After a roof fire severely damaged the interior of The Spice House this past July, the owners chose to turn a tragedy into an opportunity by updating the sixty-year-old store with a fresh look and brand relaunch. Opened in 1957 in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood (1512 North Wells Street), the longtime purveyor of premium and specialty spices is one of the few remaining fixtures of bygone Wells Street and has remained a popular destination for locals and visitors alike, from renowned Michelin-star chefs to home cooks.
“The Chicago Fire Department’s quick action saved the store,” says Charlie Mayer, CEO of The Spice House. However, the amount of water used to extinguish the fire left the ceiling and flooring with significant damage. Mayer goes on to explain that he considered a quick repair project but ultimately decided to “turn a bad situation into a great opportunity, redesigning and rebuilding the store to reflect the aesthetic and signature elements of our new brand.”
Working with internationally acclaimed architecture firm, Gensler, the renovation was inspired by various architectural elements of the original structure, which dates back to between 1890-1900. “The renovation gave us an opportunity to expose and preserve many wonderful original features,” Mayer explains, “like the building’s original brick. When we removed the damaged ceiling, we found the beautiful original rafters, which we had cleaned and painted so we could leave them exposed. We also uncovered two windows at the back of the store to increase the natural light.”
The renovated interior also includes reclaimed heart pine flooring sourced from a shuttered tractor factory in Wisconsin, along with a balance of modern fixtures and locally-sourced heritage pieces.
Our Chicago customers have been anxiously awaiting the store reopening. The Spice House is still a thriving part of the Old Town shopping district.
According to Gensler, the renovation process took three months, concept to completion, as the team worked to “create a retail environment that would deepen the interaction of The Spice House’s already loyal customer base, while encouraging new customers to easily discover and interact with the finest spices from around the world.”
When asked how The Spice House has maintained a robust presence in a rapidly changing commercial corridor and retail landscape, Mayer notes that, while the company has embraced e-commerce as part of its overall strategy, “there is no substitute for visiting our store in person. The stores are a destination and an experience—an opportunity to explore.” Mayer further explains that the brick-and-mortar business is at the heart of their wholesale business, which serves area restaurants, bakeries, and breweries.
Mayer is eager for visitors to come in and experience the best of brick-and-mortar shopping in this well-loved Chicago setting, which has reopened just in time for the holidays. “This project gave us a great opportunity to nourish the Chicago roots that nourish the rest of our business.”
For more information, visit The Spice House.