3021 Butterfield Road, Oak Brook, Ill.
Luxury retailers in Chicago tend to congregate around posh shopping districts such as the Magnificent Mile and Oak Street on the Gold Coast. But A. Marek—an opulent jewelry boutique located 15 miles from downtown—went against the grain. Owner Barbara Bradford, a staple in Chicago’s philanthropic community, chose to set up shop in the city’s western suburbs, having previously lived in Oak Brook. Her instincts were spot-on. Since opening in 2008, A. Marek has established a reputation that draws clientele from around the city. “It’s amazing how people will take the time to come out and find us,” says store director Romana Malinowski (pictured).
Customized with crystal chandeliers and pale lavender walls featuring a signature fleur de lis motif, the boutique certainly looks the part of a high-end jewel box. The displays tell a story of their own. From classical pieces by Buccellati to statement treasures by Cynthia Bach, the jewelry at A. Marek is united by one distinction: All the pieces are heirloom jewels from firms that excel at old-world craftsmanship (Carrera y Carrera, Oscar Heyman, and Picchiotti, to name a few). Despite the sophistication of the selection, the space boasts a familiar vibe that is as aspirational as it is welcoming, re-creating the old-fashioned comfort of jewelry buying. “We’ve made it a point to be different,” Malinowski says. “But different in the sense where it’s how the experience should have been—how people remember back in the days when they experienced jewelry shopping. At the end of the day, we find that people really want a relationship.”
Because suburban Chicago isn’t a well-known luxury-shopping destination, creative approaches to marketing make all the difference. “We have the most incredible jewels,” Malinowski says matter-of-factly, “but it was really hard to get that word out.” (She calls A. Marek “the best-kept secret in Oak Brook”—a compliment, to be sure, but not necessarily the reputation a retailer tries to cultivate.) Recognizing that the biggest hurdle to getting people into the store was transportation, she decided to make it easy on clients. “We provide car service,” Malinowski says. Many customers, she adds, like to gather a group of girlfriends and make an afternoon out of it; they’ll shop, have lunch, and then travel back to the city together. “When you’re at this level, you should have that ultimate experience,” she says. “I think we really blow people away.”
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
But what would an experience be without something beautiful to try on? Malinowski carefully curates pieces from experienced and established designers from all over the world that demonstrate a commitment to quality and artistic integrity. Expect each item to be authentic and accompanied by documentation to support the quality of the pieces. And if it’s not on site, Malinowski and the A. Marek team will find it for you: “There’s not a thing that you could ask for that I can’t get my hands on, because of the reputation we’ve established in such a short time.”
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