As a kid, I never knew what was ‘magnificent’ about this mile of Michigan Avenue. Our family expeditions to Chicago always revolved around visiting museums, and not shopping. Plus, the similar alliteration of ‘Merchandise Mart’ always had me confusing the two. As we talked through options about how to spend Sunday morning during our recent visit, we eventually settled on walking over to Michigan Avenue and just strolling down to Water Tower Place. Since we left at 9, we knew none of the stores would be open on our walk north—and that nothing at Water Tower Place was likely to be open—but the weather was mild, we needed the exercise, and the promise of hot chocolate along the way was enough to get everyone’s assent.
Emerging onto the Magnificent Mile
It’s an odd but enjoyable feeling to walk a major urban thoroughfare and have it mostly empty. I realized it’s an experience you have at night, but isn’t so typical during daylight hours. The Magnificent Mile is largely a celebration of consumerism, but there’s still something that suggests that this is at least part of the heart of the city. A few other folks were out walking, too, some apparently for exercise, some on their way to a destination, and others just exploring like us.
Nearly every brand is represented here, and the buildings are a mix of older and newer construction. We passed plenty of places we’d never think to enter, but window shopping, enjoying the decorations, and looking at the architecture still made it worthwhile. The Water Tower stands in the Middle of Michigan Avenue, one of the few structures remaining from pre-fire Chicago. Just east and north of it is Water Tower Place, a mall distributed vertically over seven floors. Here the Christmas decorations were everywhere, along with the notice that a Vince Vaughn holiday themed film would be shot here next week. We enjoyed the fountains that line the escalators, and wished that foodlife, the foodcourt extraordinaire on level 2, was open.
As we looked for a place to make good on our promise of hot chocolate, we spied both Ghiradelli and Hershey’s stores across the street. Hershey’s actually has a long-time connection to Chicago: it was here, at the Columbian Exposition, that Milton Hershey saw state-of-the-art equipment from Germany on display, and purchased and shipped it back to Hershey, PA. The hot chocolate was truly hot, and quickly melted the ample topping of whipped cream (but still left a delightful sludge of not-quite-dissolved Hershey Kisses in the bottom).
Also at Water Tower Square is the American Girl Store, where we popped in for a reminder of days gone by. None of my kids are in that demographic anymore, but they enjoyed remembering during a 40-minute visit, and eventually we had to shoo them out and move on.
On the return trip, we stopped at the Apple Store and Gap, where we considered plans for a new home laptop, heard a helpful presentation on iCal, ogled the iPods and large Cinema Displays, and walked off with a turtleneck for $5.99. More stores were open now, and it was surprising to see a fair number of people shopping (like us) on Sunday morning. As we reached Ohio Street, we descended the stairs to the street below, stopping at the Dominick’s right across from our hotel for lunch stuff (a good, large center-city grocery store! What I wouldn’t have given for that in Philadelphia). Then it was off to the theatre.