Javier Suarez

This column marks the first in the Weekly’s monthly series of featured columnists. If you’re interested in writing for us, contact editor@southsideweekly.com.

Just five years ago, the enthusiasm Chicagoans had for exploring Hyde Park rivaled only their enthusiasm for Peoria, Illinois. It was abysmal. Since then, people with loads of cash-money, otherwise known as investors, have helped transform Hyde Park into a more socially acceptable locale for North Siders to hang out.

These investments can be seen across industries. For example, after ten long and grueling years of having to commute downtown for overpriced popcorn and overhyped films, Harper Theater opened in 2013, ending Hyde Park’s torturous movie theater drought. A10 on 53rd is not only a Restaurant Week-worthy restaurant, but is also one of the few, if not the only restaurant in Hyde Park that offers valet parking. Yes, that’s right! Hyde Park is climbing up the bourgeoisie ladder. We’re even getting our very own Whole Foods soon.

The fashion industry has also jumped on this bandwagon. To the delight of many Hyde Park fashionistas, the retail store Akira opened its doors in November 2012 after the closure of the former Borders bookstore. As the first major fashion retailer to open a branch in Hyde Park in recent years, Akira became the most prominent choice for women’s fashion in the neighborhood. Some argue Akira’s dominance of the Hyde Park fashion market is due to its amazing selection of women’s clothing and catchy, en-vogue sales promotions like “Doorbusters and Chill.” I personally think it is at least partly due to the monstrous Akira sign that dares passerbys to ignore it while strolling down the street.

Though Akira briefly had a near-monopoly on Hyde Park women’s fashion, it’s no longer the only contender. Numerous small boutiques selling women’s clothing and accessories have popped up since 2013. To get a woman’s perspective, I asked my friends Nisha Abu and Ala Soofjan about Hyde Park’s offerings.

Nisha, a Hyde Park resident, told me she enjoys having The Silver Room and {BU} (Belle Up) boutiques on her route to work, and though she’s bought various items from them for her family members, “[they’re] just a little pricey.” In other words, your wallet may take a major hit every time you shop in these stores, and do not expect “Doorbuster and Chill” sales very often.

Ala, a third year medical student at the UofC, thinks there’s still a lack of clothing options that fit both professional and social purposes. Therefore, she primarily still shops downtown at stores like J. Crew and The Gap. But both Nisha and Ala were very excited about the upcoming opening of the Marshalls department store on 51st Street and Lake Park. “I think once the Marshalls comes,” Nisha told me, “I’ll probably just go there everyday after work and just hunt for stuff. I’m kind of dreading it because I’m just going to be spending money at Marshalls.” I’d expect that many Hyde Park residents share her sentiments, and I hope we all won’t have to file for bankruptcy soon after the store opens. I’m just excited that Marshalls will also provide more fashion options for men, who currently have very slim pickings in the neighborhood.

I expect the investment in and popularity of Hyde Park to increase in anticipation of the opening of the Obama Presidential Library, and perhaps this will provide an impetus for further growth in the fashion options in Hyde Park. We may never get on the same level as the Magnificent Mile, but we should have enough to keep local fashionistas content.

AK Agunbiade is a Nigerian American who grew up in the Midwest. He currently lives in Hyde Park, where he is finishing up medical school. In addition, he’s a stand up comedian and maintains a fashion and lifestyle blog at slightlyrefined.com. Follow him on Twitter: @AKagunbiade88 and catch AK’s column every fourth week of the month.

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