Monday, February 23, 2015

Crate & Barrel, Michigan Avenue
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Crate & Barrel, Michigan Avenue (1990) John Buenz, Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In an age of seismic shifts in the world of retailing, Gordon Segal may be the last of a dying breed. Following in the footsteps of empire builders like fellow Chicagoan Marshall Field, Segal and his wife Carole opened a 1,700-square-foot store in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood in 1962 with the hope that people their age, in their mid-20s, would want to fill their homes with Arzberg china and Marimekko fabric as much as the Segals did. It turned out to be a spectacularly successful idea.

  [Crate & Barrel, 646 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By the time the flagship Crate & Barrel store opened on North Michigan Avenue in 1990, the Wells Street store had spawned a chain of 30 locations spread across the continental United States, and the Crate & Barrel brand was known by millions of consumers who purchased hundreds of millions of dollars of well designed products for the home. But the signature store wasn't Segal's first Michigan Avenue address. In 1975 he opened a Crate & Barrel at the corner of Michigan and Chestnut in a classic, 20s-era, low-rise; before Water Tower Place, the well-heeled stores at 900 N. Michigan, or a Best Buy. Then in the late 1980s, he found out that his prime, people-packed Michigan Avenue location was going to be torn down to make way for one more large scale retail/hotel tower, filling block after block of the once low-scaled Avenue.

  [Crate & Barrel, Michigan Avenue, Magnificent Mile, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

After strolling up and down the length of the street from Oak on the north end all the way down to the Chicago River at the southern edge, a new store site was selected on the southwest corner of Erie Street. The lot was small, farther south, and came with less foot traffic. It was risky choice, but after 27 years of taking big chances, he took the plunge. The original plan was to build an income producing office tower with a store on the ground floor. Unfortunately, given the lot size, and what with entryways and square-foot devouring elevator shafts, there wasn't much room left over for the store. So Segal, taking a financial leap of faith, made the decision to ditch the tower and had architect John Buenz design a stunning, 5-story structure that defined the Crate & Barrel aesthetic as simply and elegantly as that first set of Arzberg from Germany.
Although day-to-day management was eventually passed on to others, the 75-year-old entrepreneur still serves on the corporate board. And this once lonely section of Michigan has become jammed with pedestrians who crowd into the retailer's visually exciting, always stylish, in-your-home universe. 

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