HYDE PARK — GILDA Designer Thrift Boutique closed Friday as the owner plans to return to the East Coast.
Customers of the boutique, 1553 E. Hyde Park Blvd., made their way to the store late last week for one final mega sale and to bid farewell to owner Gilda Norris.
Norris, originally from Long Island, New York, said she wants to return home to be closer to family.
“At this stage in my life, I’m thinking about where I want to be for the rest of my life and that’s the East Coast,” Norris said. “I’ll definitely miss Hyde Park, but New York is where everything is for me.”
Norris grew up surrounded by fashion; her mother was a fashion designer and her grandmother was a pattern maker, she said.
Norris was working at a store in New York when she began to dabble in vintage designer thrifting.
“When I became divorced and a single mother, I was working as a fashion buyer for a boutique in New York. This was during the ’80s and ’90s, and we had to have a certain look that I could no longer afford, so I began shopping at thrift stores and found great designer pieces and put my outfits together,” Norris said. “I would look like I was wearing an outfit that [cost] a couple grand when it was really just a couple of dollars.”
Norris came to Chicago in 2014 with an eye toward starting her own business and fell in love with the Hyde Park neighborhood, she said. She opened GILDA in 2016, aiming to create “a place where fashion meets community.”
“I came here for a visit, and I saw that I could contribute to Chicago with my aesthetic,” she said.
Norris specialized in reselling gently used, carefully chosen designer items that fit her aesthetic and style, she said. She would occasionally accept donations as well.
“At thrift stores, things are donated and just thrown on the rack. Everything here is curated and purchased to sell … and that’s why the shop looks so well curated, because I choose and select the things that I want to sell,” Norris said.
GILDA’s vintage clothing items and accessories from different decades still looked fresh and new. You could easily find a Y2K colorfully monogrammed Dooney & Burke shoulder bag, Levi’s jeans from the ‘90s or bright-green Manolo Blahnik heels from the ‘80s.
Norris offered vintage silver and gold necklaces with big, colored gemstones, pearl bracelets and colorful earrings that remain on trend today. The boutique also sold home items such as wine glasses and table centerpieces and wall art ranging from a flower painting to a framed retro Vogue magazine print.
Where she finds her items is unknown: “A buyer or merchant never reveals its secrets,” Norris said. “I choose and select pieces based on the demand of my customer, what they’re looking for and the quality and style of each item.”
Norris used the shop to support Hyde Park’s art scene by allowing artists to come in and learn about fashion and art events happening in the neighborhood, talk with other creatives, share their talents and shop, Norris said.
She hired up-and-coming designers to work at the shop, giving them a way to gain experience in fashion, Norris said. She also hosted fashion shows on Instagram for designers to market and showcase their work.
Customers said Norris was known for creating a welcoming atmosphere that made shoppers feel like they could shop, sit and mingle.
“This store closing means that the community loses out on a place to connect with others, to be a part of a family. You don’t get that at other stores. That’s a loss,” said frequent shopper Gabrielle Pickens.
“There isn’t a lot for us in the Hyde Park area that are into fashion,” said one customer Michelle, who only wanted to use her first name. “The community is losing out on Gilda’s amazing knowledge and sense of fashion, the shop’s uniqueness. I liked being able to come into the shop, have wine and talk with Gilda while also engaging in some retail therapy.”
Customer Stanley D said he travels from New York to Chicago frequently and made it a priority to stop by the shop for its final days.
“As an outsider, I really liked the shopping environment, the selection of vintage clothing and talking to Gilda,” he said. “We talked about art for so long and she gave me recommendations for different art to look at. She told me about an art crawl I could go on, and if I hadn’t talked to her in her shop I wouldn’t have known about that.”
“GILDA’s offered designer pieces that were unique and affordable. That’s what I’ll miss,” shopper Makeda Ray said.
Norris said she isn’t done with fashion and vintage thrifting. She sells clothes on Etsy and may open a mobile boutique, she said.
As Norris closed her shop, she reminisced about many fruitful years in Hyde Park.
“Hyde Park has got to be in the top 10 best neighborhoods in the United States,” Norris said. “I will miss the lake, the vintage houses, the walkability, the diversity in age and nationality and the people here that are so nice and have completely embraced me.”
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