Discover hidden antique treasures and luxury brands in these Illinois boutiques and malls
Whether your group prefers bustling cityscapes or quaint town squares, some retail therapy is always a welcome itinerary addition. Illinois boasts over 100 million square feet of retail space, ranging from the chic fashion houses on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue to the budget-friendly outlet stores found throughout the state. If your group prefers some local color to accompany the consumerism, numerous charming downtowns feature historic main streets and welcoming locals to give an authentic Land of Lincoln experience. So whether your group prefers boutiques, antiques or malls, Illinois is sure to accommodate.
Streets of Chicago
The Midwest’s fashion capital and former home of iconic department stores like Marshall Fields and Carson Pirie Scott, Chicago encompasses countless shopping opportunities. Groups should begin on the Magnificent Mile, a 13-block retail strip that includes everything from vertical malls to standalone luxury boutiques. Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Armani outposts are housed in Art Deco facades from the 1920s, while eight-story Water Tower Place includes The LEGO Store, Coach and the official Cubs Clubhouse Shop. Be sure to walk the Mag Mile’s entire length to admire architectural landmarks such as the Tribune Tower and watch street performers.
Farther south is State Street, the major commercial artery for Chicago’s Loop and home to one of the largest department stores in the world: Macy’s on State Street. Originally the flagship location for Marshall Field and Company, the building retains many of its opulent Gilded Age touches and is worth a visit just to gawk. Highlights include the enormous green “Sentinels of State Street” clocks, the three-tiered fountain in the atrium and a Tiffany ceiling that contains 1.6 million pieces of glass. Of course, you can also browse the store’s extensive selection of Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Michael Kors. Other State Street must-sees include the cosmopolitan Block 37 retail mall, Marvel paraphernalia at the Disney Store and Air Jordans at Footaction.
Far from Chicago’s nonstop bustle are the welcoming historic districts found in Illinois’ smaller towns. These compact collections of family-owned businesses, boutiques and specialty stores are light years removed from the massive malls of Chicago and its suburbs, and they require no additional drop-offs for a day’s worth of shopping and dining. The state’s most iconic main street remains Galena, a preserved riverboat town that features 1840s storefronts and churches nestled upon the hillside. Blocks of red-brick buildings sell local wines, gourmet popcorn and fruit preserves, and groups can walk through the mansion and church of adopted hometown hero Ulysses S. Grant. Farther south along the Mississippi River lies Nauvoo, Joseph Smith’s original western Mormon settlement. Though they were eventually driven out to Utah in the 1840s, the Mormons left homes that have been converted to charming stores and B&Bs for groups to enjoy. Stops along Mulholland Street include Country Cottage Antiques, Nauvoo Mercantile and the handcrafted designs of Art-Needlework Shop. Next are the Classical Revival streets of Galesburg, a charming city and important railroad hub during Illinois’ 19th century development. A walk through the thriving Seminary Street Historic Commercial District features the expansive Galesburg Antiques Mall, handmade jewelry in Rivet Boutique and rare collectibles at Stray Cat Art.
Though considered Chicago suburbs, several towns on the outer rings of the Windy City metro area offer their own distinct charms. With its grand Victorian homes along the Fox River and over 100 specialty shops, Geneva has solidified itself as Kane County’s premier shopping destination. One stop is all your group will need to admire the historic mansions along 3rd Street, enjoy a gourmet brew at Graham’s 318 Coffeehouse and splurge on a dress at Mish Boutique or Jori & June. The far northwest town of Woodstock is most famous as the filming location for the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, but its iconic town square is also host to fresh styles at Sonshine Girl, rare books at Read Between the Lynes and indulgent whiskey and chocolate pairings at Ethereal Confections. While here, be sure to visit the Woodstock Opera House, where Orson Welles, Paul Newman and Geraldine Page all graced the stage.
Megamalls and Fashion Outlets
Group members who prefer discounts on their favorite brands or attractions that house shopping and dining under one roof should consider a visit to Illinois’ numerous malls. The largest of these is Woodfield Mall, a sprawling Schaumburg complex that includes 300 stores and over two million square feet of retail space. Join the 27 million annual visitors and browse the nation’s largest Sears store in addition to Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor and JCPenney. Just south of the mall is the Streets of Woodfield, an entire entertainment district that offers streetside shopping and numerous dining options without the hustle of urban parking or traffic. Attractions you won’t find at an ordinary mall include the Laugh Out Loud Improv Theater, a LEGOLAND Discovery Center and Color Me Mine, a paint-your-own-ceramics chain that can host workshops for large parties. End your evening with authentic Thai and Chinese food at Big Bowl Schaumburg, the big game at the GameWorks sports bar or the latest blockbuster at the multistory AMC Streets of Woodfield.
If designer brands and deep discounts are your group’s priority, beeline to the Fashion Outlets of Chicago. Located 15 miles from downtown Chicago and minutes away from O’Hare International Airport, this destination mall features some of the world’s most famous designers at discounted prices. Gucci, Prada, Armani are all represented—and that’s just the Italians. Other notable brands for your browsing pleasure include Chico’s, DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger, and budget-conscious travelers should prowl the racks of Barney’s Warehouse and Neiman Marcus Last Call. Group members who can’t keep pace with the shopaholics can seek alternatives at the nearby Parkway Bank Park Entertainment District, which features Zanies Comedy Club and iFLY (indoor skydiving). The complex includes restaurants such as Hofbrauhaus (an authentic Bavarian beer hall) and Sugar Factory (a candy-themed cocktail bar).
Walk the impeccably landscaped promenades of Oakbrook Center for an outdoor shopping experience that features anchor tenants like Macy’s as well as outlets for popular brands like Lululemon, Vineyard Vines and J. Crew. Over 160 stores spread across two tiers of walkways make for a relaxing browsing experience distinct from indoor malls, and
the attached District food court and AMC 12-screen theater ensure a complete evening without leaving the property. Another option for western suburb shoppers is Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora, an outdoor complex showcasing over 140 retailers. Lacoste polos, Sperry shoes and Versace dresses are all for sale in an open-air environment interspersed with numerous dining options. For a traditional megamall experience, visit Gurnee Mills, an enormous Z-shaped shopping complex 10 miles south of the Wisconsin border. Conveniently located near Six Flags Great America theme park and the new Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park resort, the mall features expansive Sears and Marshalls stores for bargain-hunters in addition to H&M, Forever 21 and Bass Pro Shop outlets.
Though the Chicago area features the most retail, the rest of the state features an equally diverse selection of malls both open air and indoor. Peoria visitors should spend time at Junction City Shopping Center, whose facades resemble movie Westerns and expansive patios accommodate diners at nine restaurants. A smaller and charming alternative to other shopping centers, Junction City emphasizes local boutiques, and groups will enjoy the personal service from Belle Mie, Fashionably Late and Pink Sugar among others. Conveniently located less than 45 minutes from Champaign, Effingham and Decatur, the Outlets of Tuscola offers a big city selection without the urban hassle. Brands represented include Coach, Under Armour and Chico’s, and nearby are the charms of Illinois Amish Country.
Antiques and Secondhand Stores
For groups with a taste for hidden treasures, flea markets and antiques, Illinois features hundreds of stores filled with objects with stories to tell. While nearly every main street or downtown features secondhand stores worth your while, some Illinois cities have entire districts dedicated to antiquers and those with a taste for the retro.
The largest retail trade center in Southern Illinois, Marion is worth a visit even if your group doesn’t prize antiques. A walk around the Old Town Square can include the Williamson County Historical Society and Clock Tower, but visitors will be impressed by the half-dozen antique outlets clustered in the historic shopping district. The Warehouse Antique Mall, Pickers Paradise and Court Street Antiques all feature rare finds and friendly service, while the Marion Antique Mall features 10,000 square feet of collectibles carefully arranged by new ownership.
In downtown Alton, located blocks from the Mississippi River, a cluster of antique and specialty shops lines a section of East Broadway known as Antique Row. At places like Steve’s Antiques and J&P’s Edelweiss, shoppers can have a field day rummaging through the shelves to find everything from potato chip tins, cigar boxes and record albums to license plates, croquet balls and vintage furs. Find fine pewter ware, furniture and other pieces of early Americana (1780-1860) at the sedate Prairie Peddler Antiques.
The nearby Pink Elephant Antique Mall in Livingston is a Route 66 favorite that crams its space with ceramics, holiday gifts and light fixtures. The adjoining Twistee Treat Diner serves burgers and shakes in a 1950s malt shop atmosphere.
Described as an “antique theme park,” Volo Antique Malls in McHenry County is a 35-acre complex that showcases 400 classic cars and rare items from over 300 dealers. Group members will find everything from Star Wars figurines to Beatlemania memorabilia to Bakelite jewelry, and the “mantiques” section sells taps, pennants and neon beer signs perfect for a man cave. Also worth a visit in the Chicago metro area is the Kane County Flea Market in St. Charles. Frequently cited as the “Best in the Midwest,” this market hosts hundreds of stalls from May to December and features goods ranging from rare books to handcrafted jewelry.