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The Silver Room, A Wicker Park Creative Staple, Leaving for Hyde Park

By Alisa Hauser | March 3, 2015 12:24pm

WICKER PARK — Gearing up for what he is calling "a new and enjoyable challenge," a retailer who has spent his entire career in Wicker Park is moving his main jewelry and apparel shop to Hyde Park, while starting a store for high-end men's clothing on his familiar Milwaukee Avenue turf.

Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room, which also includes an art gallery and an independently run juice bar in the back half of the store, will be moving from 1442 N. Milwaukee Ave. to 1506 E. 53rd St. in Hyde Park at the end of the month, he announced Tuesday.

"Tacos and beer work in this neighborhood — and sports bars. That seems to be the formula. There is not as much respect for arts and creativity and individuality as there used to be. Many of the Silver Room people have moved away," Williams said.

Though Williams will continue to live in Ukrainian Village — close to where the single father's 6-year-old daughter attends school — operating The Silver Room in Hyde Park will bring him closer to his sister and 100-year-old grandmother who live together on the South Side.

"Right now the University of Chicago neighborhood is making a push for diversity in retail," Williams said. "I feel like my energy is needed there. The people that were here in Wicker Park 20 years ago when there was more energy here and more independently run places, a lot of young people creating something from nothing, they understand."

The impending move likely will mean the end of The Silver Room's annual block party, a volunteer-run effort that celebrated its 12th year in July.

Alisa Hauser explains the move:

"Grown Folks Stories," a popular monthly storytelling series that started in 2010 will be moved to another Wicker Park venue, to be announced soon, Williams said.

"Grown Folks Stories" :

Tiffany Dean, a hair stylist and owner the Chicago Chop Shop salon that has been operating from the store's basement for the last three years, also will be closing her doors, Dean said.

Marquese Martin-Hayes, owner of Jus Juus, which opened last spring, on Monday said he is exploring new spots in Wicker Park or Lincoln Park to move the juice bar.

Phil Luparello, Williams' landlord, said he is "very sad" to see his longtime tenant move out.

"I love Eric. I talk with him every day, and I will miss him. He has been in Wicker Park for a long time, and I have known him for over 20 years," Luparello said Tuesday.

Luparello donates the wall along his dry cleaners building at 1438 N. Milwaukee Ave. to Williams at no cost every year, so graffiti artists can paint the wall as well as the back walls of the cleaners and The Silver Room.

As a result of the murals, which rotate yearly and are drawn by renowned artists such as Hebru Brantley and Tyrue Slang Jones, Luparello said that vandals "do not touch the murals, but they touch any empty walls, so Eric [Williams] helps me out, too."

Williams started his sales career on Maxwell Street in the late 1980s selling T-shirts and sunglasses while a sophomore in college studying finance.

"I liked the hustle," Williams said.

Williams moved to Wicker Park in 1992, after leaving a short-lived stockbroker career because he could not stand being "cooped up" in an office building all day, Williams told the Chicago Pipeline in 2011

In the early 1990s, Williams set up a table to sell T-shirts and other urban streetwear in the basement of a shop called Lit-X, which is now Flash Taco's basement eatery at the Damen, Milwaukee and North Avenues intersection.

Lit-X attracted other young African-Americans who identified with progressive urban culture, combining elements hip hip-hop, poetry and politics, he said.

“It [Lit-X] is really what influenced The Silver Room,” Williams said. “It was that energy of people getting together to discuss social issues, or to just hang out and chill and listen to music, that’s what I wanted to have in a store one day.”

Williams started "Square One," a restaurant, juice bar and magazine shop at 1561 N. Milwaukee Ave., in 2001, which he sold to Earwax, a vegetarian cafe a year later. Today it's a Doc Martens store.

"Local musicians played there; it was a true neighborhood hub," Williams said of Square One.

The Silver Room, which opened in 1997, has evolved into a community hub around the retail shop, a tradition that will continue until its final day in business, Williams promised. 

The new business in Hyde Park will also have a gallery and retail shop, similar in design to Wicker Park, he said.

A special event on March 27 will be dedicated to poets and spoken word. On March 28, a closing party with music and DJs is planned. More details will be announced on the shop's Facebook page.

Next Month, Williams, 45, will debut Needs, a high-end men's clothing shop at 1410 N. Milwaukee Ave, in the same storefront where he started The Silver Room before moving a few doors north in 2005.

Williams said he is committing himself to spending two days each week at Needs, which he is running with business partner Kristi Viies, in the former Rudy's Roundup spot.

When asked what he will miss most operating The Silver Room in Wicker Park, Williams said, "It's not a goodbye, it's a 'see you in Hyde Park.' I am excited about seeing longtime customers come there, and meeting new ones."

Rather than offer steep closing discounts, Williams is launching 17 percent off cards for $17, good for purchases all year long at the new spot, which will open on April 3.

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