A well-known Berwyn skate shop, a staple in the local skateboarding community, recently rolled into Forest Park, where it plans to open its doors later this month.
Modest skate shop signed a lease last month to rent retail space at 7416 W. Madison St., where Boulevard Fine Art had been for the last five years. Modest’s move to Madison Street was abrupt and somewhat reactionary – it occurred in July after the building Modest’s owners were renting, at 6912 W. 16th St., was seized. It had been placed in foreclosure only a few months before. Modest co-owner Matt Ward, a Forest Park resident, said the building needed “a lot of work.” He did not specify why the shop made the move but noted, “Our landlord kind of left on us.”
So Ward is taking his act to the Madison Street retail district, where he plans on retooling his business approach and growing – both his inventory and as an entrepreneur.
To begin with, Ward said he is in the process of severing ties with his partner, Kevin Breen, with whom he purchased Modest in 2005 – the shop was previously called First Gear and first opened in 1997.
“When we started the business together, I was only 27 and he was 21. It inhibited him from doing what he wanted to do,” Ward said.
Breen is still technically a co-owner, but Ward said, “We’re about to work out those particulars.” Ward might then recruit two other co-owners.
“I want to have more grown guys who have their hands in the pot,” Ward said.
Breen did not return a call for comment.
As for the Madison Street skate shop location, Ward said it is being repainted and outfitted to carry a wider, more eclectic inventory than the Berwyn store housed.
Ward, who has a degree in design from Columbia College, said he is interested in fashion and does not think the store’s items should solely be geared toward skaters.
“I’m trying to grow it a little bit,” Ward said. “I want to have more stuff for women and children.”
Ward likened his concept to surf stores in California, patronized by people who, although they might not surf, go into the shops to buy a T-shirt or sunglasses.
“We stay in business by selling T-shirts, hats and sunglasses,” Ward said.
Although his passion is still skateboarding, and skaters are his primary clientele, he concedes that “there’s less hard-core skaters than ever.”
“I want to make it more mainstream,” Ward added.
A longtime friend, John Reith, with whom he plans on partnering, echoed some of Ward’s ideas, and added a few of his own. Reith talked about creating a shoe boutique, selling consigned art, developing a clothing line, and offering skateboarding gear in a space that he dubbed a “culture shop.”
Despite the fact that niche stores like skate shops have fallen victim to the easy purchasing power that the Internet provides consumers, Ward isn’t worried.
“It makes me more optimistic since I have so many years in the industry,” he said, noting that he has worked in skateboarding since 2000. “For someone trying to open the door fresh, it will be a lot harder. It’s about making ends meet. …You have to be a little more on top of it.”
The skate-shop veteran also plans on getting to know movers and shakers in town, something he said he didn’t do in Berwyn.
“It’s pretty much my job to network with the people in the community, the politicians, the business owners. That’s definitely going to be on our agenda,” Ward said.
He is renting Boulevard Fine Art’s space from David Manola, an Oak Park entrepreneur and property owner, who owns the 7416 W. Madison St. building. Manola has another Boulevard store in Clarendon Hills that reportedly is performing much better than the one in Forest Park. He also bought space to open another store in Baroda, Mich.
Manola and Ward met through Manola’s son, who skateboards and used to frequent Modest’s Berwyn location with his father. Ward told Manola he was interested in moving, and last month, Ward looked at the space and quickly signed a lease.
Ideally, he’ll have the doors opened at the end of the month.
“We’re trying to do big things,” he said.