LAKEVIEW — Turns out, retirement may not be all it's cracked up to be.
At least that's the case for Mark Thomas, former owner of punk mecca The Alley, which shuttered after 39 years in business.
So Friday, he's announcing plans to reopen in Lakeview in 2017.
"I hear from customers almost on a daily basis, asking if we'll reopen," Thomas said. "It's killing me. I'm bored, I miss my customers, and I can't wait to be with them again."
Thomas said he "had a ball" during his year off, taking trips with his wife to small business hotspots like Portland and Seattle to see what the latest trends are. He also had several surgeries, with a few more planned to close out 2016.
After that, Thomas said he'll head to Thailand and Indonesia to pick up interesting trinkets to restock The Alley. He's aiming to open in May or June.
There will be some changes: Thomas said The Alley will reopen as a showroom for leather apparel and shoes, although T-shirts, jewelry and accessories will be sold, just as before.
Thomas said he expects to offer piercings, but no tattoos. The showroom will allow for a wider selection, as the store won't have to keep a large stockpile — similar to a Warby Parker-esque supply-on-demand approach, where customers can order goods and have them ready for pickup later, Thomas said.
Thanks to shrinking storage needs, the store will be smaller than his former space at 3328 N. Clark St. — about 2,500 square feet. Thomas isn't disclosing the new location just yet, as he's juggling several lease negotiations to find the right fit.
No matter what though, The Alley will be back in Lakeview.
"They really want to see The Alley in Lakeview," Thomas said of his customers. "But it's really important people start to realize that if they keep buying from Amazon.com, they're just going to put their cousins and friends out of business."
The Alley's former space at 3326-28 N. Clark St. will be redeveloped into a mixed-use building, although developers hope to restore and keep the original terra cotta facade. [Provided/44th Ward]
Developers plan to restore and keep the original terra cotta facade. The project is currently in the process of obtaining building permits, according to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th).
Thomas said reopening wasn't his plan when he closed The Alley (complete with a funeral) in January, but said there was enough support on his online store and feedback from customers to merit another run.
For months, he shopped around vacant storefronts in Lakeview, Avondale and around Chicago — even checking out locations in the suburbs — but couldn't find the right fit. Rent, particularly in Lakeview, is expensive, and Thomas said he needed to find a place with decent enough foot traffic to make reopening worthwhile.
"When it was obvious we couldn't put it together before The Alley closed, I decided I'm going to take a year off," Thomas said. "I've been working 60-hour weeks since I was 17, and how often in life do you get to do something like this?"
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