The retail scene on Damen Avenue is in constant flux, as evidenced by the number of openings and closings and moves and pop-ups that’ve occurred on the avenue over the past few years. And though the boutiques themselves are diverse, the openings and closings fall into well-worn archetypes: stores shuttering their windows tend to be small, independent boutiques (Psychobaby, CANS, Riley), while the new stores are larger brands with pre-established followings (Nike, Asics, TOMS).
The latest boutique to close up shop is Helen Yi (1725 N. Damen, helenyi.com), a tiny, high-end store that’s functioned as a powerful fashion force in the neighborhood for the past 12 years. The boutique stocks ultra-cool, upscale brands with a minimalist aesthetic such as Derek Lam, Rag and Bone, Crippen, and Raquel Allegra, along with plenty of classics like Manolo Blahnik. At 1,100 square feet, it’s one of the smaller retail spots on Damen, but it’s been celebrated by clients and publications alike; it made Harper’s Bazaar’s list of top 100 stores for four years running, and recently scored a shout-out in Travel + Leisure.
But the times, they are a-changing, and 12 years is a long time in boutique-land. One year ago, the store’s immediate neighbor, Stitch Boutique, moved two blocks down Damen (from the 1700s, where Helen Yi is located, to the 1900s), to avoid the exorbitant rent caused by proximity to the six corners. On a positive note, the store’s Facebook page announced that the owner, Yi herself, had been “seriously planning another business venture” for a while, so Chicagoans will hopefully have another chance to benefit from her impeccable eye.
No word on an official closing date yet, but until that day comes, the store is having a Going Out of Business Sale: clothes, shoes, and accessories are currently flying off the shelves for up to 75 percent off. They may be closing, but they’re keeping extremely busy, according to one employee. It’s always sad when an independent boutique goes out of business, but—silver lining?—it tends to be a good time to stock up on Manolos.