Inside the Michigan Avenue Best Buy Before it Opens

Much to the delight of some, and the horror of others, a new Best Buy store is going to open inside the John Hancock Center just hours from now.

The intrusion of yet another mall-class store into the formerly posh Magnificent Mile isn’t being taken lightly by nearby residents, but they have to admit — it’s better than a massive vacant space at the base of one of the city’s iconic skyscrapers.

We’ve been following the Best Buy saga since it was announced about a year ago, and followed it from concept drawings to the reality is is today:

Best Buy

Drawing of what the exterior of the Hancock Center Best Buy store was supposed to look like.

Best Buy

The reality.

Wednesday night there was an invitation-only VIP party held in the store.  People who live in the John Hancock Center, along with representatives of local NIMBY group “SOAR,” and pretty much anyone else who might make trouble for the project were invited to an evening of booze and live music to help start neighborly relations off on a good foot.

Best Buy

The Hancock Center Best Buy preview event

This photograph is more representative of the store than the crowd.  It was taken from the staircase that unifies the two-story store.  It looks like only a few people were there, but that’s just bad timing.  In reality I’d say at least a thousand people passed through the store in the two hours the party was on.

Remember when the Best Buy was first proposed, we were told that it would be a “boutique” store carrying a limited number of high-end items to match the milieu of North Michigan Avenue?  Forget about it.  This is a standard Best Buy store with all of the same stuff as a Best Buy from Appleton, Wisconsin to Middletown, New York.  Remember when the base of the Hancock Center had a Cartier?  Well, Kay Jewelers just moved in.

The ground floor of the store is given over to cell phones, iPods, GPS units, and the high-profit accessories that go with them.  Those aren’t all that useful to people who live in the neighborhood.

Arriving upstairs, the shopper is surrounded by mid-range and low-end video cameras.  Prowling further, there is a section of laptop computers.  Various flavors of bulbous, sticker-covered Wintels on the right, and sleek, silver Apple MacBooks on the other side of the aisle.

It should also be noted, that there is a small section of some pretty high-end cameras.  No 1DS Mark III’s, but a Canon 50D, several Nikon equivalents, and many professional-level accessories are available.  Even the Extreme III 30 MB edition SD cards are available.

Then there is a respectably large DVD section, then video games (XBox, PS3, PSP, Wii, DS), and then a home theater section with half the TVs brightness levels jacked up and the other half turned down, seemingly at random.

All in all, the store is remarkably large.  Sure, it’s no North Avenue, but this isn’t a store to sneeze at.  It appears to carry the full range of Best Buy gear.  And that includes washers and dryers, food processors, and a blend stick I came very close to using my Hancock Resident Discount on.

More importantly, there are staples to be found.  Things that are actually useful to people who live nearby.  Since CompUSA closed, the options for getting certain things have been limited.  Blank DVDs?  Well, there’s Walgreen’s — if you don’t want dual-layer discs.  A USB cable?  Better hoof it into the Loop.  Printer ink?  Well, if you have an HP printer you can go to Walgreen’s; otherwise it’s way over to the Ohio Street off ramp to give you Canon or Epson a drink.  Thanks to this Best Buy, network cards, bare bones hard drives, and other kit parts are all available in 60611 for the first time in two years.

So, while it furthers the mallification of the former Boul Mich, Best Buy is indeed better than nothing.  And in some ways, it’s going to be quite useful for those of us who like to shop for electronics in our underwear.*

And if the regular sales staff is even half as helpful as those on hand for the VIP event, then they’ll be ten times better than the loafers at CompUSA (who refused to sell my wife a $600 computer because she’s a girl and wouldn’t understand how to use it!)

The manager of the store seems like a very nice young woman who is eager to make this work.  Her store opens Saturday morning.  If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and decide for yourself whether this is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

*Note: It is against Hancock Center rules for the residents to appear in public areas in their underwear, so don’t worry about seeing grandpa’s droopy knees at the checkout line.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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