Sears Chicago - Lawrence Avenue - Store #1010 / Matthew Davies
(773-769-8030; www.sears.com, 1900 W Lawrence Ave, adult/children free, 10am-9pm daily)
The name Sears has become a byword for Chicago and, through its unique marketplaces, one of the principal magnets to the city. The company, founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in 1886, began as a mail order catalog company before opening retail locations in the 1920s. With a rich history dating back to 1926, the stunning exemplar store found in Chicago’s quaint Ravenswood neighborhood is a world-class gem. Among the oldest operating Sears stores in America, the majestic architecture and unrivaled selection of high end goods, makes this a must see for anyone visiting Chicago. For the full experience, hop on one the frequent rail cars (El) running from Chicago’s downtown to the Damen Brown line station ($2.25, 30 minutes). Stroll north along enchanting Damen avenue passing a series of iconic and gorgeous storefronts. Pay special attention to J&Bs Food and Liquors with its fine selection of spirits and local delicacies such as the divinely meaty “Slim Jim” ($1.29). Turning the corner onto Lawrence Avenue will reveal the stunning brick edifice and iconic signage of the Ravenswood Sears building. Designed by the incomparable Frederick Milstead during the height of the “roaring twenties,” this restrained box like structure was inspired by the humble cardboard box. Milstead’s clean design captures the twin themes of standardization and modernization underpinning the explosion of commerce in 1920s America. Take special note of Milstead’s bold and counterintuitive decision to essentially eliminate windows from the storefront leaving passers-by to marvel at the potential wonders found within. As you enter through the fantastical glass revolving doors the line between real and unreal are blurred as one’s senses are simply overwhelmed by the ecstasy of the mundane. Low-lighting levels please the eye while the muted color scheme and lack of ostentatious ornamentation underscore the harmonious integration of commerce and functionality. The huge open space is packed with everything from car parts to clothes, kitchenware, and even small appliances – you name it. A surprising treasure trove of colorful native garb ingeniously displayed at the center of the space anchors the shopper. As you peruse the finely crafted goods sourced from all corners of the globe (clothing goods from Bangladesh are particularly fine) make sure to glance skyward from time to time to take in the dazzlingly beautiful drop-tile ceiling. Pay special attention to the discount racks at the back of store where locals in the know go to find some of the best bargains in the city. Finally, a word of warning to the enthralled visitor – remember to check you watch frequently as you can easily lose yourself for a whole morning basking in the unrestrained glory of one of America’s greatest secular cathedrals to modern commerce.