There’s a little bit of mystery surrounding Judy Maxwell, a new Gold Coast store. “People always come in and they’re like, ‘What is this place?’ ” manager Elizabeth Black says.
It’s a valid question. It doesn’t look like a typical store. The shop’s handmade paper letter sign posted in the front window and a huge elephant statue that greets shoppers at the door don’t give you many immediate clues. Merch (there’s a wide variety, from artistic rocks made out of books to cheeky Jewish-themed board games) is displayed in such a clever way, it looks like an exhibition. “We call it a present gallery,” Black says. “Everything [in the store] falls under the umbrella of items that are fun, creative and useful.”
Who would open such a quirky store? That’s a bit of a mystery, too. The store’s owner prefers to stay anonymous, but she is well known and has even been nominated for a couple of Academy Awards. Here’s another hint: One of her favorite movies is What’s Up, Doc?, the 1972 movie where Barbra Streisand plays a kooky character named Judy Maxwell. (DVDs of the movie are sold in the shop.)
“I wanted to open the store because in the journey of having a family and a home, I came to find that making a place of comfort was, for me, about finding wonderful things that add to that,” the owner says via e-mail. “Making a shop that has [interesting] content and is a place that’s fun to experience seemed like a challenge I could enjoy.”
An ongoing theme here is creating unexpected uses for traditional items. At Judy Maxwell, a small plastic pitcher isn’t marketed to quench your thirst. Instead, it’s packaged as a children’s bath-time kit ($12) and comes with a small bottle of shampoo. (“It looks so much nicer than those [random] plastic cups parents normally use to wash their kids’ hair,” Black says). An extra, extra large metal pot ($245) wouldn’t fit on many Chicago stoves, so the store suggests it can be used as a kitchen table in a studio apartment. And what about the store’s unofficial mascot, the elephant ($3,200)? The owner thought it would be fun to have an elephant in the store, so she found this one (although she won’t say where it’s from—another mystery!). “We’d love for it to go in a nursery,” Black says.
One of Black’s favorite things about the shop is the large front window. “We love watching people walk by and do double takes,” she says.
Visit Judy Maxwell at 1151 N State St (312-787-9999).