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Florodora is one of the best Loop shops.
Photograph: Nicole Radja Florodora is one of the best Loop shops.

Loop shops that go beyond discount chain stores

State Street may be the home of discount chain store, but the Loop has more exciting options for shoppers

By Laura Baginski and Morgan Olsen
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State Street in the Loop has every discount chain store you can imagine: Forever 21, H&M, Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx, DSW Shoe Warehouse, Target. Look a little closer, though, and you'll find some Loop shops that offer a boutique experience in the city's business district. Find a shoe store in one of Chicago's most beautiful buildings, a gift shop in a Chicago museum and so much more.

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The best Loop shops

Madison Hall

Shopping Gifts and stationery Loop

Hotel stores tend to be small, harshly lit and filled to the brim with basic, overpriced items like toothpaste, aspirin and sad souvenirs. But then again, no hotel is quite like the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Here, Madison Hall, with entrances from the hotel and Madison Street, offers an upscale shopping experience without feeling haughty. The finest products come from all over Chicago and the world, from locally designed vintage-style tees to luxurious European jackets and accessories for men and women.

Central Camera

Shopping Electronics Loop

Whether you plan to go pro or you just want to look artsy while snapping pics of your shoes, this downtown emporium has everything you need, including hard-to-find film and darkroom equipment. The best part: Students get a 5 percent discount off almost all classroom supplies (cameras not included) with a valid ID.

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Florodora

Shopping Womenswear Loop

Even though this Loop boutique shares its name with the blockbuster 1902 Broadway musical famous for its cast of chorus girls, it’s not where owner Michael Blossom found his inspiration. That honor goes to his grandmother, Florence, who worked in an office in the historic Monadnock Building, which now houses the boutique. Downtown cubicle drones can extend their lunch breaks to check out selections from Twinkle by Wenlan Michelle Tan. Translucent Chocolates ($9–13), Katharine Ann Caramels ($11) and Snow & Graham stationery provide locally-made gifts. Grandma Florence would be so proud.

Best Loop Shopping: Merz Apothecary, 17 E Monroe St
Photograph: Nicole Radja

Merz Downtown

Shopping Loop

An extension of the decades-old family-run apothecary in Lincoln Square, this downtown outpost is filled to capacity with goods from all over the world—fine facial products, lotions, soaps, candles, homeopathic remedies, perfumes, teas, and pretty much any other "feel good" product you can think of, as well as necessities for the home. You can even find cleaning products and laundry detergent.

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Graham Crackers Comics

Shopping Bookstores Loop

The downtown outpost of this Chicago chain is the only comic shop in the Loop, so don't be surprised if you see guys in suits updating their pull lists during a lunch break. You'll find the usual selection of new issues from Marvel, DC and the indies on one side of the store while the other half houses back issues and trade paperbacks. Graham Cracker stays open until 8pm during the week, so even if you're stuck at the office late, you'll still have time to go pick up your books before catching the train.

Pastoral

Shopping Specialist food and drink Loop

Small-batch artisan cheeses are cut to order at this friendly, well-stocked wine-and-cheese shop. Menu items, like the London Calling sandwich of smoked Scottish salmon, cucumber and quark spread, are perfect for a quick lunch in one of the handful of seats on the outdoor patio, and the to-go picnic baskets (choose from cheese-, meat- and Bavarian-focused packages, among many other styles) are perfect for a Millennium Park concert.

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Chicago Architecture Foundation Store
Photograph: Anne Evans

Chicago Architecture Foundation Store

Shopping Gifts and stationery Loop

This shop is a must for architecture buffs, as well as anyone who just loves clever design. From kitchenware to kids' toys to Chicago architecture books to countless trinkets, if it looks good and functions well, this store is bound to have it. Look for an entire section devoted to one of Chicago's favorite architects, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Optimo Hats

Shopping Boutiques Loop

Graham Thompson’s shop, perfectly set in the historic Monadnock Building, sells high-end custom hats. The successful business speaks to the integrity of the hats. Instead of hiring hat makers, Thompson handpicked a staff that values precision and detail above all else; among the ten-person team, staff backgrounds range from engineering and wine production to suit making at Oxford Clothes.

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Macy's

Shopping Department stores Loop

The iconic clock at State and Washington, the Frango mints—yes, we know they’re not made here anymore—and the magnificent Tiffany dome you can see up close from the fifth floor are just a few of the attractions that make this department store, one of the largest in the world, a must-see. The shopping here is divine, offering everything from modestly priced pots and pans to the latest in high-end fashion. Holiday-themed window displays go up every November, and you can take self-guided audio tours of the store year-round.

The Modern Wing Shop

Shopping Arts, crafts & hobbies Grant Park

The perfect place to find a gift for the urban sophisticate on your list, the Modern Wing Store, and its sister shop in the Art Institute's main lobby, offers exhibit memorabilia, books on Chicago architecture and pop-culture ephemera, plus striking sculptures, jewelry and plenty of neckties.

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