While many small businesses are struggling with high rent in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park neighborhood and elsewhere, others are just taking off. Amid this brave new world of retail, design-savvy travel brand Flight 001 chose Damen Avenue to launch its newest store and retail strategy for the modern passenger.
Flight 001 was founded in New York in 1999 as a comprehensive resource for fun, stylish travel products. The brand’s fleet of over 20 stores worldwide previously included a location in Chicago’s Gold Coast. Yet, they saw the opportunity to move to a significantly smaller 450 square foot space in the city as essential to testing a new storefront concept.
“Retail is changing and brick and mortar needs to play a different role,” said Flight 001 co-founder John Sencion by phone. “We want to implement new strategies in the shopping experience to be on trend with what’s happening. A smaller footprint offers a more personal environment and intimate experience.”
The 1616 North Damen Avenue location, which quietly opened last fall, embraces vintage travel glamour with modern conveniences. The brand was founded with the goal of simplifying the travel experience by curating a range of products in one store, from luggage to literature and tech gadgets to toiletries.
Sleek baggage stands against the wood-paneled walls, and amenities from jasmine toothpaste to messages in bottles for mailing to your friends line the store’s mid-century shelves.
Design is a primary consideration in the store’s offering, from the retro jet fuselage interior design to the travel accessories stocked. “We want to give you the fun neck pillow not the generic grey utilitarian version,” said co-founder John Sencion.
Beyond the quirky luggage tags and sleep masks, there’s a slew of products for keeping your USB cords under wraps. Eye popping TSA approved quart bags to tote your liquids appear in neon hues with embossed passport stamps. Carry-on cocktail kits allow you to take your mixology skills mile high. Travelers can keep track of their trips with a scratch-off map or cork globe.
The brand offers its own line of F1 Exclusives alongside well-known names like Victorinox and Herschel Supply Co. Flight 001’s Spacepak system compresses your clothes, organizing them by category to optimize your suitcase strategy. Each pouch has a second compartment underneath for dirty laundry to help contain your clothing in one place.
Sencion’s favorite item is the JA/C READY Adapter System. The patented 4-in-1 universal travel adapter is color-coded to easily identify the right plug for your trip. It currently covers 150 countries. “It’s about simplifying how we connect to the world,” he said.
Beyond The Carryons
The goal for Flight 001’s Chicago store extends beyond outfitting passengers with travel sundries. The store hopes to be a portal that provides a holistic travel experience. This includes launching a new series of customer initiatives including an In Residence program which will connect on-site travel experts with visitors to the boutique. The Chicago location is also looking forward to hosting a key drop off location for Airbnb customers in the future.
“Sixteen years ago we were aggregating travel products,” said Sencion. “Now we want to aggregate travel in general by embracing travel partners like booking site, apps, or tourism boards. By inviting them to share our space we hope to provide added value to the entire travel experience.”
To reflect this attitude, Chicago’s Flight 001 location is home to another brand first – a nickname. Sencion refers to the store as Worldport in a tribute to the historic Pan Am airport terminal at JFK that served as a hub for so many travelers.
“Sixteen years ago we were aggregating travel products. Now we want to aggregate travel in general…”
In another gesture to the changing retail landscape, Flight 001 Chicago is the first of the brand’s stores to pioneer exclusively electronic payment. Sencion explained that with so many alternate forms of payment available a no cash system offers a more seamless and efficient transaction for customers. Many small businesses, including several in Wicker Park, prefer to avoid credit card fees. Yet Sencion believes this is a short-sighted mentality.
“Who wants to carry cash when you can pay with your watch or card? Businesses with longer visions realize electronic payment is part of reality now,” he said.
This Must Be The Place
Flight 001’s new location is strategically situated steps from the Blue Line artery to O’Hare. The setting is convenient for stocking up before a trip, especially when combined with the 20% discount offered to air crew or 15% to travelers presenting a boarding pass.
“We think this is the No. 2 retail corridor in Chicago…”
For business owners, a street-level storefront on Damen Avenue presents steady foot traffic and a compelling opportunity adapt to contemporary retail, even if it means downsizing. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Marc Realty Capital paid $7.5 million to purchase the building that houses Flight 001 last summer. A partner in the group named David Ruttenberg told Crain’s, “We think this is the No. 2 retail corridor in Chicago, with (Michigan Avenue) being No. 1.”
The retail landscape is in a challenging position, with endless online options and local businesses competing with national chains. Flight 001 hopes their willingness to experiment and focus on unique value-ads for their customers, referred to as passengers, render them ready for takeoff.
A version of this article originally appeared on Chicagoist.
1616 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647