Gem Jewelry Boutique left Marion Street five years ago when the owners became fatigued by non-stop nearby construction projects. Laura and Nick Kitsos closed the Oak Park location and focused on their second shop on Damen Avenue in Bucktown.
But the Oak Parkers are moving back. Last week they filled the last vacancy in the Marion Street shopping district at 108 N. Marion — between Muse clothing store and Sugar Cup Trading children's clothing boutique. The shop will open in November.
Oak Park business and government officials last week pointed to the expansive streetscaping on Marion Street as a success with all storefronts now accounted for.
"People will be able to find us and we're part of the best retail area in Oak Park. It's the best place to have a store," says Nick Kitsos.
The boutique, which sells hand-made designer jewelry, has been making news in Chicago and nationally. Vogue magazine featured them as the only Chicago business in an article about national jewelry boutiques. The Chicago Reader just voted them 2010's "Best Place to Buy an Unusual Engagement Ring."
The jewelry is mostly designed by Laura Kitsos. The most expensive piece ever sold was $12,000 but the price spectrum ranges to $50 for simple earrings. Kitsos got her start designing jewelry for art fairs and jewelry shows and finally needed a retail space/studio for her work. Nick Kitsos was a drummer for several touring rock bands, including the BoDeans, and now manages the store.
Bridal and engagement jewelry is a large part of their business, says Nick Kitsos, but the pieces they sell have unique designs which are not found at "Zales or Tiffany." "We asked ourselves, how can we provide a customer with something that isn't like buying a car? We use real gold and real diamonds, but we have non-traditional things like sapphires, too. A lot of guys come in because their wives dropped hints. "
Laura uses inventive décor items to display jewelry. "She'll hang necklaces on the antlers of plaster deer heads. People always want to buy our displays." Since the Oak Park showroom will be three times as large as the Bucktown store, the Kitsos' will expand their inventory to include décor items and lighting such as chandeliers.
The Kitsos have lived in Oak Park for 13 years and have two children in the local schools. Over five years, Kitsos says, many of their customers have actually moved from Bucktown to Oak Park.
Filling up the last available space on Marion Street is an important milestone for Oak Park, says David King, a noted local leasing agent. "It's now at full capacity. In 2010, six leases have been inked on Marion Street north of the tracks." What does this mean? "Oak Park is back in business!" he says with his trademark enthusiasm. King points out commercial space build outs employ carpenters and tradesmen and the new stores hire employees, creating jobs.
"As the economy comes back, places like Oak Park which have density, buying power and access to public transportation will see the recovery first," says King.
Answer Book 2019
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