Monthly Archives: February 2017

Kids Shopping

CHICAGO — During this holiday season, the treatment of young children in public places is something that should be the concern of all of us. Children don`t really like to shop, especially children ages one to ten, unless it is at a toy store or specifically for them.

Instead of dragging them to all corners of the earth for shopping, perhaps what we should do is give them our time. By time I mean involving ourselves in children`s lives, children`s concerns, children`s expectations and children`s joys-not having them conform to adult wishes as if they were an object.

We often see children shopping late of night who are terribly fatigued and not interested at all in finding a sweater for Aunt Kay. I cringe every time I see a child getting smacked for “not behaving right“ while shopping.

Children need to learn respect and manners, but to attempt to teach manners while they are involved in adult activities is not the appropriate place. The holidays would be a lot happier for all if we realized the most precious gift is the gift of our child and we should celebrate their lives.

Bargain-shopping Blackhawks

The bold moves by the Blackhawks’ Central Division rivals came early on the opening day of free agency.

A short time after the Stars acquired Jason Spezza in a blockbuster trade Tuesday, the Blues opened their pocketbook to sign the coveted Paul Stastny to a huge contract and the Avalanchescooped up veteran sniper Jarome Iginla. The Wild followed by bringing Thomas Vanek into the fold and the Jets even got into the act when they added Mathieu Perreault to bolster their center position.

All the while, the Hawks were relatively quiet, only re-signing veteran center Peter Regin to a one-year, $650,000 contract.

Just when it seemed the Hawks would be content entering the 2014-15 season with Andrew Shaw, who is better suited as a winger, or unproven prospect Teuvo Teravainen as their second-line center, general manager Stan Bowman landed a bigger fish with a late-afternoon signing of veteran Brad Richards to a one-year, $2 million contract.

Just like that, the Hawks had a legitimate No. 2 center.

“It’s a big moment for us to be able to add someone of (Richards’) caliber as a hockey player and as an individual,” Bowman said. “He brings so many things to the table for us. There are a lot of options for our coaching staff now. We’ve certainly been searching for someone that is an experienced center in the NHL. He’s played a lot of years and done a lot of incredible things.”

Richards, 34, was a key member of the Rangers team that reached the Stanley Cup Final with 20 goals and 31 assists in 82 regular-season games. New York used its final compliance buyout on the remainder of Richards’ nine-year, $60 million contract signed in ’11 to make him an unrestricted free agent, and the Hawks pounced though they were offering only a one-year, cut-rate deal.

“If I was going to go to Chicago, we had to work out something in this fashion,” Richards said. “I was very flexible. I’m coming in because I’m pretty confident that I can still play a lot of hockey in this league. I saw a great opportunity to play on a great team and fill a role. If it’s one year, that’s fine. Hopefully, we make it work and who knows what can happen down the road?”

Joining a Hawks team loaded with offensive talent and a chance to center a line with Patrick Kane was a big lure for Richards.

“When you look at the opportunity to play here it’s pretty exciting because you know that if you’re playing center on the top two lines you’re playing with a great player — probably two great players,” Richards said. “Patrick Kane is one of the most explosive players in the league. When you get a chance to maybe team up with one of those players on a line … it makes you feel pretty excited. I can’t wait to get to work and try to make it a great experience for everybody.”

The deal appears to be a bargain for the Hawks, and that’s the only way they were going to bring in a player who can assume a big role. Factoring in Teravainen making the roster after a summer spent in Finland developing, the Richards signing puts the Hawks about $2.2 million over the NHL’s $69 million upper limit to the salary cap. Bowman will be forced to make a move at some point to clear cap space, but he said that is not a concern.

“We have some ideas on what we’re going to do,” Bowman said. “That will play itself out … over the summer as we prepare for training camp. We’ll certainly make it work.”

Shop at work

There are men who love to shop. I just don’t know any.

The fellas I’m related to, the guys I work with and the ones I see when I’m out shopping would rather have a tooth yanked (without Novocain) than pick out a suit, choose a shirt, or, for that matter, shop for sweat socks. A good example of this mind set is Peter Bentler, a 27-year-old financial adviser at Smith Barney, who told me that shopping “is really torture.” “Going into stores, looking at multiple things? … I hate it.”

It’s this kind of negative attitude that Daniel Wiebracht thrives on. Wiebracht is a “professional clothier” who counts Bentler among his devoted clients.

Wiebracht’s job is to keep you out of stores. He is the store. Wiebracht comes to your office, assesses your needs, shows you the stuff, takes your measurements, orders the clothes — down to the socks and boxer shorts if that’s what you want — and then delivers it all, waits for you to try it on and will take it back for further alterations if you don’t like the fit. “It’s the best deal ever,” said Bentler.

I’d always assumed that this was the kind of service that Michael Jordan, Donald Trump and Tom Cruise employ to outfit themselves for their busy lives as zillionaires. Many menswear shops will offer personal service if you spend a great deal of money at their stores.

But I’ve recently learned that the same thing is available to regular people with less astronomical incomes, retailphobics who just want to avoid shopping in stores but either don’t trust their own judgment or want the personal attention you can’t get shopping online.

“Our ready-made suits start at $359 and you get the same service as someone who is spending $4,000 on a suit,” said Wiebracht, a personable, well-dressed 23-year-old salesman. He works for a company called Tom James, a privately owned firm founded in Nashville in 1966 that does not advertise and relies on word of mouth to acquire its clients. (The company also does women’s business suits, but the vast majority of its clients are male.)

With 23 sales employees, the Tom James Chicago office is the largest of the firm’s 182 worldwide offices, a strong indicator that Chicago men are busier, lazier, more store averse — or all three — than their counterparts in other big cities.

The company makes many of its own fabrics and manufactures suits for its label as well as for many department store labels, claiming the title of “the world’s largest manufacturer and retailer of custom clothing.”

I met Dan Wiebracht and his supervisor, Eric Kean, 29, in the lobby of the Loop office building at 70 W. Madison St. where they were about to deliver a charcoal suit to Bentler — his first custom-made garment. When we arrived at the front desk of Smith Barney on the 51st floor, Wiebracht seemed to know everyone, even though he has only worked for the company since January. “Hi Emma,” he greeted the receptionist. “How you doing?”

Tom James sales territory is divvied up by building, which is why so many of the Smith Barney guys are Wiebracht clients. “Ryan, looking great!” Wiebracht greeted one man in shirt sleeves. “That’s one of my shirts,” Wiebracht boasted. “And my ties.”

“The idea is to keep our client out of the stores,” explained Kean. This is why Tom James will even alter old suits bought somewhere else, just to prevent a client from the temptation of spending money in a store.

“If he goes to Brooks Brothers to tailor a suit, he might pick up a couple shirts — and we don’t want that,” said Kean. “The idea is to be a full-service clothier.”

In fact, that’s almost — but not entirely — true. You can’t buy exercise clothing or gym shoes from Tom James, and if you want underwear, it will cost you: boxers start at $19.75; T-shirts are $48 and boxer-briefs go for $42.

But custom-made suits start at $599 (and can cost as much as $13,999) with more than 500 fabrics to chose from. Custom shirts (250 fabrics) start at $79 (minimum of four) with ready-made starting at $59. Various sales can lower those prices.

“It’s really easy,” said Bentler. “They helped me catalog what I have and what I needed and basically fill holes in my wardrobe.”

On this visit, Bentler first tried on an old Brooks Brothers suit. Wiebracht charged $75 to alter it after Bentler lost 60 pounds (“I rediscovered exercise”) and dropped 10 inches off his waist. Then came the custom suit. “Great, great job,” said Bentler, buttoning up his new jacket.

That settled, Wiebracht pulled out a handful of handsome ties to go with the new suit. Bentler chose two (at $65 per) and declined the pitch for some custom shirts although he did seek some shirt advice. “What’s the deal with striping?” he asked.

Answer: Kean said striped suits are fine with both a striped shirt and a striped tie as long as the stripes in all three are different widths.

After a first visit that can last an hour (wardrobe evaluation is free and they’ll even come to your house if you want), most subsequent meetings take less than 15 minutes. “I’ve got clients who are, ‘All right, you’ve got two minutes!'” said Kean.

Before they part company, Wiebracht made a plan to contact Bentler again in a few months. The agenda: a navy blue suit.

Thrifty Shop

Who isn’t looking for a pick-me-up these days? But how to feed that urge without the splurge?

Want to treat yourself to a lot of shopping fun while spending just a little? Let me help.

I’ve been cruising around, looking at stores both large and small that provide plenty of entertaining browsing and a load of satisfying purchases — for under $20.

If you can’t find something to brighten dreary winter days at the stores shown here (for you or those lucky friends on your gift list), then you’re just not looking.

Hazel

1902 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-769-2227, hazelchicago.com

This really is one-stop shopping for brightening our frigid sun-free zone. And if you’re looking for a present, owner David Vail makes it easy. In the three-room shop you’ll find small sections devoted to baby, men, plus lots of unique jewelry (vintage and costume), housewares, cards and — even — flowers. Seriously, Hazel has it all. If they served coffee and snacks you’d never have to leave.

Ravenswood locals have been shopping Hazel since it opened 6 1/2 years ago, but I just discovered it. Now, you can’t keep me away.

While I was there a customer walked in the front door and almost shrieked with joy, “This IS the store!”

Within my self-inflicted $20 budget, I found a trunkload of irresistibles, including white ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like modern art mini-boulders ($10). Also, magnet bud vases made from test tubes ($7), and live and silk flowers to put in them; cuff links shaped like safety pins ($14); a pretty pink starburst rhinestone ring ($9.50) and on and on and … on.

Renegade Handmade

1924 W. Division St.; 773-227-2707, renegadehandmade.com

If you love D.I.Y., handmade, etsy.com, this is the place to shop for instant gratification (though the store recently opened an online component as well). I didn’t find as many under $20 items as I’d expected, but there still were plenty including “kitsch plates” switch plates and outlet covers made from vintage wallpaper ($12); cross-stitched pins of hearts and little girl heads ($18); and a brightly colored hardbound mini memo pad with pen ($17.50). There’s a large selection of posters, art, T-shirts and onesies for infants. Many of the crafters are Chicagoans.

Ten Thousand Villages

121 N. Marion St., Oak Park; 708-848-4572, tenthousandvillages.com

This fair-trade retailer, with several shops in the Chicago area, stocks handmade jewelry, wearables, decorative items, toys and more by artisans from around the globe at prices that make you think they’ve left a digit off the tag.

I confess I broke my $20 limit when I saw three handsome plastic bangles from India in colors I coveted in a pretty drawstring bag ($24). But there was loads of jewelry — and everything else — well within my budget, including other bright bangles from Africa ($6 each); miniature magnetic picture frames made from recycled chip bags (4 for $16); prettily wrapped clove and honey soaps from India (3 for $10); hand-carved onyx pears and apples ($14) and candle holders (starting at $6) from Pakistan.

The volunteers who staff the shop are informative and welcoming and they wrap your gifts with heart.

Claire’s

9500 S. Western Ave.; Evergreen Park; 708-857-7319, claires.com

Forget what you think you know about this pink-and-purple emporium that pre-teens love. Once you get past the Jonas Brothers tote bags ($24 reduced to $12) and garish leg warmers ($10), there’s lots more for women of all ages.

Walls here are lined with costume jewelry that is the very definition of timeless, such as a 5-foot-long pearl and gold chain necklace ($9.50) or silvery hoop earrings (buy 2, get one free, $6). There are Claire’s all over Chicagoland, and at the one in Oak Park I yearned for a leopard and black vinyl wallet for $12 and found enough hair accessories to take me and every woman I know or will ever meet into the next millennium.