After roughly three years on Madison Street, @workdesign, a boutique that sells contemporary and modern workplace furniture and accessories, is packing up its wares and moving out.
Owner Julia Archer plans to concentrate her efforts on growing @workdesign’s website, and, in doing so, possibly involve other people in the business. She also wants to do additional work as a designer, a career she partially left behind when she opened the 7500 Madison St. store in 2008.
Archer is leaving Forest Park for a number of reasons, but she spoke very highly of her time on Madison Street, and lauded the pro-business spirit that permeates the strip.
When she was pondering opening a store, Archer, an Oak Park native, said she was drawn to Forest Park because both Madison Street and its merchants fostered an environment that was supportive of local business.
“I feel like Madison Street seemed to be doing more,” said Archer, comparing the commercial strip to other areas she was considering opening a store in, among them Oak Park, where she lives. “Based on other retailers in the area there seemed to be more of a collaborative feeling about it.”
Throughout the last 10 years, many of the street’s merchants were part of a collective that pooled finances and resources to advertise and promote not only their respective businesses, but both Madison Street and the village, as well.
The harsh economy has shuttered some of those stores, perhaps most notably Two Fish Art Glass earlier this summer, which helped pioneer the abovementioned promotional efforts. The owners of other stores, like @workdesign, just plan to pursue other endeavors.
For one thing, though, her lease is up soon, and she’s said that a number of “instigators” have prompted her not to renew it. (It’s not clear if building owner Art Sundry has secured another tenant in the building, as he refused to comment for this story.) Flooding in the basement, where she stores her inventory, is a factor as she doesn’t want the items to get damaged.
Her wares are handpicked from various corners of the world so it’s understandable why she worries about damage. Archer mentioned that she constantly browses the Web for new items and she’s been to numerous trade shows in search of merchandise to stock her store with. This is what made @workdesign a destination for consumers looking for a specific product that might be scarcely available.
“Customers seek you out because you become a resource for a particular product,” she said.
And Archer’s store has always featured a quirky, eclectic inventory, one that might include a vintage, minimalist-looking desk; funky, see-through plastic chairs; various letter-boxes, made from recycled paper; or a reprinted Chinese Cultural Revolution-era propaganda poster of armed youths toting copies of Communist literature (all in good fun).
The acquisition of these quirky goods is a big part of her work, only now she wants to sell them through the website, in part, because she feels people in the area are shopping differently.
“There’s not the traffic [to] meet my particular customer segment” anymore, Archer said.
Sales haven’t been great, but it’s not the sole force behind her move.
“I need more flexibility with my time,” Archer said. In addition to limiting future sales to the Web, and possibly involving others in the business, Archer said she also wants to do design work for other businesses. (Archer used to design product literature for USG Corporation, a manufacturer of construction materials.)
After she liquidates her inventory, which she is currently attempting with a massive sale, she will enter this exploratory phase. When asked about it, she said it boils down to “rethinking” the future.