Looking back: The Pump Room Boutique (Part I)

An interview with Dulce Ramos

Earlier this month I sat down with Dulce Ramos, owner of The Pump Room Boutique, a shoe store located on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square from 2003 to 2007.

The Pump Room Boutique began in a small space at 2727 N. Milwaukee Avenue in late 2003. Two years later it moved to a larger space at 2630 N. Milwaukee Avenue, only to close down in early 2007. I thought it would be interesting looking back on Dulce’s experience with The Pump Room Boutique and Milwaukee Avenue.

Peopling Places: What caused you to open a shoe store?

Dulce Ramos: I am the biggest shoe whore you will ever meet! I had close to 400 pairs of shoes before I opened that store. I’ve just been a shoe freak since I was in 4th grade. I clearly remember the day that I realized that I was a shoe freak, …and I remember the shoes. It was a patent leather Mary Jane with a little low wedge heel that was so cute, and I used to love the way it looked on my foot, and it made my foot look cute to me. I was like, “Oh, I love these shoes.” After that I knew I had a problem.

So you followed the do what you love approach?

Absolutely. Yea, something I have a passion for. I still get stopped in the street. People say, “We miss your store.” I always say we were the most popular little shoe store that never made it.

Describe in your own words what The Pump Room Boutique was about.

The Pump Room was all about attitude. This was not for the shy girl. These were not shy girl shoes. These were shoes for somebody who had an attitude. That was part of what we wanted it to be. It was very progressive fashion-wise.

(The stripper pole) came later because my sister actually did exotic dancing in the past, and we thought that because we had such a club look to our stuff–that bitchy look–we had a mirror and a stage and a pole so that girls could check themselves out and know what they were going to look like at the club when they’re trying (shoes) on.

And that pole became our signature fun item. We had all the UPS guys swing on it; all the FedEx guys; we had the mailman swing on it; we’d make everybody swing on it. It was hilarious. And the interesting thing too was that there were girls and older women too who’d walk into the store, and who you would never think would do it, who were like, “Yea, I’ll try it.” It was a lot of fun.

Why did you select Milwaukee Avenue for your location?

Originally I tried to be in Wicker Park. And then I got (jerked) around by people there. The real estate, commercial rental business is completely different than residential real estate. (Dulce is also a residential real estate agent with RE/MAX Skyline in Humboldt Park.) I had one woman in particular who obviously was underpricing her rent, and I wanted it really bad because it was right by the Bongo Room. I felt like if people were waiting an hour to get a seat in the Bongo Room, they could shop there. She said she’d rent it to me, and then she started avoiding me and avoiding me, avoiding me. And then she ended up renting to someone else for twice the price. Then the other structures that were there that were available at that time were new construction, and those were $6000-$7000 a month in rent. You know, too risky. (For some discussion of the level of sales necessary to sustain rents for new construction, see the Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space recent blog post: Do it yourself culture #5.)

And Milwaukee Avenue was a street I knew; it was in the neighborhood I lived in. It was convenient. And I thought that it was a genuine effort to do something different and boutique-y in a neighborhood that I know would like something like that. Akira (another shoe store on North Avenue) had a lot of the same merchandise we did for three times the price.

Why did you make the move (from 2727 to 2630 N. Milwaukee Avenue)?

Because we were outgrowing 2727; the space was tiny. It was crazy. And what made it so charming originally was that it wasn’t so overstocked and we actually had a showroom. The floor–we had an artist come in and paint it so it was almost like a leopard print on the floor. And with the colors that we chose for the store, it kind of glowed, so it was really, really, really cool looking. Anyhow, then as it became more popular or busier, business got better, we needed more stock. And then it started looking like every other store on Milwaukee Avenue where there was so much stuff that you couldn’t even see the structure itself. All you saw was merchandise, and then it’s busy eye.

What still excites you about Milwaukee Avenue?

The location; the fact that it has all the transportation that it has. The look of it I think is very cool and interesting; it just needs to be–I would say–garnished or decorated.

What is it about the look?

I love that you have that monument there. I love that (there’s) on one side all these beautiful older buildings. I like that the structures on Milwaukee Avenue are different because they’re older so that each one is different vs. that whole box look. When it’s busy and active there, you totally feel like you’re part of a neighborhood; like your neighborhood shopping vs. some places that are so big you don’t feel there’s a sense of neighborhood. Like by North Avenue and Sheffield (home to the first conglomeration of parking lot centric big-box stores and national retailers in the city): those structures are all newer, and they’re huge so you don’t have that neighborhood quality at all.

A conversation starter: What still excites you
about Milwaukee Avenue?

More at Re-investment and reasonable rents.


One Response to Looking back: The Pump Room Boutique (Part I)

  1. Carter says:

    Great story. I think if more people knew about the challenges independent, small store owners like Dulce face they would be more likely to support them. It’s easy to take for granted a funky & eclectic mix of businesses, and even easier to watch as they all get run out of town by chain stores.

    Carter: I’ll have more on my interview with Dulce soon. The continuation will include many challenges that these small businesses face. ~ Lynn

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