The Malls of the Magnificent Mile

malls on chicago magnificent milePhoto Credit

Jump to the bottom to see mall locations & hours.

Gender stereotypes be dashed, I’m going shopping! This is what I say to myself as I stride down Michigan Avenue, shoulders back, chin up, powerful red tie in a full Windsor; today I will mingle with the consumer at large, unafraid. My shopping typically consists of snatching the first pair of jeans I see at Target and guiltily pulling my wallet from the corpse of my last pair. I do this about once every three years and it takes about eight minutes. I spend eight thirds of a minute shopping every year. My problem, if you can call it so, is I have never enjoyed shopping. It serves its utilitarian purpose and then I’m off to the rest of my life rewriting Disney songs with lyrics about my current job. This is my idea of fun. Not today. Today I will revel in the chase, the new and exciting goods, and the gigantic Lego sculptures. More on that to come.

My three stops are located in a geographic line segment, with 900 N. Michigan at one end point, Water Tower in the middle, and the Shops at North Bridge capping off my day. I choose to travel from North to South, even though that is technically uphill, since the Earth bulges slightly at the equator. I have been into the 900 North Michigan building on several occasions, but I am seeing it with fresh sight. I am immediately terrified. I wrack my brain for an escape route, but I have brought my girlfriend with me. She is no more excited about shopping than I usually am, but there is no way she will let me back out of a task. I tell myself that I have to go into stores I would normally never go in. The first store on my right is called MaxMara; I walk right past it. One glance and my brain is screaming at me. It was the same way I felt when I first moved here and asked for an application from Express, the same exclusion I felt in middle school from the kids playing sports and holding hands with girls. I walk past and feel horrible. No more. I decide I have to do the same thing I did in high school; fake it until I make it. L’Occitane en Provence is next, and I stroll right in. They have a cream gel for tired legs; my legs are tired all of the time. How have I lived without this? It’s a steal for only $25. They also have shaving oil available for $20 an ounce. It sounds like the price tag for cocaine, but I realize, what do people see more than my face? I might as well spend the big bucks here. I do not buy anything, but am very tempted by the free mini facials they are offering. I have more mall to see.

900 N. Michigan is the most difficult of all three locations to window shop. There are stores so specialized I cannot hope to browse without looking out of place, whether or not I feel so. There is a store dedicated entirely to hosiery, stores that are practically empty, and stores that might as well be the actual set of Project Runway. It is an odd feeling indeed when J. Crew feels accessible. “Oh, look, they’re only selling Italian cashmere! Thank goodness!” But there are plenty of in-betweens. A store called St. Croix is way out of my price range but I am not harassed while I survey their wonderful selection of dress shirts, for which I will admit I am a sucker. There is, for all I can figure, a lampshade store playing Cake’s Short Skirt, Long Jacket, and a curious shop called “United Colors of Benetton” helps me realize that although I am a size 38 in American coats, in my native Italy I am a size 48. The store name award has to go to “Glove Me Tender,” not that I know what they sell. The final thing that I note, which doesn’t become as apparent until my next two stops, is that each location has a resident department store. At 900 it’s Bloomingdale’s, Water Tower has Macy’s, and North Bridge has Nordstrom. I also will not spend as much time grooving at either of my other two stops. 900 keeps the music bumping.

I am immediately set at ease when I walk into Water Tower. After I get through the American Girl store, that is. I read Goosebumps books as a child with less potential than this store. With my girlfriend, a former employee, as a guide, I learn all about the many exits from that store into the mall. Water Tower is much more what I am used to from my time in suburbia. It seems more like shopping for the commoner. There are certainly shops I don’t have the budget for, but I can see myself, my old self, coming here without fear to snag my new jeans every third year. They even have a food court — Foodlife — although it’s unlike any food court I have ever seen. Part of the Lettuce Entertain You empire, this spot is a unique take on the food court. But I’m starting to feel at home in Water Tower, which means it’s time to move on. The last thing I will say is on the first Friday of the month, Foodlife samples 20 wines for $15. So… I’ll see you then?

North Bridge has an odd shape. The stores curve away from us like a boomerang. There is a good mix of the accessibility of Water Tower and the Ritz of 900. There are plenty of stores I feel like I need a handler to walk in to, but there are also little stands and carts set up in the middle of the hallway. I discover here I cannot buy “a Burberry,” even if I am hungry. The far end of the boomerang is Nordstrom, and we walk back and forth across the levels enjoying the wide array of stores. My girlfriend is shocked to see a Three Dog Bakery, another former employer of hers. A small business on Halsted in Lakeview, the owner had always talked about putting a location in on Michigan Avenue. The shop has treats for dogs made of all natural ingredients, so natural that most of them are delicious to humans as well. There is a candy haven, for all of those with a sweet tooth, and also a Lego store. You can’t miss it. For blocks before North Bridge we see gigantic Lego statues, and now we understand. There must be someone whose entire job is crafting and creating the works of art that adorn the Lego store. Every Lego piece I’ve ever lost is in there somewhere, waiting to be bought in a kit or in bulk. Need 500 red two by twos? Look no further.

All I buy today is a round-bottomed wok from Williams-Sonoma, a real steal for the price I pay. I consider myself fortunate that I can indulge a bit in the Magnificent Mile. This time last year I had to walk a mile just to get to the grocery store with the best sales, and although I’m not a rich man I can see there is something for everyone. Whether or not you view shopping as a necessity or a hobby, from the studio apartment renters to the high-rise condo owners, there is something for you on Michigan Avenue. So indulge your high-class sentiments, or not; suit jacket or dress casual, you can find somewhere that you don’t feel out of place. Just avoid the American Girl Store.

The 900 Shops
Location: 900 N. Michigan Ave.
Phone: 312.915.3916

Mon – Sat: 10am – 7pm
Sun: 12pm – 6pm

Stores: Bloomingdale’s, Club Monaco, Gucci, J. Crew, L’Occitane, Lululemon Athletica, MaxMara, Williams-Sonoma, & more.

The Shops at North Bridge
Location: 520 N. Michigan Ave.
Phone: 312.327.2300

Mon – Sat: 10am – 8pm
Sun: 11am – 6pm
Restaurant & Department Store Hours May Vary.

Stores: Nordstrom, Armani Exchange, United Colors of Benetton, Crocs Footwear, Hugo Boss, Sephora, Kenneth Cole, Stuart Weitzman, & more.

Water Tower Place
Location: 835 N. Michigan Ave.
Phone: 312.440.3166

Mon – Sat: 10am – 9pm
Sun: 11am – 6pm

Stores: Macy’s, American Girl Place, Akira, Banana Republic, Coach, Hollister, Lacoste, Nine West, Sephora, & more.

*Holiday hours may vary.

Phil Kranyak

About Phil Kranyak

Phil grew up in small town in southeastern Pennsylvania. His family still lives across the street from a cornfield. Phil tried working at the farm when he was too young to get a real job and he left after one day because the farmhand was total creep city. He showed up to Phil's front door the next day wondering why he wasn't at work. Now Phil lives in Chicago and he thinks it was a pretty good choice.

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