Akira in Hyde Park: What Does this Mean?

By now, you've seen the news: hip Chicago-based retailer Akira is opening a "flagship" (read: huge) store this fall in the old Borders building on 53rd street. I have a lot of thoughts on this, most of them really positive, though I do have one question:

Does the market research really indicate there are enough hip young people in this neighborhood to support a business that's so youth-oriented? I'm just asking...the last time I looked at a) the census numbers and b) the attire of the UC student body, I wasn't necessarily seeing "hip, young neighborhood ripe for trendy clothing store!"

That said, my feelings about this are largely positive. As with most new school Hyde Parkers, I'm for any development that seems likely to stimulate economic/job growth in our neighborhood. I'm particularly for Akira, as it seems the young owners aren't just the flash in the pan some thought when their first store opened a few years ago. They were named to Crain's 40 under 40 this year, and their expansion plans in the midst of a -- let's say still TROUBLED -- economy are impressive. I like the bold nature of such an aggressive business move. Not "let's take a small space in the new Harper Court," but "let's open a HUGE store in the old Borders." (BTW, I love the Borders building and think it is so rad for a store like this. Whoever's making location decisions for the Akira people has a good eye.)

And speaking of Harper Court, I guess this is another move that should silence the naysayers. Though Akira isn't opening in Harper Court proper, the resurrection of 53rd street seems to be moving right along. So everyone who's been saying "I'll believe it when I see it?" Time to start believing.

And since I'm not thoroughly convinced that Hyde Park has the customer base to support Akira, I've got to think that the business plan relies on making Hyde Park a destination for customers from South Loop and South Loop-adjacent 'hoods -- people looking for parking and a shopping trip that doesn't necessarily involve panhandlers and a sticky bus seat. I like what this move says -- it's a vote of confidence in Hyde Park, a sentiment that I share.

There will be challenges, for sure (the aforementioned parking among them, as well as security, neighborhood preservation, etc), but I'm excited to see Hyde Park booming. A little birdie told me to keep my ear to the ground re: news from a certain purveyor of fresh and super-tasty ginormo burritos, and I expect to keep hearing news of this sort over the next few months.

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  • I do think the undergraduate population forms a base of consumers for Akira. However, what many in Hyde Park (and elsewhere) overlook, is the fact that Hyde Park has a substantial non-university affiliated consumer base. In fact, for many, many young people on the south side of Chicago, Hyde Park is a destination (especially for young professionals who grew up in other neighborhoods of Hyde Park). Any ride on the bus or Metra at early morning rush hour should tell one that there are many young people working downtown, but living in Hyde Park.

  • In reply to Steve:

    Thanks Steve -- this is exactly what I want to hear: the perspective of someone who's not me! I love to hear that there are young people living in Hyde Park and not working at UC. I'm pulling for Akira, and it sounds like you are, too.

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