Construction Update
Change Brewing on North Michigan Avenue

Permits have been issued for the nearly $10 million transformation of the former Crate and Barrel flagship store on the Magnificent Mile into a new mega Starbucks.

Rendering of the proposed new flagship Starbucks store on Michigan Avenue (Courtesy of Starbucks)

Rendering of the proposed new flagship Starbucks store on Michigan Avenue (Courtesy of Starbucks)


The four-story building at 646 North Michigan Avenue opened in 1990, and it shaped like a (wait for it) crate, and a barrel.  It was one of a new generation of commercial buildings that helped transform the retail strip from genteel boutiques and minor department stores into the outdoor suburban chain store shopping mall it has become today.

Interestingly, the building’s transformation can be watched over by the very firm that designed it.  SBC’s offices are across the street and offer several windows looking down on 646.  SCB describes the structure’s impact more diplomatically than we can:

The Michigan Avenue facility became the model for over 40 SCB-designed Crate & Barrel stores across the United States. It also set an important precedent for stand-alone retail stores on Chicago’s renowned retail thoroughfare, altering its character to become more pedestrian friendly and paving the way for contemporary imitators.

646’s sensitivity to scale, and local ownership elevated it ever-so-slightly above the scrutiny that subsequent developments would receive.

The Crate and Barrel flagship store as seen from the offices of SCB.

The Crate and Barrel flagship store as seen from the offices of SCB.

The new 43,000-square-foot Starbucks store will actually be across the street from a Starbucks that was demolished in the mid-2000’s to make way for the Ritz-Carlton Residences (664 North Michigan Avenue).  It is one of the serial caffeinator’s new Rostery-style stores, which means that coffee beans will actually be roasted and packaged on-site.  Certainly an improvement over the usual smell of Chicago’s side streets.

That smell is an integral part of the store experience.  The new reality of Magnificent Mile stores that “get it” is that this location is not about selling.  It’s about branding.  The flagship stores of brands like AT&T, Verizon, and Underarmor aren’t about ringing up receipts. They’re three-dimensional, immersive, full-sensory advertisements for their brands.  You can’t put up a billboard to reach the multitude on North Michigan Avenue, but you can put in a pop-up shop that goes beyond visual stimulation.  Companies pushing everything from phones to pizza have done this on Michigan Avenue over the last 15 years. It gets the brand in your brain through touch, smell, and occasionally even taste. (Nokia was the first in pop-up format, though it could be argued that Apple’s former flagship was the originator of the concept.)

Starbucks has a long history in Chicago, occasionally trying out new store concepts and even new beverages in the Windy City.  As the Seattle company notes, “Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. From the glamorous Gold Coast to the museums of the Magnificent Mile.”  If anyone has a city map from the defunct Mag Mile Rand McNally Store, feel free to send it to Raintown.





Location: 646 North Michigan Avenue, Gold Coast

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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