Higher Attire

Kate Rouhandeh

“Ever since I was little, I’ve been dreaming up ideas for businesses,” says Grant Hensel, a high school senior at the University of Chicago Lab School. Last year, Hensel’s father suggested he use his penchant for business to do something for his community. Inspired by a similar project started by his pastor, Hensel developed a plan for Encore, a thrift store whose proceeds would go towards community renewal. After just over a year of planning and fundraising, Encore celebrated its grand opening in Hyde Park on January 10th.

Filled with warm knit sweaters, vintage t-shirts, and billowing silk and linen tops, Encore is a treasure chest of second-hand gems. Tucked underneath the Metra tracks, the space is cozy, with prices hand-written in chalk on blackboards and customers winding their way around the racks of pinstripes and leather jackets. Wool hats, worn-in jeans, and scarves coiled into colorful snails are arranged neatly throughout the room.

As the only thrift store in Hyde Park, Encore monopolizes the local market for resurrected clothing. For Kristin Brockway, the store’s manager, this means a steady supply of high quality donations that come with stories from their previous owners. Many of the pieces are donated from people affiliated with Holy Trinity, the church that both Hensel and Brockway attend.

“We’ve got Japanese kimonos, pashminas from France and Asia, and some really beautiful Italian shoes,” says Brockway, nodding to a collection of boots and shoes behind her. She isn’t joking. The Italian leather dress shoes–a men’s size ten–are gorgeous brown wingtip Oxfords with broguing.

Classic pieces from well-known brands like Banana Republic, J. Crew, and United Colors of Benetton are mixed in with more obscure labels — all selling for an average of about five dollars each. “And over there”–Brockway points to the back, where a women’s suede coat is hanging on the wall–“is an Oilily jacket that was originally over three hundred dollars.” Here, it is selling for $34.

But what sets Encore apart isn’t actually what’s in the store. “We’re not just a typical thrift shop,” says Brockway, “I think what draws a lot of people is our cause.” Encore was made possible by Hope for Chicago, an organization founded eight years ago by Holy Trinity Church devoted to doing good in each of the city’s 77 neighborhoods. The emphasis on bringing communities together is reflected in the impact that the creators of Encore hope to have. “I want people to come into the store and find quality, affordable clothes,” says Hensel, “I want it to help give homeless people something to wear. I want it to provide employment to hard-working people.”

Right now, Brockway is the store’s only full-time employee; the others are volunteers who receive coupons–“Encore”–to give to those that may be in need of a warm jacket or new shoes. The shop also participates in clothing drives with homeless shelters throughout the city. The board members of Hope for Chicago will ultimately decide which organization Encore donates its proceeds to, but one possibility is that the money will be used to build a warming center where food and clothing can be distributed.

For Hensel, however, this is the beginning of a much larger initiative. “I don’t want Encore to end in Hyde Park,” he says. “Ten or twenty years from now, I hope that we can have a whole network of stores in Chicago, all supporting Hope for Chicago and helping bless and strengthen the people of our city. That’s what Encore is really all about: creating a dynamic, growing enterprise that can really make a difference in the lives of the people of Chicago.”

Encore–which means “again” in French–has the potential and resources to impact its community, but only time will tell how the story ends. For now, all that can be said for certain is that Encore is a store worth spending hours in–it is wonderfully easy to lose track of time among the cashmere sweaters, tweed pants and motorcycle jackets waiting inside.

Hensel seems confident about the store’s prospects: “God would expect nothing less, I suspect.” Bravo.

Encore, 1553 E Hyde Park Boulevard. Monday-Thursday, 11am-6pm; Friday, 11am-5pm; Saturday, 11am-4pm. htcchicago.org/encore