Akira to open flagship Hyde Park store
Jon Cotay said it wouldn't happen.
I insisted it was a good idea, that a Hyde Park location of his rapidly expanding clothing and shoe boutique chain, Akira, would be a hit. "Look at the neighborhood's large student population. You'd be the only game in town!" I told Cotay while reporting a piece for TOC's February 2010 Hyde Park Issue about why in-demand businesses were hesitant to set up shop in the 'hood.
He was not convinced. “Clothing is not much of a priority for University of Chicago students," he said. "Their priorities are more concentrated on schoolwork.”
Well, either U. of C.'s student population has become far more sartorially minded over the past two years or Cotay finally started picking up what we were putting down two years ago. Today, Akira announced that it's—yup—opening a location in Hyde Park this fall, according to UChicago News, the university's public relations department. And not just any old outpost: The former Borders at 1539 East 53rd Street, a space the university purchased, will be Akira's flagship.
What changed over the last two years? "There's a lot of development happening out there," Cotay says. "We've been getting calls left and right to go check out Hyde Park. My business partner is very convinced it's going to be the next big shopping area. A couple of high-end restaurants are also coming in. This way, [the area] will be more of a destination. As soon as we announced it today, I got a bunch of e-mails and calls from people from the Far South Side, much further south than Hyde Park, saying, 'We're so excited that we don't have to go all the way up north.'"
Ultimately, the South Side is untested ground for the retailer. "Do I know what's going to sell in Hyde Park? Not at all," Cotay says. "We're planning to be flexible depending on what sells. For students, it doesn't have to be the most fashion-forward pieces. It can be more casual pieces. Bright colors might be less likely to sell."
Before I could let out an "I told you so," Cotay stopped me. "Once we're open for a couple months, then you can say, 'I told you so.' Until then, we won't know how good this decision is."