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New Bucktown boutique offers tasteful, affordable style

by Camille Izlar
Dec 10, 2012


Camille Izlar/MEDILL

To entice customers, Valentia owner Jane Pakis hangs dresses from her tree "awning."

After years of interior design, Jane Pakis finally dared to open a retail business. Her store in Bucktown cohesively displays her elegant style and "fair-trade" consciene.

No, Valentia in Bucktown doesn’t carry a combination of Target and Neiman Marcus products. It is also doesn’t hold a super holiday sale with $4 shirts from factories in China. Rather, it is a simple store with tasteful style that city residents haven’t quite discovered yet.

“I’m building up some regular clientele, but at this point, 80 percent of my customers are tourists,” said Jane Pakis, owner of the seven-month-old boutique.

The interior designer opened her store on a whim. Pakis found the space by accident and decided, “It felt right.” She had only lived in Chicago a few months and admitted that, at the time, she didn’t know the difference between Bucktown and Uptown.

“My market research was that Toast is next door and Coast is across the street,” she laughs. Her hunch turned out to be correct. According to a study by the Bucktown-Wicker Park Chamber of Commerce, retail spending reached about $796 million in the two neighborhoods in 2011.

Pakis’ even tone and peaceful manner begs the question: Is starting a business really that easy?

“I knew I wasn’t going to be making millions doing it, but I didn’t invest a lot. I had some inventory from interior design. And the other stuff—I buy minimums; I buy local artists. Chicago has great resources for fair trade and fresh material,” said Pakis.

Today about 30 percent of small businesses are owned by women, compared with 5 percent in the 1970s. Pakis says her major financial goal was not to lose money. She has been successful so far but worries that foot traffic may slow down significantly in January and February. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report, retail sales dropped for the first time in four months in November, signifying that the post-holiday shift could begin earlier than usual.

To offset seasonal fluctuations, Pakis tries to give each customer personal attention.

“This place is a gem, I don’t know how she finds all this great stuff,” exclaimed one frequent shopper. Rather than stumbling on it, Pakis selects her merchandise carefully, only selling what she discovers herself. Her years of travel, environmental conscience and expertise in design emerge in subtle ways. Vignettes of refurbished tire wallets, fair trade bowls and vegan (non-leather) purses fit together seamlessly.

After freelance consulting in interior design for years, Pakis isn’t new to running a business. However, there are some major differences in the retail world.

“Its 24/7. It’s gotten me to get up and get out,” she said.

She also acknowledged that storeowners don’t necessarily choose their customers as a consultant can. But Pakis finds the changes and challenges of adapting to clients refreshing.

“My style does hugely enter into it, but I’m trying to get away from that a little bit because I have a definite audience of 20 to 30-year-olds…and their moms.”

Pakis is a chronic mover having lived in three continents and six states. At this point, her lease is up in April and she isn’t sure how long her foray into retail will last.

“I’ve heard it said that it takes seven years for a business to become established. I’ll be out of here before that.”