Window shopping is a grand tradition. I much prefer it to actual shopping (much cheaper). The best two business districts to browse in Oak Park are The Avenue and The Oak Park Arts District.
The village has upwards of a dozen business districts, though it isn’t always easy to tell you’re in one. When you’re on The Avenue (Oak Park Avenue, that is, near Lake Street), it’s clear you’re in a business district, but the name is so vague many can’t match it with the location.
Same with the newly named Oak Park Arts District, which is on Harrison Street between Ridgeland and Austin (marked by those weird curved “gateway structures”).
Since many of the storefronts in The Arts District harbor artsy galleries and boutiques, their windows are naturally interesting to peruse.
The Avenue, on the other hand, boasts the most interesting commercial buildings, and an ever-changing array of interesting shops, though a battle is being waged for the sould of the district as banks, real estate firms and cellphone chains seem intent on turning this formerly vibrant strip into the most boring district in the village.
Until that happens, however, it remains a good place to browse.
Window displays are a fine tradition too, and recently the village sponsored a contest with prizes for the best displays to enourage creativity. The Avenue Business District won, so I took a stroll up and down the street (and on Lake Street) to see what there is worth seeing.
One newcomer–nora’s shoe shop (deliberately lower case)–takes a minimalist approach to their entire store really, with boxes of shoes stacked here and there on the floor and little furniture in evidence. The windows are highlighted, literally, by gaudy, kitschy, red, beaded chandeliers. A very spare shoe display on a table draws your eye further into the store, since there isn’t all that much to look at in the windows. Maybe that’s the intent.
Across the street, the Irish Shop windows are much “busier” visually, crammed with Guinness paraphernalia and Waterford crystal and china.
Headless mannequins dominate the Ananas and Filoni boutiques. Ananas usually features four interesting, frequently fluctuating, offbeat outfits, sometimes hatted, although the mannequins offer nothing on which to hang one’s hat. The current display is accented by artificial roses.
Filoni is one of several shops taking part in the apparent district theme this summer: Dogversity, which is either a reference to dog education, diversity, or both. Last year carousal horses crowded the curbs and the year before that, pigs (but very stylish pigs).
This year the animals are stuffed and moved indoors, but a theme’s a theme. Filoni’s take on “dogfashion” has nothing to do with dogs, other than perhaps the suggestion of walking your pet while fashionably attired in one of their long, ankle-length skirts. In the other window, cool white summer outfits are featured, accented by “peace sign” scarves. Red shower-style curtains provide the backdrop.
Magic Tree has lots of window space, and most of it is taken up with “Dogfessions,” a book whose cover features a large mutt mug shot with ID placard around its neck, incarcertaion-style. Clifford books, of course, are also on display. The independent children’s bookstore, of course, is highlighting “literarydog” with its window displays, one of which includes a large Welsh Corgi tapestry and sundry stuffed canines, plus paw prints on the glass. One of the titles, “Move Over, Rover!” is a Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) Honor Book.
Geppetto’s Toy Box windows tend to be creative–and nostalgic. The current display features a beach theme. Hand-painted on glass are the words, “So many ways to diversify the dog days.” Sand and beach toys create the scene. A stuffed dog rides an Air Flow Collectible bright red tricycle. Tiny swimsuits hang from a clothesline (a stuffed dog dangling from one). A large plush orange sun hangs overhead along with a doll sprouting butterfly wings and billowy mesh fabric, simulating clouds.
Fly Bird’s slogan for Dogversity is, of course, “birddog.” Abstract orange and green foam dogs stand sentry on either side of a blue, arching tree with a wire basket nest nestled on one of the branches, holding a dog book and assorted other knick-knacks from this knick-knacky store.
Botanica, with one of the best locations on the block (turreted gingerbread building next to a brick alley–Hunter Court), has contributed gardendog to the mix, with a small plush pooch wearing a tiny straw sun hat, surrounded by mini-baskets, fake flowers in a watering can, artificial grass behind a picket fence and a plant-print fabric background.
The Avenue is a good place to amble, whether you’re a dog nut or not.