Hubba-Hubba women’s clothing boutique may be the new kid on the block in Roscoe Village, but the shop’s no stranger to Lakeview’s retail scene, where it’s been a fixture for more than two decades. “Every 10 years I get the itch to move,” says owner Julie Cohen, adding, “so many of my customers have left Wrigleyville.”
She considered a number of neighborhoods when it came time to relocate, including Evanston, which Cohen calls home. Even though she could have shortened her commute, she opted to stay in Chicago. “A Chicago person will come a mile west to find me, but they won’t come to Evanston. People in Evanston will come into the city.” Hubba-Hubba landed at 2040 W. Roscoe St. based on a gut feeling of Cohen’s. “It was a vibe I got on the street, the women I saw walking around,” she says.
The shop quietly opened the doors to its new location July 5, with Cohen promising a grand opening blowout come fall. She and long-time store manager Jennifer Santo are still in the process of figuring out what goes where, having downsized from 1,500 square feet to 800. “We love this space. It’s romantic yet industrial,” says Cohen. Even more charming, the fact that neighboring business owners have popped in to introduce themselves. “That’s been nice.”
RVJ caught up with the pair just as they were wrapping up a meeting with a handbag representative and we couldn’t help but think that buying clothes and accessories for a living is quite possibly the best job ever.
RVJ: After more than 20 years in Lakeview, what brings you to Roscoe Village?
Cohen: There were lots of reasons. I wanted to be around other boutiques. The neighborhood [Lakeview] had changed. It was time for us to change. I wanted a space this size…. I knew I wanted to go smaller. The larger space, we didn’t need it.
RVJ: Shoppers at your old location skewed, how shall we put it, a little younger. Should we expect a more mature Hubba-Hubba?
Cohen: We’re feeling that out. Some lines we’re not going to carry over. We go for comfortable, fun and affordable. We don’t carry uber-trendy and if we do it’s not a high-end piece. This area’s definitely a little more sophisticated. With a small boutique, you can change more with the pulse.
RVJ: How’s the boutique business fared in the current economic climate?
Cohen: It’s challenging, it’s fun. Hell, we’re still around after all these years. It’s very rewarding working for yourself but very scary–that’s what makes it exhilarating. What works in one place might not in another.
RVJ: How do you stay competitive when so much shopping has moved online?
Cohen: The interactive experience is what people like about boutique shopping. We don’t waste their time, we know what to show them.
RVJ: How did you first get into the boutique business and what would you be doing if you didn’t own Hubba-Hubba?
Cohen: I needed a job and I managed my sister’s store in L.A. I opened the first Hubba-Hubba with my mom. I fell into retail, I didn’t study it. I was an art major [at the University of Illinois-Champaign]. I thought I would be making metal sculptures. If I could haul away scrap pieces of metal, [businesses] would give them to me for free. That might not even be feasible now.
RVJ: Any recent fashion trends you can report?
Cohen: People want value, quality and comfort. What I’ve noticed just in the last week is people looking for skirts that convert to dresses, the two-in-one.
RVJ: Let’s say you know you’re going to be stranded on a desert island. What’s the one item you would pack that you can’t live without?
Cohen: I’m always for comfy, cotton throw-on dresses.
Santo: I would take these capri pants.
RVJ: We have to ask–why Hubba-Hubba?
Cohen: We were a vintage store and it was popular, in the 1940s, when you’d see a pretty woman, you’d say, ‘hubba hubba.’ We had really good quality vintage but couldn’t find it in the quality and quantity we needed and I wasn’t going to carry ’60s and ’70s clothes. [Eventually Cohen switched over to selling new clothes that looked like reproductions.] We just kept the name.