Story by Julie Fanselow
Cicago jeweler Steve Quick knew for a long time that he wanted to open a store in the city's desirable Wicker Park/Bucktown district. Customer surveys at his Lincoln Park and Lincoln Square stores showed that customers were making the cross-town trip. "We knew people from that area enjoyed what we are doing," he says.
In little more than a year since its opening, Steve Quick Jeweler has succeeded in capturing Wicker Park's mix of grit and allure – a jewelry emporium where "people who live in the neighborhood and love the neighborhood get a sense that we love it, too," he says. From showcases custom-made to evoke Chicago's elevated train system to ongoing exhibits featuring the work of aspiring local jewelry designers, this is a store that fully inhabits its time and place.
It took about a year to locate the right storefront. The Division Street shop is a few blocks from the neighborhood's sometimes-chaotic commercial epicenter but on a block that is still lively with pedestrians and sidewalk dining. Quick saw the "For Rent" sign in a window of what had been a natural foods store and made the call in the spring of 2012.
It took a few months to resolve permit issues, which gave Quick and his longtime design partner Bob Tomaska ample opportunity to think and dream about what the store would look like. "On this project, we were really able to spend time in the place," Quick says, "and every day, there was some new idea" – like salvaging cast-off sawhorses to encase stock LED lighting fixtures and scouring the Midwest to find 300 feet of molding to create a custom picture rail for artwork. Once construction got fully under way in June 2012, Quick immersed himself in the project for three months. "On day one, I broke out the granite floor with a sledgehammer," he says, and on many other days, he holed up in the basement, applying rust patina to the sawhorse lights. "It almost felt like a vacation," he recalls.
Two new cabinetmakers joined the build-out: a laid-off schoolteacher and an architect, both of whom wanted to get experience. "Having a handful of people with the same vision, and their own creative tone, helped shape this store into the unique space that it is," Quick says. As for his desire to make the shop one of which the neighborhood would be proud, he tells how shortly after the fall 2012 opening, "a lady came in very excited about the store, al most with a shared sense of ownership." It turned out the woman's grandfather had run a bar in the same space for several decades more than 50 years before.
The store's long, narrow space works well to create two distinct areas. A warm, vintage vibe is established in front, with extensive reclaimed materials, including showcases made from the shop's original doors as well as from churches and banks in the neighborhood. "Doors are metaphors for all kinds of things," Quick says, including the life passages people often signify with gifts of jewelry.
Farther back, the bridal area is set off by another design innovation: The original 14-foot ceilings were too high to encourage a quiet, intimate space for exploring engagement ring possibilities, so Quick's team lowered and curved the ceiling and covered it with a Venetian marble faux finish that casts a warm, reflective glow. And although vintage materials fill much of the shop, new wire-orb chandeliers from Restoration Hardware perfectly fit the feel of this part of the store.
Steve Quick's Wicker Park store is the sum of all he's learned in his years in the business. He got started at The Diamond House in Aurora, IL, where Arthur Navarro "gave me my first serious jewelry job and the idea that this was a great business to be in. He was the best of what it means to be a jeweler: very honest and old school with a great sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic."
Quick is eager to pass on those values, and to invest in his own employees. Last spring, all of Quick's staff from the three stores attended the jewelry show in Las Vegas to scout the floor, and everyone at all three stores has company-paid Accredited Jewelry Professional education.
"We have learned that when you hire great people, you have to be great back," Quick says. "The better they are, the better we are" – and the happier Steve Quick Jeweler's mix of savvy, educated customers are, too.
1. Give back: The store donates its watch repair money to a different community cause each month and highlights the chosen charity with a donation box at the cash wrap. Local schools and animal welfare groups are among the 15 to 20 organizations getting support each year. "I really find it cool that they donate their minor watch repair $$ to a different charity each month, rather than keeping the money," one customer wrote on Yelp.
2. Local art: A custom picture rail runs the length of the showroom, giving local visual artists a chance to exhibit, and a full showcase highlights the work of emerging jewelry artists, too. The artists talk with store staff about their work, and staff members pass along feedback from customers.
3. Salad bar: A garden behind the store provides fresh veggies for staff lunches and for people to take home. Kale, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, peppers and more were among the produce this past summer. The adjoining patio area makes a pleasant break spot, too – and a possible future setting for intimate store events.
4. Santa Daddy-o: With Chicago's Wicker Park widely considered one of the nation's coolest neighborhoods, the store had a visiting Santa complete with black-rimmed eyeglasses last holiday season. Kids loved him, and neighboring Division Street businesses called him "Hipster Santa." Like, dig?
5.Aim high: The new location opened in November 2012, and by mid-2013, it was hitting sales figures about 20 percent higher than the national averages reported in INSTORE, Steve Quick says.
QUICK HIT Q&A WITH Steve Quick
One newspaper: WSJ
WHAT THE JUDGES SAY
Julie Romanenko // I think this store is just cool on so many levels! I love the interior and how much of the store was designed using reclaimed materials. Not only is it PC, but so good looking and functional. I thought the figures in and above the showcases were whimsical and caught the eye. I really liked how he included the names of the designers in his ads, giving them kudos when appropriate and helping his customers become familiar with different brands.
Gerry Gonda // The concept of having the employees post selections on various social media sites is a great way to engage the employees and present a passionate side of their involvement with the store to the consumer.
Bruce Freshley // Steve Quick's Wicker Park store is a masterful blend of style, elegance and period charm all rolled into a totally unforgettable shopping experience. There is eye candy everywhere. From the period lighting that screams old Chicago to the train trestle jewelry cases, to the big, open arched ceiling tray, it is a visual feast. So much passion and good taste everywhere. It is at once both ancient and yet totally progressive. I've never seen a store more connected to its community. Wow!
Danielle Pelletiere // The mix of custom and vintage, old with new, is a theme that this store carries throughout everything it does. By taking such a hands-on approach to the interior design work, the little details really shine through. That they are displaying artwork and not just jewelry resonates throughout the store. I think the most impressive thing they do is give back, not just to the community but to their employees as well.
R. Grey Gallery // The display cases made to look like a steel bridge give the gallery a distinct contemporary appeal. The recycled doors were also a nice touch.