Shop Till You Drop

Carson Pirie Scott on the corner of Chestnut and Elm, c. 1970.

Originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2022 Gazette
by Karen Vorwald

As I see kids at Starbucks, Hometown and Fizz & Pop, I remember growing up in Winnetka and hanging out “uptown” with my friends for snacks or shopping.

At the corner of Chestnut and Elm, Valentina is in a building with a long retail history in Winnetka. Recently home to realty companies, for years that location was a Carson Pirie Scott department store with clothes for everyone in the family, and a lingerie department where many of us got our first bras! I recall buying a modest bikini there in junior high – scandalous – that my mother said I could only wear to the beach, not the club.

Founded in 1854, Carson’s first appeared in Winnetka in 1959 when it bought 20 locations of the Peoria-based firm Block & Kuhl, which had a location on that corner. Carson’s had several Winnetka connections, including Samuel Carson Pirie Jr., grandson of co-founder John Pirie, who lived in Winnetka, and Robert Scott, son of co-founder John Scott and namesake of Winnetka’s Scott Avenue. Before Block & Kuhl, the building housed Rodgers department store for a few years and before that, GL Zick & Company. Two brothers, Walter and Gustav Zick, opened their store in 1914, operating it for 25 years, first on Elm near Green Bay before moving to the northwest corner building at Chestnut and Elm.

East of that corner along Elm stood Charles Variety. Where else could you get toys, candy, contact paper for your science project, ribbons for pigtails, and a live fish all in one location? There was Porters Electric for records with the WLS survey listing the top 40 songs each week, and of course, the Village Toy Shop. How many birthday parties did we go to with nearly all the gifts in the signature polka dotted wrapping paper!

Betty’s of Winnetka, c. 1970s.

Betty’s of Winnetka ad, Winnetka Talk, May 1980.

A few steps north of that corner along Chestnut was the 1970s/80s version of Valentina – Betty’s of Winnetka. Betty’s was junior-high and high-school girl shopping nirvana. The sales were mob-scenes as the lines for the fitting rooms snaked through the store. For my first job, I worked as a stockgirl, unpacking boxes and boxes of sweaters in the Betty’s basement and putting them on hangers. Not exactly glamorous work, but I was thrilled when I got that employee discount…and there went my paycheck!

Further down Chestnut was the Laundry. Today, the Laundry Mall is a welcoming mini-mall with a Starbucks. This was not always the case. Before the building was transformed in the 1970s, it was a working laundry. The windows on the big brick building were all painted a dark green so you couldn’t see inside, with steam rising out of the occasional cracked window. My friends and I thought it was haunted and crossed the street when on our way up to the A&P (now The Grand.)

Eric and Gustaf Nelson opened their laundry business in 1896. Initially located nearby, the business settled into the building that is now the Laundry in 1925. After 80 years in business, the Nelson family closed up shop and sold the building, which was developed into the Laundry retail center. Some of the original shops included a restaurant called the Monastery (now Avli), Der Lipizzaner shoe store, Bresler’s 33 Flavors Ice Cream, the Country Cookie Company, and Scissors Edge, the only remaining original tenant from when the Laundry opened in 1976. As kids, we weren’t sorry to see the scary building go and welcomed the bubble gum ice cream and warm chocolate chip cookies with enthusiasm! It was great to be a kid in Winnetka, and as I see the happy faces of kids uptown with their friends, I’m glad that it still is! ■

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