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Adam’s Apple, Chicago’s Oldest Head Shop, Closing West Ridge Store This Month After 52 Years

"At 75 years old, I figure I have a few good years left," owner Shelly Miller said. "I am a low-key guy. I'm just going to fade away."

Shelly Miller, owner of Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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WEST RIDGE — From near the dawn of hippie culture to the legalization of pot, Adam’s Apple in West Ridge has ushered Chicagoans through the highs and lows of counterculture.

But after 52 years in business, Adam’s Apple will close at the end of the month. The city’s longest-running head shop at 6229 N. California Ave. will have its last day in business Jan. 31. Longtime owner Shelly Miller plans to retire.

“At 75 years old, I figure I have a few good years left,” Miller said. “I am a low-key guy. I’m just going to fade away.”

Adam’s Apple opened in spring 1969. In the early days, it was one of the few places in the city to buy rolling papers and other paraphernalia for the burgeoning pot culture, Miller said.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Adam’s Apple served as a destination for thousands of North Side teens looking for tie dyes and flared jeans, all the while combating neighbor and police concerns over such establishments.

Today, the shop serves as a blast from the past, offering a litany of pipes, papers, bongs, dugouts, stash boxes and other stoner supplies. The dank, below-grade shop is filled with stickers, posters and other decor that is indicative of such head shops. But few shops in the city can claim this level of counterculture authenticity.

In 2018, Adam’s Apple was named one of 10 legendary head shops by High Times Magazine.

“I haven’t been able to wrap my head around it,” Miller said of his store’s longevity. “I don’t know if it’s personality, but definitely quality merch and fair prices. And something people forget: customer service.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Shelly Miller looks over his shop at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.

Spring Of ’69

Adam’s Apple was opened by Miller’s friends, who rented the California Avenue storefront primarily to make bootleg 8-track recordings. The friends decided to open a shop in the space — but shut down after a scare from record companies.

Miller, fresh out of the Navy and a tour of duty in the South China Sea, was a local kid who was more clean-cut than his long-haired friends who had opened Adam’s Apple. He reopened the shop in fall 1969.

Miller’s military service and appearance gave the business more legitimacy in those early, make-or-break days, he said. A petition to close the store failed after Miller, then 23, stepped in, he said.

“Before I took over, they had long hair. [The store owner] was ostracized,” Miller said. “The scene was protests, marches, anti-draft. I was never a protester myself, but that’s what the mood was.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The sign at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.

Adam’s Apple was boosted in its early days by another burgeoning scene: FM radio.

As the legendary radio station WLS was expanding its reach and broadcasting rock music in the late ’60s, Miller began advertising Adam’s Apple on the station. That put Adam’s Apple on the map for hippies across Chicago.

Adam’s Apple got in early on the denim craze of the ’70s and became one of the most popular jeans shops in the area, Miller said. On weekends, Adam’s Apple was packed, as the store became a destination for teens cruising along nearby Devon Avenue.

Miller still sells jeans.

“This neighborhood supported me because there were a lot of youth here,” he said. “Devon Avenue was the spot. There were all kinds of records stores, jeans stores. This was a very hot jeans store.”

Adam’s Apple’s popularity had drawbacks, too. It became a place where people met — outside, Miller said — to buy drugs. That led to extra heat from the police, who would occasionally raid the store. Police would even examine any cigarette butts left around to make sure they weren’t joints, Miller said.

“In the ’70s, this place was notorious,” he said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Shelly Miller, owner of Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.

Bell Bottom Blues

Starting in the ’80s, a changing culture and shifting demographics in West Ridge hurt Adam’s Apple, Miller said.

That’s when the shop’s young clientele aged out of their hippiedom and began moving to the suburbs. Attitudes about drug and hippie culture changed, hurting the business’ bottom line.

“The kids weren’t packing it in on their [school] breaks anymore,” Miller said.

In more recent years, the rise in vape stores has also cut into Adam’s Apple’s customer base. Adam’s Apple never sold vape liquid or much vaping supplies, but vape stores stock pipes and rolling papers, which is Miller’s bread and butter.

A vape shop even opened across the street in recent years.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Glass pieces for sale at Adam’s Apple.

The legalization of cannabis in 2020 never proved to be a boon for the head shop business, Miller said. Many of the dispensaries that have opened also sell head shop wares.

Adam’s Apple still had loyal customers, but Miller started to see the writing on the wall.

“It’s been a hobby for more than two years,” Miller said. “At my age, I can’t handle standing around here, especially when it’s slow.”

Adam’s Apple’s business license expires Feb. 15, making this a good time to retire, Miller said. He will likely sell the building that houses Adam’s Apple and travel in retirement.

There will be no going-out-of-business blowout sale, Miller said. That wouldn’t be in keeping with Adam’s Apple’s style. Instead, he will look to sell off what he can and see as many regulars as possible before closing up shop.

“I don’t know what’s next,” Miller said. “I still have some health and some life that I want to live.”

Adam’s Apple is open 12:30-7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-6 p.m. Saturdays.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Items for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Shirts for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jeans for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Shirts for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Shelly Miller poses for a photo at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A wall at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Shelly Miller talks at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Glass pieces for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and longtime smoke shop in West Ridge, on Jan. 5, 2022.

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