This weekend my dear friend Eee and I made our annual pilgrimage to Chicago in order to spend the day shopping on Armitage Street. This trip, which lasted about 27 hours including driving, began about seven years ago when I was on a trip to London with some of my students. While we were shopping in Covent Garden, I wandered into a funky little shop called Lush. It didn’t look like much upstairs, just cash registers and some soaps, but when I discovered they had a whole other floor downstairs full of amazing things like bath bombs, face masks and massage bars, I realized I was in homemade bath heaven. My feet hurt so badly from walking all over the city at a pace only teenagers can keep, that I was desperate and this little number did the trick.
I filled a bag full of great bath treats, but after only a few months home, I realized it wasn’t enough. Luckily, I was heading back to London, and therefore Lush, in only a few months on another school trip. This time I could not only spend most of my life savings in Lush, I could also introduce my best friend to them since she was helping chaperon. We were both giddy and bought, bought, bought.
We knew we wouldn’t be going back to Lush anytime soon, so we started looking closer to home. When we found an actual shop in Chicago (and not just tucked into a Macy’s), we Mapquested it and planned a trip.
Chicago is a bit far for a day trip, but since my aunt lives about 45 minutes outside the city, we crashed at her place, got up early, drove right onto Armitage, parked in the first spot we found and spent the rest of the day walking. That first trip we didn’t go into a lot of the shops. In fact, we somehow managed to miss the Ethel M’s chocolate shop less than two blocks away from Lush. We had one track minds. We did find an adorable little cafe, The Ambrosia Cafe, that had fantastic soups, salads and the most amazing cinnamon sugar cookies I’ve ever had. I bought two they were so good.
Once again our supplies ran low, so we planned a trip to the windy city. We spent the night at my aunt’s, watched some really bad movies (including Skeleton Key) and then headed North. This time we branched out a bit. Sure, we filled our bags at Lush, but we also found Art Effect, a cool mix of trendy clothes, kitchen stuff, books and misc. cute items. We found a neat paper store. We found Ethel M’s and each got a few chocolates. This time we decided we needed to branch out a bit and find a new place to eat. Nothing in the immediate area looked great, so we took a turn down a side street.
Somehow, and I can only believe it was that damned curvy road, we got mixed up and walked many, many, many miles parallel to Armitage. We found no where to eat. We were hot. We were tired. Our feet hurt. By the time we stopped to ask for directions back toward our car, our meter was running dangerously close to empty, we were really hungry, and we were still a good 15 minute walk from anywhere we recognized. Exhausted and feeling a bit dumb at our total lack of direction, we fed the meter and then headed back to Ambrosia to feed ourselves.
Our last trip was part of a larger road trip we took in search of Americana. The first stop on our whirlwind tour had to be Chicago. We needed to restock and making Lush our first stop could only be a sign of the great things to come. It definitely started the day off right, as did the Leaning Tower of Niles. If we could have just avoided The Adventure Inn, we would have been fine.
Last year we had to skip our trip since I had a small-ish baby and was still reluctant to let anyone watch him.
This year though, with the summer drawing way too close for comfort, we decided to head back up. Once again we spent the night, left my son with his aunt, and headed into our shopping paradise. We arrived a bit earlier than expected and several of our shops weren’t open. Eee suggested getting manicures and pedicures if we had extra time, and as if it was divine providence, Art Effect was closed and we passed right by a nail salon. Seconds after we entered, we were seated in lovely massage chairs with our feet bathed in warm water. We walked out refreshed and sparkly, just in time for our store to open.
After a quick trip back to feed the meter, we headed on. We went to Lush where we met a very talkative clerk who helped us find a new skin care product and some perfume, but also let us know that due to the new smoking laws, our favorite cafe had changed hours and was basically just a hookah bar. We were bummed to say the least. We soldiered on. We found the cute paper shop. We even found a place for lunch, although after walking for several blocks in multiple directions and being teased by the promise of cafes that did not appear to serve lunch, our lunch came from a bagel shop that we have right in our own city. A bit disappointing to say the least.
What was not disappointing though, was the Vosges we found on Armitage. We’d noticed the store before, but at first glance it doesn’t really look like a chocolate shop. It is very austere and looks pricey. And while the later part is kind of true, the people inside are friendly. There are chocolate samples sitting on shelves. I got to try some of their toffee (really good) and one of their candy bars. As we were perusing the candy bars (I promised my husband a bacon bar), one of the sales girls told us we could sample any of the bars. We followed her back and started tasting. The d’Olivia chocolate bar is AMAZING! I know it sounds funky, but the taste is perfect. We left with bags full of chocolate and ice packs to keep our chocolate cold. It may be pricey, but the service and little extras make it worth it.
Just down the block we found Ethel M’s and each got a box of 12 chocolates. Since the day was warm and we’d walked a lot, we also decided to indulge in their strawberry promotion. I got a strawberry pom fruit chiller and Eee got a chocolate covered strawberry smoothie, which was white chocolate mixed with strawberries and lots of whipped cream on top. Both were awesome.
As an end to the day we decided to find the Threadlessstore. We were very excited they’d opened a store and that it was only five minutes from Armitage. While the drive there was very easy, parking was next to impossible. There were no parking spaces for about six blocks in either direction of the store. We saw a few on the other side of the street and tried to go around the block and get to them. The set up of the streets wouldn’t allow it. We found ourselves right back where we started. This time we turned away from the store, hoping for parking. No luck. We did find a garage which promised $4 parking for the first three hours on weekdays. We pulled in, parked and headed to the store. We found a plethora of interesting places to eat on this street and kicked ourselves a little for eating bagel sandwiches.
The store itself was cool, but considering they only had about 15 designs on display, it wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for. We knew it would be small, we just didn’t realize how small. We actually had trouble looking at all the designs because there was a family of like 8 who just kept blocking the displays. There wasn’t much space for them to not be in the way, but they didn’t even utilize the little bit they had. We each settled on some tee’s and then headed back to the car only to find it charged us $9. Since there was no human to complain to, we had no choice but to pay. I realize things in Chicago are expensive, but $9 for less than 30 minutes of parking is outrageous.
We headed back to my aunt’s house to pick up my son only to get caught in some horrendous rush hour traffic (it was only 3:30, but it was a Friday) and then a frog strangler of a storm that had me creeping down the highway at 30 mph.
By the time we reached home we’d been in the car for nearly six hours that day. All I wanted to do was stretch out on the couch and eat some of my chocolates. And that’s just what I did.