How the City of Broad Shoulders Came to Embrace the Megastore

Starbucks just opened its biggest store to date in Chicago, and they’re not the only brand in town who can claim that distinction

November 21, 2019 10:45 am
How the City of Broad Shoulders Came to Embrace the Megastore

Last week, Starbucks opened its largest global store to date on Michigan Avenue, bringing the tally of “world’s biggest” retail stores to set up shop in Chicago in 2019 to three. Things kicked off last spring, when Roots Canada debuted their world’s biggest (also on Michigan Avenue) before Lululemon expanded their namaste to Lincoln Park in summer. 

There’s also the giant REI on the river that opened in the summer: while not the biggest (that would be the 88,000-square-foot Denver Flagship store, complete with indoor climbing wall), it’s another entry in a banner year for massive-scale Chicago commerce.

This is not a new trend — our fair city has long been a welcome home to the largest, biggest and tallest of things. Look no further than the famous Merch Mart, which was originally used to house all of Marshall Field’s wholesale business. With four million square feet of floor space, the Mart was the largest building in the world until the Pentagon was built 13 years later, even earning its own zip code through 2008. And let’s also not forget the Willis (nèe Sears) Tower, which held the title of tallest building in the world for 25 years, and the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere for 41. 

“As a city that is home to the first skyscraper, we are not afraid to dream big and bold in Chicago,” says Jack Lavin, President and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. “That energy, along with a strong talent pipeline, access to a younger workforce from a large university system, robust transit infrastructure and our diversity attract these type of large retail developments … Chicago is at the crossroads of America, and there is no better place to show a company’s strength and vision.”

Clearly Chicago has the space and track record to accomodate big things, but it’s not just about pedigree. Retailers are also interested in the city’s well-developed shopping district and pool of eager consumers. As Roots President and CEO Jim Gable told WWD, “Michigan Avenue is one of the top high street shopping locations in the world, which also attracts a tourist population from all over the United States.” 

And despite the online-shopping boom, having a brick-and-mortar in an active shopping district is still critical for retailers. While ecommerce purchases are on the rise (accounting for a 14.3 percent share of total retail sales last year, and trending at over 1 percent increase year over year), the vast majority of retail purchases are happening in person. Retailers offering experiential flagship locations grab the attention of consumers, reward brand loyalty and offer convenience, all under one roof. 

As for Starbucks, it’s no surprise the Seattle-based coffee behemoth chose Chicago for its “biggest ever.” Chicago and Starbucks have enjoyed a close kinship since the chain’s earliest beginnings, sharing plenty of first along the way. In 1987, Chicago was selected for the chain’s first store outside the Pacific Northwest. In 1993, O’Hare International was the first airport ever to have a Starbucks. And just two years later, in ’95 (as the Bulls prepared to launch the three-peat), Starbucks rolled out a 4,000-square-foot Rush Street shop, the largest Starbucks ever at the time. The new Michigan Avenue Reserve is nearly nine times that size.  

Below, a rundown of four new Chicago megastores, and why each is worth a visit.

Interior of the Starbucks Reserve Roastery

Starbucks Reserve Roastery

646 N Michigan Ave, Chicago IL 60601

Hours: Monday to Thursday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. / Friday 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. / Saturday 8 a.m. to 12 a.m / Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Specs: Five stories, about 35,000 square feet and yes, the building looks familiar — it used to be a Crate & Barrel.

The Scoop: Rare coffees from around the world is just one of the specialties here. The truly unique thing about this location is that all the coffee served has been roasted on-site, and they can prove it. In a display you’d expect to see at the Museum of Science and Industry, guests can follow coffee beans travel as they travel through a 56-foot steel cask (the company’s tallest), then a series of tubes where they rest, de-gas and accumulate like sands in an hourglass. 

Don’t Miss: The fourth-floor coffee bar crafts barrel-aged, alcohol-free coffee cocktails. Try a Mulled Spiced Coffee or Smoked Cold-Fashioned. And even non-coffee drinkers have a reason to stop in: the Midwest’s first curved escalator snakes around the first and second floors. Stop in and take a ride, this is basically The Jetsons.

lululemon lincoln park
Lululemon’s Lincoln Park flagship doubles as a fitness studio (Lululemon)


944 W. North Ave, Chicago, IL, US 60642

Hours: Monday to Friday 10 a.m to 9 p.m. / Saturday 10 a.m to 8 p.m / Sunday 11 a.m to 7 p.m

Specs: 20,000 square feet is room for a lot of ABC pants. More wellness studio than athleisure shop, plan to break a sweat, take a shower and grab something to eat.

The Scoop: Offering around 25 classes a day in two workout studios and one mediation space, the focus of this store is connecting the clothes to the movements they are designed for. In fact, sometimes the studios are open when the retail store isn’t. Classes cost $25 — two percent of which goes to I Grow Chicago — and range from yoga to boot camp to group meditation. If you work or live in the area, their in-store restaurant, Fuel Space, has great grab-and-go options and allows carryout orders.

Don’t Miss: Gear Trial lets customers wear Lululemon outfits during on-site classes. Before you shell out the cash, put their key styles through a stress test to confirm that it works for you.

roots store chicago
Inside the Roots store on Michigan Ave (Roots)


605 N Michigan Ave Suite 102, Chicago, IL 60611

Hours: Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. / Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Specs: Roots sits catty corner from the Under Armour flagship, eating up two stories and 11,448 square feet of Michigan Avenue primetime. 

The Scoop: Based in Toronto, this premium outdoor lifestyle brand is a favorite among celebrities. Their signature salt-and-pepper sweat sets are comfortable as all get out, and they also do leather goods really well. Enter the store through a life-size tree built from reclaimed Ontario wood.

Don’t Miss: The build-a-custom-leather-jacket program. Live out your best Top Gun fantasy by choosing the body, lining and sleeve color, then add patches for good measure.

REI’s new Chicago Co-Op offers kayaking classes directly from the store (REI)


905 West Eastman St, Chicago, IL 60642

Hours: Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. / Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m./ Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Specs: 40,000 square feet on the river

The Scoop: REI’s mission is to make the outdoors more accessible, so opening a store right on the river’s bank definitely checks that box. The company worked with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the City Council to place the relocation smack in the middle of their “wild mile,” an initiative of habitat improvements along the North Branch Canal. In addition to the typical retail fare of Recreational Equipment Inc., this one’s also a full-service bike, ski and snowboard shop.

Don’t Miss: Direct access to river adventures. In the warmer months, rent kayaks and paddleboards via a floating dock out back.


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