Chicago has no shortage of shopping venues. The gleaming national chain stores along the Magnificent Mile grab the attention of many Chicago visitors, but many independently owned treasures lie throughout the 237 square miles of land in the city.
It’s in those shops that you find the unique treasures that far exceed any mass-produced products you can buy in the chains. Many of the indie shops in Chicago feature local talent, handcrafted wares and even fair-trade products. With this list of unique shops in Chicago in your bag of tricks, you’re sure to earn the title of Indie Shopping Expert in your circle of friends — plus your house and your wardrobe will be off-the-charts cool.
Head to Old Town for unique fair-trade offerings that won’t break the bank. Greenheart Shop is a nonprofit shop with a strong commitment to minimizing harm to people, communities and the environment, so you can go home with a bag full of unique items and a clear conscience. Wares in the shop come from artisans around the world, including right here in Chicago. Doesn’t it feel great to support the independent artisans?
When you walk through the doors of Greenheart Shop, you see everything from clothing and jewelry to home goods and dining accessories. Looking for a gift? Greenheart offers gifts for almost any occasion, and you won’t have to worry about the recipient asking for a gift receipt — the quality, unique pieces are sure to be a hit.
The artsy vibe of Greenheart Shop feels right at home in the Old Town neighborhood. While you’re here, you’ll find plenty of other locally owned restaurants and shops to explore.
Abbey Brown Soap Artisan
Treat your skin to handcrafted olive oil soap infused with homegrown herbs and pure essential oils when you shop at Abbey Brown Soap Artisan. That handcrafted charm plays into the historical neighborhood that serves as the home base for the store.
Not only is the shop pleasing to your nose, but you’ll also find expert advice from staff who can tell you how each of the products can help your skin. The shop is a hit with sensitive-skin shoppers, and soaps always make a nice gift for that person on your list who has everything — we all have at least one of those people in our lives! If you want to try making your own soap, sign up for one of the soap-making classes offered periodically at Abbey Brown Soap Artisan.
Venture to the Northwest part of the city to discover the custom printed shirts, accessories and more at REP CHI. Owner Lyndsey Hooley built the business from the ground up, saving until she could afford a storefront location. She uses eco-friendly screen printing methods, and she can even create custom designs.
Most of the items in REP CHI appropriately represent the city in some way: a T-shirt with the names of all the expressways, a CTA token keychain, a Chicago flag wallet. The store sells clothing, accessories, housewares, wallets, patches, buttons, recycled items and more. Items from other artisans also appear in the shop at times.
If you see an item you like when you visit REP CHI, don’t hesitate to buy. Items often sell out, and some wares are limited print runs, so when they’re gone, you’re out of luck. Acting fast can also up your street cred. Rocking a shirt that is no longer available makes you and your fashion sense an instant hit.
Rotofugi Designer Toy Store and Gallery
Unleash your inner child — or eclectic collector — when you step inside Rotofugi Designer Toy Store and Gallery. Straddling the Lincoln Park and Lakeview neighborhoods, this designer toy shop makes its home in a vintage building teeming with character.
Inside, you’ll discover just as much character in the vinyl figures, capsule toys, plush toys and more on the shelves. Artists from around the world create the designs for the toys. Even if you’re used to acting like a mature adult, you can still enjoy the variety of pop culture and one-of-a-kind collectible toys available in this shop.
On many days, you can find the owners, a husband and wife team, working in the store. You can’t get much more local than that. Check out the adjoining Rotofugi Gallery while you’re there to see monthly art exhibits from a variety of artists.
Block off plenty of time when you check out Transistor. The shop offers so much to soak in, from art and books to electronics and records. More than 80 artists fill the shop and gallery with their creations, so you get an eclectic range of talent in one shop. If you want to stay a little longer, head to Transistor for live music, movie nights and podcasts.
Transistor moved to the Andersonville neighborhood in May 2016, which makes perfect sense. Many independent stores call the diverse neighborhood home, which helps create the quirky, distinctive vibe in the area. The eclectic creativity found in Transistor blends right in with that atmosphere.
Wolfbait & B-girls
You can almost feel the connection to historic Chicago when you walk into Wolfbait & B-girls. The store borrows the word “wolfbait” from “Chicago Confidential,” a guidebook to the city published in the 50s. That Chicago connection is perfect for the shop’s Logan Square location — a neighborhood known for local businesses and a strong connection with neighbors.
Don’t let the store’s small size fool you. This female-owned business highlights the creations of the owners, as well as the work of more than 170 local artisans and fair-trade companies based in Chicago. The store gives local artisans a place to sell their wares when they don’t have their own storefronts. Talk about connecting with the community!
Less than a mile away from Wolfbait & B-girls, you’ll find our Logan Square location. It’s a great place to grab a bite when you need a break from your shopping activities.
Chicago Architecture Foundation Shop
You can’t live in Chicago without noticing the amazing architecture. The Chicago Architecture Foundation exists to promote and educate people about that architecture. If this sounds like your jam, head to the Chicago Architecture Foundation Shop, where you can find a wide range of gifts and products that embrace that love of architecture. If you know the Willis Tower — we know it will always be the Sears Tower in your heart — stretches 110 stories or the first skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1885, this shop is right up your alley.
Head downtown to Michigan Avenue to satisfy your architectural curiosities or to find a gift for the architecture lover on your shopping list. Accessories, clothes, home décor and books make the list of items in the shop. You can even find a gift for the kids on your shopping list in the special kids’ section featuring toys, puzzles and building sets.
It’s not often an artist so seamlessly blends multiple disciplines, but Floyd Davis of Artpentry does it beautifully. His location in the Chicago Arts District fits his creative spirit perfectly. He lives and works in the private studio, which features a storefront serving as his showroom.
Davis collaborates with many artists and features his own work and that of his artist friends in his gallery. His “Gentleman’s Boombox” series reigns as his most notable work. The series features vintage luggage turned into functional stereo systems. Even if you’re not in the market for a luggage stereo, Artpentry is worth a visit for a bit of creative inspiration.
Open Books is not an average bookstore. While the shelves are full of donated books waiting for you to discover, the store doesn’t operate to make a profit. The nonprofit bookstore uses the money raised at the Pilsen and West Loop locations to fund literacy programs.
Being a nonprofit used bookstore doesn’t mean Open Books is boring. Brightly colored shelves, murals and comfy seating greet you when you shop for new reading material. Open Books even boasts awards for Best Hidden Bookstore and more. You get to enjoy the experience of seeking out that perfect used book while knowing your money goes to meaningful programs in the community.
Alapash New Home
Alapash New Home inspires you to bring home a bit of nature with its carefully curated selection of terrariums. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill terrariums — they’re like works of art. You can pick from a limited selection of cacti and other accessories for your terrarium. The store also offers other botanical-themed products and items for the home. You can pick up throws, pillows, ceramics, rugs and more to go with your new terrarium. The shop calls Ravenswood home with a location slightly off the path, making it a fun adventure to explore.
Penelope’s stocks apparel for everyone in the family, including the kids. The Wicker Park neighborhood boutique draws crowds for its approachable style suited for everyday wear, with an emphasis on fun, comfortable designs. You’ll find both classic and contemporary styling with lines from both the U.S. and Europe. The affordable price point is also a draw for this popular boutique.
Heritage General Store
If you show up to Heritage General Store expecting to buy clothing and household goods, plan to go home empty-handed. Heritage General Store is actually a bike café specializing in both bicycles and coffee. It may sound like an odd combination, but Heritage makes it seem like a natural pairing.
What exactly do you do at a bike café? You could buy a locally made bike or stock up on bike gear, most of which is made in the U.S. Perhaps you need your current bike serviced. The bike mechanics on staff handle that in the garage area. If your bike works fine and you have all the gear you need, stop by for a cup of delicious coffee or loose leaf tea.
The General Store’s Lakeview location gives you easy access to Lincoln Park and the Lakefront Trail, where you can enjoy a bit of nature on your new or newly serviced bike.
If you’re just looking for a quality beverage, head to Heritage Outpost in Uptown to enjoy coffee made from beans roasted right here in Chicago. It’s a natural fit for a neighborhood steeped in Chicago history, where old and new blend perfectly.
Turn your home into a mid-century modern dream after a trip to Neighborly, a home accessories and art store owned by two graphic designers with an eye for style, function and affordability. Nothing makes it on the shelf of Neighborly without a critical review from the design experts. The colorful yet simple and approachable wares in the shop serve a variety of functions with the core purpose of making your home interesting and comfortable.
Neighborly aims to source most of the goods in the store from U.S.-based suppliers, with a preference for Midwest makers. The owners lean toward small-batch and eco-friendly products produced by independent designers and artisans.
One of many locally owned boutiques in Chicago, Neighborly sits at the intersection of the Ravenswood and Lincoln Square neighborhoods, where industry and creative businesses coexist. Neighborly adds to that creative vibe with the emphasis on independent artists to live up to its name.
Since 1984, Art Effect has been the place to shop for clothing, accessories and jewelry. The shop even stocks home décor and bath products, so you can dress yourself and your home in one stop.
What started as a place to sell a friend’s clothing and jewelry has evolved into a mix of styles curated from a variety of designers. The shop changes with the times, offering on-trend styles with a timeless quality that lets them hang around in your closet for years.
Art Effect calls the Lincoln Park neighborhood home. The shop sits on Armitage Avenue, known for its high-end shopping and some of the best independent shops in Chicago. Art Effect outfits you for all of the diverse art and entertainment activities you plan for your visit to Lincoln Park.
Nestled in the Loop, Florodora and Florodora Shoes stand ready to offer you vintage-inspired fashion pieces without sacrificing comfort. The historic Monadnock Building houses the shop, adding to the vintage vibe of the store and playing in to the architectural appeal of the Loop neighborhood. Check out the store’s Friday trunk shows. You may even get to meet a designer of some of the clothing showcased in the shop.
After you find your new vintage-inspired wardrobe at Florodora, head over to our Central Business Loop location for a quick bite. We’re just a short walk from the must-visit clothing boutique.
If you’re in the market for new entertaining or home accessories, P.O.S.H. is a must on your shopping list. The owners of this little shop don’t choose inventory from a catalog. The offerings come from varied sources that create the eclectic range of options on the shelves. European flea markets, America china outlets, auction houses and estate sales are a few of the sources.
What does this mean for shoppers? The offerings at P.O.S.H. are truly unique and ever changing. Many of the items are available on a limited basis.
The Tree Studio building in the River North neighborhood serves as the home for P.O.S.H. The building served as an artists’ residence, hosting over 500 artists, and features fine detailing with a Queen Anne style. Tree Studio is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
P.O.S.H. fits in well with the River North neighborhood, known for fine art and design as well as culture. Despite the thrift-store-type sources for the merchandise, P.O.S.H. features elegantly designed product displays in a quaint store fitting of its cultured location.
Refuel With Delicious Pizza
Shopping is a serious sport, and like other athletes, you need a steady source of fuel to power through all those unique hometown shops in Chicago. A delicious deep dish pizza is just what you need to keep your energy levels high so you can tackle all the must-see independent stores in Chicago on your list. Just as unique as the shops on this list is Giordano’s, a Chicago institution since 1974. No matter where your quest for local Chicago shops takes you, Giordano’s has a location nearby.