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Seven years ago, Wendi Grate and Kelly Asaf met on the first night of a shared graduate school class. The pair become fast friends, bonding over a mutual love of fashion, sustainability, and the Humboldt Park community. "We were eager to start a business, and we recognized the need for a clothing store in the community," says Asaf.
In August, the friends realized their dream with the opening of Meadowlark on California Avenue. "We renovated our space on our own—just the two of us and a power drill," says Asaf. "We installed our racks, repaired the floors, and built our counter. On the day we opened, we were both so sore we couldn't lift our arms."
The storefront space is stocked with "thoughtfully edited" vintage clothing that has a "clean, modern sensibility," says Grate. "We look for classics that have an edge." The inventory's primary hues are black, taupe, and nude, and both ladies are devotees of silk and wool.
"We will definitely snap up a polyester piece if it is extra good, but we are much more drawn to natural materials," says Asaf. The inventory comes in a wide range of sizes, with a selection for plus-sized shoppers. What you won't find? "A lot of kitsch," says Grate.
Of all the pieces from this season's inventory, a pair of black wool harem trousers from the 1960's have caught Grate's eye; she's also excited about a "sweet rack of neutral silk button-downs that are so perfect with slim pants and ankle boots. I drool over that rack."
For her part, Asaf is smitten with the vintage wool Pendleton pieces, and she's embracing the '90s trend. "We have a '90s Limited handmade sweater that's amazing," she says.
When it comes to the store's poetic-souning moniker, "the name Meadowlark was kind of random," Grate admits. "We knew that we wanted a nature-based name for the shop, and 'Meadowlark' was one of the only names that stuck with us. We do think it's pretty cool that meadowlarks sing while in flight."
The store's soundtrack is a little less natural, but no less melodious. The National, M83, and Pandora's "indie dance" station waft through the speakers on most days. "On gloomy days, we turn on Songs: Ohia," says Grate. The ladies fragrance the shop with a similarly mellow blend of essential oils in scents like lavender and eucalyptus. "We even put the oils in our clothing's steamer tank."
Other things you'll find: a cozy, lamp-lit dressing room housed in a former closet and a collection of vintage science encyclopedias that customers are welcome to flip through. Though there's no store pet, "sometimes we have a store toddler," Asaf says. "We live in the neighborhood, so I get frequent visits from my two-year old. She loves the store, and often tries to leave with a handbag or three."
Along with adorable would-be shoplifters, Asaf and Grate say the store attracts a cross-section of neighborhood folks, hipsters, young professionals, and church ladies. "One of my most memorable customers was a gentleman who tried on several of our dresses," Grate says. "I was so glad he felt comfortable enough in our shop to do so!"
· Meadowlark [Facebook]