffee had not been confirmed as finalized as of Monday evening.
Shinola plans to open in the former Ripasso restaurant at 1619 N. Damen Ave. in October, a spokeswoman for Shinola confirmed Monday.
Shinola manufactures made-in-America wristwatches and leather goods such as bags and journals, which are sold at Saks 5th Avenue, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom's.
Jacques Panis, president of Shinola, said his company's choice of the Wicker Park-Bucktown area "follows our commitment to locate in neighborhoods, particularly those with a strong ... creative lineage and manufacturing history."
Shinola's new outpost is less than two blocks south of Churchill Park, one of six ground-level access parks leading to The Bloomingdale Trail, a 2.7-mile elevated biking, jogging and walking path spanning four neighborhoods that is the centerpiece attraction of the overall 606 project.
“We’re also excited about the proximity to the 606 and the ability to support the bikable and walkable communities in Chicago," Panis added.
The shift from food to retail would be unique for the building, which has housed a long list of eateries over the past decade, from sushi to Mexican food and most recently Ripasso, an Italian restaurant that rebranded several times before closing in November.
In the case of Toms, a leasing agent for DRW Holdings, the company that owns the building at 1611 N. Damen Ave., did not return calls seeking confirmation of a lease nor did a spokeswoman for Toms Shoes.
Known for its rubber-soled canvas shoes with square toes, the Toms brand is sold at several Chicago retailers, including Akira and Hanig's Footwear as well as Downtown department stores and Whole Foods.
Claire Hensley, floor manager for Akira Footwear at 1849 W. North Ave., said the shop sells at least 10 pairs a day in the summer time. Akira sells Toms Shoes for $48.90 to $79.90 per pair, with the brand's stylish wedge heels commanding higher prices.
Hensler believes Toms sells so well in Wicker Park because of "the cause," referring to the company's policy of distributing shoes to the needy.
"A lot of people feel like they are helping others when they buy them, and the shoes are also comfortable and trendy," said Hensler.
Agnes Otworowski, co-owner of Buzz Killer Espresso at 1644 N. Damen Ave., said that while the shuttering of Caribou Coffee has brought more business to her independently owned cafe, the addition of another shoe store was not that exciting.
"When customers here talk about another shoe store coming, they sigh. At least [Toms] is better than athletic shoes because we already have so many here on Damen," Otworowski said.
Otworowski is referring to a recent surge of athletic shoe store openings, which began with Nike in October at 1640 N. Damen Ave. and was followed by Asics, which opened in the former Psychobaby shop at 1630 N. Damen Ave. Finish Line recently opened at 1629 N. Damen Ave.
Dimitry Syrkin-Nikolau, owner of Dimo's Pizza at 1615 N. Damen Ave., said he was happy to hear about having Toms Shoes as a retail neighbor.
"Toms [Shoes] is a business that has an altruistic aspect to it. It's nice to have companies in a capitalistic environment that have a conscience," Syrkin-Nikolau said.
Though both Shinola and Toms Shoes plan to offer in-store cafes, the fact both would be replacing eateries is significant for Damen Avenue, which is becoming known as primarily a shopping strip.
"That area [of Damen] is proving itself to be more retail than restaurants," said Ian Feinerman, who has developed and leased out spaces along Damen Avenue and is working on bringing a new retail tenant to 1708 N. Damen Ave.
Feinerman said the 1600 and 1700 blocks of North Damen Avenue from the Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues intersection and extending north to The Bloomingdale Trail carries the priciest retail rents in the neighborhood, with current retail rates between $60 and $65 per square foot.
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