While I was in college my parents introduced a friend and me to a lovely outdoor venue hosting a little stage where a theater troupe performed Shakespeare. Being an English major, a lover of all things green, and Shakespeare being a beloved bard, I considered this quite a treat.
It was a lovely summer night, with a few spirited stars pushing through the evening sky. Austin Gardens, I soon discovered, was the locale: a perfect backdrop for one of my favorite plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream.
I remember looking up at the verdant setting from our picnic blanket and announcing that I was going to live in Oak Park someday.
Fast-forward to 2007. I'm finally moving in to a cozy studio in Oak Park. Friends and family come to visit and are forever declaring how charming this town is. So family-friendly, so many great restaurants, so many chic boutiques!
Now let's skip ahead to the year 2010. I've graduated to a condo. I've also realized that Oak Park is a perfect fit in more ways than one: my love of style and fashion is thoroughly satiated by the local boutiques.
In the fall of 2010, I joined OakPark.com and Wednesday Journal as the Local Shopping and Fashion blogger and columnist. I was thrilled.
Think big, shop small
My purpose in each write-up and every article is to inform the community's purchasing decisions. It was my hope to help consumers set their compass to local, independent shops so they would be supporting the entrepreneurs who have taken a leap of faith in opening their own stores — who work assiduously without vacations or holidays, who continue to weather the storm of a depressed economy, who truly are the heartbeat of America.
I like to use the word support. We can choose to support the merchants with our dollars, every time we make a purchase, if we elect to shop small before defaulting to the mall.
Writing about entrepreneurs is a subject close to my heart. My grandfather invested his time, energy, and funds into realizing his own dream many years ago. He opened his own martial arts studio (a dojo) and a corresponding retail shop selling martial arts gear. I saw how his passion, drive, and endless hours of hard work put him on the path to success.
I know there were many obstacles my grandfather encountered. Eventually he became a Sixth Dan Shihan, a distinguished sensei in the peaceful martial art known as Aikido. All this and more he accomplished with the support of dedicated students and loyal shoppers.
He was an entrepreneur with a vision and the confidence to believe he could achieve anything he set his mind to.
Meeting of a great mind
Over the last year I've had the pleasure of sitting down to interview some of the entrepreneurs in the community: all incredibly talented and hardworking individuals.
I'm amazed at the level of commitment, the dedication and the sacrifices these proprietors have made — and continue to make — at their places of business.
They research the best products to bring to their shops, they provide us with well-edited lines of inspired products (many made in the USA), they offer an array of eco-friendly and environmentally-conscious merchandise and they feature handmade goods by local artisans.
And let's not forget: so many items are just plain fashion-forward: avant-garde apparel, fresh footwear and stunning accessories that easily compete with the neighboring boutiques in Chicago.
Can you find items like these somewhere else? Not all big box shops have put in the time and thought to bring you products that are not only good, but good for you and good for the environment: fair-trade merchandise, upcycled products and handcrafted goods.
You'll get high-quality products at local boutiques, you'll receive unparalleled customer service and you won't lose your shopping partner in the sea of racks at large department stores. You also don't have to circle endlessly to find a parking spot (but don't forget to feed the meter!).
Fall Fashion 2011
For the first time in 20 years, Wednesday Journal punctuates the autumn season with our very own guide to Fall Fashion.
This style guide showcases the magnificent fashion apparel offered at local independent retailers, while focusing on trends seen in the larger fashion community.
Our community offers a vibrant and eclectic collection of boutiques, and we want to generate excitement about what goes on in the shops by unveiling styles and designs that consumers crave and the looks they want.
A thrilling exploration of all that local merchants have to offer, this guide is an exhilarating examination of peerless selections. Consider this your road map to incredible apparel and accessories — we'll take the mystery out of looking great.
From precisely-constructed cosmopolitan designs to artistic, comfort-conscious clothing, it can all be found right here at a neighborhood merchant.
We're delighted to draw your attention to the fact that fashion and retail are a hugely important and enjoyable part of our community's economy.