Expanded Marian Michael builds on history
Jennifer Padin owns the Marian Michael children's clothes store in Winnetka. (Padin is holding a couple of the store's "Books to Bed" selections.) The long-time business recently moved to it's new location in the Laundry Mall building. | Brian O'Mahoney~f
566 Chestnut Ave.,
Updated: June 11, 2012 9:15AM
Marian Michael, a shopping tradition for generations of North Shore families, is experiencing a rebirth.
In the past 10 months, the clothing store has new owners and a new location in Winnetka. Jennifer and Richard Paden bought the store from Jennifer’s friend Kim Chatain in November.
The previous July, Chatain had moved the business from 515 Lincoln to the Laundry Mall at Chestnut and Spruce streets.
“My husband and I were in the market to buy something,” said Paden, who previously worked as a preschool and first-grade teacher in Kenilworth and Evanston.
Chatain, who was busy with other endeavors, had been urging her to buy her business, Paden said.
“I told her if you move to the Laundry Mall, I’ll consider it.”
The move to 566 Chestnut Ave. has been as beneficial as Paden expected.
It’s a bigger space and with a Starbucks coffee shop nearby, the store sees more foot traffic, Paden said.
“We’ve kept our old customers and we’re drawing in new ones.”
Paden has been thrilled with the community response. Customers tell her they remember shopping at the store with their mothers and grandmothers.
Marian Michael, named for the first owner’s two children, has been in business for more than 60 years.
“I grew up in Kenilworth,” Paden said. “All of my clothes came from Marian Michael.”
The shop had name recognition and drawing power.
“People would drive down from Lake Forest or Highland Park to buy a gift so it would have the Marian Michael sticker.”
The store made its reputation with the “traditional classic style of children’s clothes you don’t find anywhere else.”
Paden is honoring that tradition, but at the same time expanding her market.
“We kept Eiseman and Hartsrings and we added some European lines, as well as women’s clothes.“
Whereas the store used to carry clothes for girls and boys from birth through size 6, it now carries apparel for girls from birth through adulthood and for boys from infant through size 16.
In April, Marian Michael held its first trunk show for graduation. Girls could choose from 150 dresses on the premises. With styles from catalogues and fabric swatches, the girls could customize a dress to their liking, with help from a designer from Andrew Adela who came out to Marian Michael for the show.
The store sold 57 dresses during the weekend trunk show.
“Ninety percent of the people who came in bought a dress.” Paden kept track of who bought each dress and for what occasion. The store promised not to sell the same dress to another girl graduating from the same school or attending the same event as the first.
The store rents and sells tuxedos, too, and carries the white dinner jackets worn by New Trier High School graduates.
“We called around and asked all the North Shore schools what their requirements were (for graduation attire).
“The girls could find dresses they liked that both their Mom and the school approved of.”
The Padens also want to expand the price range of their merchandise.
“People think they have to spend $100 on a child’s dress at Marian Michael. But we try very hard to have a range of prices. You can come in and buy a baby gift for under $50,” Paden said.
Other new merchandise includes matching mother and daughter outfits, as well as coordinated looks for brothers and sisters, and the “Books to Bed” line of pajamas. Popular storybooks, such as Rainbow Fish and Paddington Bear, are sold as a set with pajamas with the characters on them. Paden also has increased the variety of baptismal gowns and First Holy Communion dresses in the store.
Paden’s husband Richard, who works as a consultant for small businesses, handles payroll, marketing and other jobs for Marian Michael. “He even gift wraps,” she said.
Their children are supportive, too. Daughter Caroline, a sixth-grader at Skokie School, is “ecstatic,” and a good barometer of what will be popular. “Whatever she likes flies out the store,” Jennifer Paden said.
Her son, a seventh-grader at Washburne School, would have preferred his parents “buy a milkshake shop or something else with food,” Paden said. But he’s with the program. He will use what he learns in a film class to make a commercial for the store.