This past Saturday, Hyde Park said goodbye to one of its oldest keepsakes. Boyajian’s Bazaar, located at 1305 E. 53rd Street (between Third World CafÃ© and Pockets), has been around for twenty-seven years as a bric-a-brac shop, offering worldly wares–or wears–such as Indian jewelry, African dolls, and Austrian crystal. Unfortunately, in recent years the store seems to have lost its luster in consumers’ eyes, and current owner Alison Harris Alexander has found herself with no other option but to close original owner Richard Boyajian’s quirky creation.
Richard Boyajian opened up his store in 1980 after experiencing quite an interesting sequence of events. In the 1940s, Boyajian joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps in an attempt to avoid the World War II draft. Unfortunately for the self-proclaimed pacifist, he spent three years fighting abroad before finishing his graduate degree in biochemistry back in the states. In addition to completing his education upon his return, Boyajian converted to the Quaker faith to complement his peace-loving nature. He then went on to teach in the University of Chicago Lab Schools until 1980.
Most influential in the creation of the Bazaar was the pacifist portion of Boyajian’s personality. In the midst of the whirlwind of his life, Richard Boyajian found himself traveling to New Delhi during a teaching mission to study the beliefs of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s belief I mn n home-based industry as a form of resistance against British rule and industrialization inspired the Chicago native’s post-retirement plan to start up his own business. Fortunately for Hyde Park residents, Richard Boyajian carried out his original plan and gave us the opportunity to share in his inspiration.
“The world needs help to get better,” said Boyajian in 2004, and since making this observation he set out to make a change. Little did his customers know, the shopkeeper set out with their money; a portion of all of his sales went mostly to UNICEF and the American Friends Service Committee.
Unfortunately, one man can only do so much, and at age eighty-two, Richard Boyajian was ready to put down his receipt pad and calculator and retire with his wife. The possibility of the store’s closing caught the attention of many–most notably Alison Harris Alexander, who was one of the store’s most loyal customers. Alexander had discovered the store in 1984 while on her way to the grocery store. At that time, she had just moved to Hyde Park to head the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. Upon hearing that the store would close up shop, Alexander stepped up to the challenge and bought the business from Boyajian in 2004.
Three years later, Alexander found herself confronted by yet another threat of the store’s disappearance. However, no one is planning to retire this time. When asked the reason as to why the store was closing its doors, Alexander replied, “It’s impossible to stay in business when there’s not enough traffic.”
With the help of a few friends, the store made its final sales this past Saturday. With big block letters in the front window reading, “Everything must go,” the store reaped just as many customers as it did in its heyday. Discounted prices attracted a variety of curious bargain-hunters, including children, adults, and self-proclaimed “street Japanese” experts. While waiting in line to make her final purchases, one disappointed customer remarked, “I’m just getting started! Why must you close so soon?” Fortunately for the customer, Alison Harris Alexander was accepting email and mailing addresses in order to inform those interested of any of her future undertakings, but nothing could be confirmed as to whether or not any potential projects were in the works. Nevertheless, this past Saturday, the store seemed very similar to the lively store Richard Boyajian created twenty-seven years ago, and for the last time, customers were able to peruse the store and the remaining trinkets that had kept his business intact. For now, we will just have to wait and see what will fill the big shoes that Boyajian’s shop created, and hope that whatever it may be will make just as much of a contribution to the Hyde Park community.