We originally published "With Opposition" in the summer of 2014, as our first-ever Someone Else story. Stefan Draht, our co-founder and designer, coded the entire thing by hand. In the following months we moved to a CMS and debuted a new site—and during the transition, "With Opposition" got lost in the shuffle and went offline.
To kick off the newest iteration of the Someone Else site, which you're currently viewing, we decided to return to our roots and republish the original piece on Independence.
Some details of the story have changed since 2014, like Independence's exact inventory and the neighborhood roster. But two important aspects have remained unchanged:
The main players (Timothy Grindle [pictured above], who manages Independence, and George Vlagos, who owns both the shop and Oak Street Bootmakers)
The upstart-versus-establishment tension that makes Independence the most interesting shop on Chicago's preeminent retail block
The Independence shop sits on Oak Street, between Rush and Michigan. This block constitutes no less than “an international retailing mecca,” at least according to Michigan Avenue Magazine. This is where savvy, shopping-minded Chicagoans come for a refuge from all the fanny packs and wide-eyed Iowan wonder of the Magnificent Mile—and those savvy Chicagoans come here with certain expectations.
They expect that at the corner of Rush Street they’ll see Hermes scarves displayed behind storefront glass, the fabrics having been hand-screened, one color at a time, and shipped across the Atlantic to hang here as art. They expect that directly across the street, the Prada shop will look more like an Italian embassy than a four-story retail location. They expect that closer towards Michigan Avenue, Moncler mannequins will face the street in thin jackets and cropped white shorts, their featureless foam skulls obscured by black sun visors. (The visors themselves are attached to elongated, alien-head helmets—the type seen on Tour de France cyclists.) And we haven’t even gotten to Tom Ford, Christian Louboutin, Tod’s, Jil Sander, Lanvin, or Dolce & Gabbana.
Above Jack Spade's glaring orange signage, way up there on the second floor where no one would ever think to look, an unassuming awning declares “Independence.” If you crane your neck, you’ll see a modest selection of clothing from Engineered Garments, Imogene + Willie, Oak Street Bootmakers, Gitman Vintage, and Arpenture, all hanging neatly in the window.
Timothy Grindle has arranged these pieces in a straightforward way, creating an outfit that you could actually wear in public. (There’s a noticeable lack of futuristic protective headgear.) Unfortunately, the thoughtful presentation is largely lost on the Oak Street shoppers passing below, most of whom won’t randomly look up when passing by 47 East Oak. What's more, thanks to the vigilance of the Oak Street Council, Independence no longer has its sandwich board on the street to direct attention.
Despite these limitations—and maybe even because of them—Independence is thriving.
"There is no reason we should still be in business, other than the fact that we're doing something that people miss and that doesn't exist too much out of really small neighborhoods."
During two visits to the shop, we interviewed its mainstay personnel: Timothy Grindle, who manages Independence, and George Vlagos, who owns both Independence and Oak Street Bootmakers. In addition to the many other brands it carries, Independence serves as the de facto Oak Street Bootmakers flagship.
George Vlagos discusses what integrity means for Oak Street Bootmakers.
Being a Dick
Unfortunately, not all high-end Chicago shops share Independence's non-dickish approach to retail. Our editor learned this firsthand while treating his mother to a personal-shopper experience at Saks on Michigan Avenue, just a stone's throw (or a good old-fashioned face punch, as it were) from Independence.
The final chapter of our story documents not only the most insane shopping experience of our editor's life, but also the reasons why clothing (and his mother) matter so much to him in the first place. Illustrations are by Daniel Warren Johnson.