By Jonathan Mandel
For the canny customer and vintage enthusiast, Wicker Park is a treasure trove of thrift stores. We chose to hone in on a few within walking distance of one another, right on the main drag of Milwaukee Avenue between Damen and Division. Here are some of the gems.
Crossroads Trading Co.
1519 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Sure, it’s a chain, but Crossroads is your best bet for trendy, in-season clothes at phenomenal prices. Everything is lightly used, but certainly not vintage; Crossroads boasts a carefully curated mix of big brands, boutique and offbrand designer labels for all articles of clothing, shoes included. Though there’s plenty of casual wear, it’s a great spot for young professionals looking to purchase exciting workwear at a bargain, and older clientele looking for the occasional higher-end products. Most items fall within the $20-$30 range. Assistant manager Krisana describes it as, “Trendy, clean and approachable.” We would agree.
1478 N. Milwaukee Ave.
True aficionados of thrift may gaze dismissively upon Buffalo Exchange stores from their ivory towers, but when it comes down to it, the Buffalo Exchange on Milwaukee offers dependable quality at dependable prices. Expect to find contemporary, laid-back clothing in the $10-$20 range. Nothing special, but like every Buffalo Exchange, it’s packed with some cool additions to your everyday wardrobe.
Perusing Store B’s selection is like taking a course in fashion history. … Old-school dresses, coats, shoes and accessories abound, and their selection of elegant hats is unparalleled.
1472 N. Milwaukee Ave.
It seems almost demeaning to label Store B as a thrift store; perusing its selection is like taking a course in fashion history. If you’re looking for a $5 Velvet Underground shirt, keep looking. Velvet, fur, Chanel, Ralph Lauren — Store B is an index of high fashion (both men’s and women’s), vintage and designer. Old-school dresses, coats, shoes and accessories abound, and their selection of elegant hats is unparalleled. Expect to spend at least $50 on a major item, though you’ll be getting a bargain compared to the original cost of most of their inventory. One shopper told me that she keeps coming back, usually for specific wardrobe pieces, because “they have very specific eras. It’s authentic vintage, rather than just old clothing.” Indeed, some racks are organized loosely by decade, and all items have labels approximating their year of production. Beyond clothing, Store B has unique houseware items that make great gifts.
1459 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Ragstock is your thrift equivalent of American Apparel. In addition to recycled clothing, Ragstock also has its own line of clothing that is generally simple and falls within mainstream tropes. That’s not to say Ragstock doesn’t have great vintage stuff — racks of ’80s sweaters, ’90s jackets, flannels, vintage suspenders and nylon pants dot the store’s upstairs area. Even more contemporary trends, like denim overalls, are well represented among used items. Head downstairs, and you’ll find great themed clothing for parties and costumes. Prices usually fall within the $10-$20 range. “We’re a weird place, aren’t we?” mused one employee. “Our vintage is really, really good. The target, really, is older teens, young 20s, but everyone buys it.” When I asked her for a brief description of the store, the first word she blurted out was: “Funny!” Ragstock doesn’t take itself too seriously, and if you’re looking for a something simple or whimsical on a budget, this is your spot.
Kokorokoko is vintage lifestyle store, and the best kind of vintage — it’s like a bright, pop-art dream exploded all over their store.
1323 N Milwaukee Ave.
The folks at Kokorokoko will be the first to inform you that their store is not thrift or consignment. Nope, it’s a vintage lifestyle store, and the best kind of vintage — it’s like a bright, pop-art dream exploded all over their store, with a particular focus on the 1980s and ’90s. In addition to fun and exciting knick knacks (with a subtle but persistent marijuana theme), they have shirts, dresses and jackets in vibrant colors and fun patterns, but be prepared to drop a pretty penny: Their most basic tees are in the $20-$30 range, and most major items are more than $50 because, again, they’re a vintage culture shop, not a thrift shop. As a result, they can sustain a better volume and selection than most vintage thrift stores, according to owner Ross Kelly. He described Kokorokoko as trendy and fashion-forward, adding, “Our audience is very varied, but tends to be on the younger side, and then people that are connoisseurs of vintage.”
Keep in mind that if you’re looking to thrift something other than clothing, Milwaukee Avenue has tons of options: Vintage Underground has great vintage jewelry; The Exchange has tons of old records, movies and even video games; and The Ark is an awesome place to start if your home is in dire need of furniture. If you want to dress in all leather or take on the role of a cowboy, look no further than U.S. #1 Vintage. No matter what you’re looking for, you can find it in this stretch of Wicker Park.