A Starbucks roastery could could offer a better brew of retail on Mag Mile

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

On Michigan Avenue, the old cliché is true: the only constant is change.

As online stores continue to hurt brick and mortar retailers, churn on Mag Mile is near constant, with Tommy Bahama and Forever 21 being only the most recent announced closings.

In December, the Chicago Architecture Center hosted an evening conversation with a panel of Chicago retail experts to discuss the continuing promise of the Magnificent Mile and how, even in a virtual world, creativity could save the day—and the bottom line—of brick and mortar stores.

Much of the conversation centered on Starbucks’ plan to this year transform the old four-story Crate and Barrel store into a massive roastery, a high-end coffee space that is poised to be a café with major cache. It’s a gamble designers hope will pay off with a new type of store that’s as much an experience as it is a selling space.

“Things change, nothing is permanent, and if something is genuinely out of place on this street it will get replaced,” explained David Stone, a landlord and tenant representative in the downtown area.

Stone said the whole of the street reflects changing trends—and that’s a good thing, as it keeps the area relevant and vital. One trend, Stone said, is windows. Over the last few decades, more retailers have transformed building facades with windows, giving the shopping district a more open, airy feel.

One building that typifies this is the Crate and Barrel outlet.

After 27 years, the retailer shuttered its Michigan Avenue flagship store in January 2018. Still, whatever retail trends ended a home décor store haven’t touched the aesthetic appeal of the store’s face—a massive, bright and open façade featuring more windows than brick and mortar.

Jay Longo, principal designer at the firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz, said the new roastery on Michigan Avenue will be as daring as a four-story, glass-paneled home décor store was in 1990. He expects it will keep the area relevant to a new generation of shoppers who are as prone to shop online as they are in any brick and mortar space.

Longo pointed out that the Crate and Barrel store’s design on Michigan Avenue was unique in 1990, and that is still an asset.

“It set a lot of trends that other buildings on Michigan Avenue have followed,” he said.  

He pointed out it’s not a virtual space; it is a space for people, and that means it’s a space for experiences. Longo said a roastery is a manufacturing facility as much as a café, and the combination is an experience shoppers can’t get anywhere else.

“The idea that brick and mortar is more of an experience than simply retail is definitely what the roastery is all about,” he said.

“Retailers are trying to build brand loyalty and that’s hard to do in cyberspace,” Stone said. “That’s the biggest attraction to brick and mortar.”

Program moderator Cheryl Durst, executive vice-president and CEO of the International Interior Design Association, put it in simple terms. No matter the age and no matter the trends, humans want to be wowed.

“Human beings need to be captivated,” she said.

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