By Wendy Donahue
As a 24-year-old newlywed in 1983, Lori Andre rented a vacant storefront on Armitage Avenue just west of Halsted Street, unsure how she would fill it.
It was an unlikely address for either of her ideas, gourmet takeout or women’s footwear, with its view to a tire shop, on a sketchy stretch that didn’t yet buzz with young professionals and new moms pushing strollers in Lululemon yoga pants.
But Lori’s Discount Designer Shoes grew into a destination for them. Dozens of other boutiques and restaurants followed.
Lori’s has outlasted many, weathering three recessions and the ascent of ultraluxury brands such as Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. Evolving along the way, Andre and her husband, Brian, dropped “Discount” from the name, opened stores in suburban Northfield and Highland Park and launched online sales at lorisshoes.com.
Fundamentally, though, Lori’s has stuck to the original vision: fashionable, high-quality shoes that you don’t find everywhere, at these prices, with this retail model.
Rather than having sales associates ferry sizes back and forth, Lori’s always has stacked boxes right on the sales floor, for customers to help themselves. The self-service aspect reduced overhead, and no one seemed to mind standing on their own two feet to try on styles.
She honed her eye for aesthetic value in college, studying abroad in Italy while earning an art history degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She returns to Milan twice a year to uphold her store’s subtitle as “The Sole of Chicago.”
After raising their three boys in Northfield, she and her husband recently moved back to Chicago and live in Lakeview. Here, in an edited transcript of our conversation, she walks us through her journey.
Q: How did you decide to start the business?
A: When I graduated college, I was working for a noncommercial print gallery, helping to curate collections for art collectors and doing corporate sales. I loved my job, but I always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I wanted to do something on my own. My husband was in law school, and we had just gotten married and were living in the neighborhood, off Armitage and Orchard Street. We saw there was a space for rent.