Gather 'round, boys and girls, and let me tell you about a time before Amazon and iTunes, when people hauled themselves off their couch and entered a place of business to buy books and CDs (please don't ask what a CD is), or to play video games. The Internet has done plenty of damage to brick and mortars, and there are plenty of stores we miss. Thankfully, there are some fantastic business that have taken their place. Except for Marshall Field's—Macy's just doesn't cut it.
RECOMMENDED: Chicago businesses we miss
Scenes and Act 1 Bookstore
What it was: More than just a place you went to find playscripts that Barnes & Noble didn't carry, the theater bookshop was a community center for the industry and anyone trying to break into it. It was a place to find out about auditions and other opportunities, talk shop and make connections. And Scenes, a coffee shop and bookseller just south of Belmont on Clark, and Act 1, a below-ground bookshop on Lincoln Avenue in what's now the Apollo Theater Studio, were Chicago's prime examples.
What's taken its place: The Internet. (Kidding. Sort of.) While the rise of Amazon was as much of a blow to niche bookstores like Scenes and Act 1 as to other independent sellers (maybe even a harder one) and other digital tools grew to obviate services like audition boards and résumé typesetting, the Greenhouse Theater Center's staff is trying to revive the community aspects of the theater bookstore with Trellis, a modest shop of mostly used, donated plays and theater books in the theater's upstairs lobby. Trellis also hosts weekly free play readings and workshops of plays in development.
Dennis' Place For Games
What it was: The last vestiges of '80s arcade culture, these two video game dives in Lakeview (957 W Belmont Ave) and Rogers Park (6701 N Clark St) kept pumping out tokens—80 for ten bucks—until December 2007. This wasn't your kiddie playland, rather a place you'd expect to find Cobra Kai bullies buying bumps of blow under the air hockey table.
What's taken its place: There is no shortage of Ms. Pac Man and pinball thanks to the rise of the beercade—both Emporium Arcade Bar and Headquarters have two locations, and Logan Arcade has spun off of the back room of Logan Hardware.
What it was: A beautiful, Chicago-born department store. A special place your grandmother took you to shop for your birthday gift, and where you made a yearly Christmastime trip to see the store's decked-out windows.
What’s taken its place: Macy’s, a soulless, nationwide chain. With less-than-special holiday windows.
What it was: Once upon a time, music and movies were wonderful things put out by massive corporations, and you had to go to "record stores" to buy them. Tower Records was a gleaming ode to this forgotten world—hell, the chain was even the subject of a movie—and its Lincoln Park shop was the flagship of the Midwest. Rack after rack of CDs and movies (some Betamax, some VHS and, hey, some DVDs!) filled the massive space. Want a CD? That'll be $17.99. But you could actually hold the music in your hand and maybe see a band playing there, too.
What's taken its place: Mariano's, but with food instead of CDs.
What it was: For 25 years, Chicagoans in need of whoopee cushions, Chinese finger traps or some fake dog poop turned to a store called Uncle Fun. The Lakeview novelty shop was an emporium of knick-knacks, gag gifts and retro collectibles that attracted famous patrons like Michael Jackson, Pee-Wee Herman and John Malkovich. Owner Ted Frankel closed up shop earlier this year to spend more time with his husband in Baltimore and focus his attention on his store in the American Visionary Art Museum there.
What's taken its place: The zany spirit of Uncle Fun lives on in Lincoln Square at Enjoy, An Urban General Store. The gift shop stocks an array of goofy items, including an entire section of bacon-themed products and a fake mustache kit.
What it was: From 1978 until 1996, this record shop was the hub of new wave in Chicago—if not the Midwest and America. In 1980, the Lincoln Avenue outpost pressed its first official vinyl release as a label, Strike Under's Immediate Action 12-inch. After that punk platter, Wax Trax! would soon shift its focus to its calling card, industrial, doing for Ministry and Front 242 what Chess did for Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. Today, the white brick building at 2449 N Lincoln Ave holds a cosmetic dental office.
What's taken its place: Industrial has been out of favor since the blossoming of the Internet, but Permanent Records keeps the store/label dynamic alive. The West Town shop, one of our 12 favorite record stores in Chicago, presses limited runs of noise, dark-wave and garage by local acts like Basic Cable and Bitchin' Bajas.