Saturday, January 29, 2011

Windy City

It was spring of 2003. I had just turned 22 and completed one of my major life goals: graduate from college. I was ready to take on life as a single, young, career-driven woman but this also happened to be the year that unemployment struck. Hard. I decided to boost my spirits (and drain my graduation money) with a trip to Europe with my brother. We had a wonderful time, and it was because of that trip that I first became familiar with the Swedish retailer, H&M. After I returned with still no response from any of the numerous resumes I sent out, I accepted the hard reality that I needed to find a temporary job while continuing my post-college job search. So, I picked up an hourly position as a retail clerk at Pier One. While learning how to fold rugs "the Pier One way" and repeatedly watching the movie REALITY BITES, I was also diligently applying online for fashion merchandising/buyer positions and apartments in big cities, anything that would help make my glamorous dreams of one day making it big come true. 

Then one morning I got a phone call. I will always remember this day very clearly because that phone call was life changing. There I was asleep in my twin bed in my childhood room, when my mom came in to wake me up. When she told me who was on the phone I didn't believe her. No way could it be H&M. And no way could they be contacting me for an interview for the position of Visual Merchandiser for their brand new flagship store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago

For me, there was nothing to think about. I had visited a friend in Chicago years back and loved it, and loved the store H&M, making this THE perfect opportunity for me. So, off I went to the Windy City where thankfully my mom's cousin picked me up from the airport and drove me to my first interview. I still am in disbelief as to how exactly I got this interview since I didn't have any official merchandising experience, but there I was in my pinstriped suit ready to wow 'um. I was nervous, but wouldn't let it show, and before I knew it, I was asked to return for a second interview. SLC to Chicago twice in 2 weeks- no problem-o right? So, off I went again, this time with my mom. 

Things went well at my second interview and thankfully the third interview was scheduled to be over the phone. After some novice salary negotiating, I had secured the funds necessary to survive on my own in the big city! I pictured myself just like one of the girls from Sex and the City (Charlotte of course) walking down the busy city streets looking ultra chic, but most importantly looking like she had someplace important to go. That last line is what I told my mom I wanted to be years back- and here I was with someplace VERY important to my new job as an H&M Visual Merchandiser in downtown Chicago!

As if the news couldn't get any better, I was also told that since their Chicago store was still being built, they were sending all of their new-hires to their flagship store in Manhattan, NY to train for 2 months. I was ecstatic for the paid opportunity to live in NYC and learned A LOT about people. Luckily, my soon-to-be Chicago co-workers were also young 20-somethings like me and we quickly all became friends. Since I had yet to find a place of my own in the city, they each generously offered me their apartments to stay at. After a week of sleeping on floors and living out of a suitcase, I knew I needed to get settled in a place of my own, and was determined to find myself the perfect apartment in the city. 

My first apartment hunting day is when my new-city-shock, I-miss-home meltdown occurred. It was now all becoming very real. I felt lost, hopeless, and overwhelmed, and remember sitting down on a bus bench where I started to cry bawled my eyes out. I called my mom and she offered to check out some places for me online, but just then a friend called me on the other line. Surprisingly she too was apartment hunting that day with her mom and offered to have me join them. I switched back to the other line and told my mom that I was going to go with Samantha and her mom to find a place (my mom still feels bad that she wasn't there to help me, but as you'll see, it all worked out in the end), and off we went. The first place was not at all what I had pictured. It was far away from work (in Boystown) and outdated. Worst of all the landlord was wearing a tanktop and sleezy gold chain (not kidding). When he placed his hand on my back and offered to take me up to the rooftop deck, I knew I had to go! Seconds from my having another meltdown, my phone rang again. This time it was a very nice lady from Apparently she was radomly going through the online forms (remember how I shared at the beginning that I was filling out any and every form I could back in SLC?) and came across mine. It just so happened that her office was around the corner from where I was right then, so I thanked my friend and her mom and went by myself to meet the lady at the apartment finding agency.

This lady was wonderful. A godsend really. Minutes after I shared what I wanted (walking distance to work, doorman, washer & dryer) she had places ready for me to see. And since the economy was so bad, units that would normally be too expensive had come down quite a bit in rent! I fell in LOVE with the first place I saw on Lake Shore Drive

Second (going from L-R) red brick building in downtown Chicago
Ahhhh, what a nice sound that address had to it. It was a high rise studio apartment on the 13th floor (13 has always been my lucky number). It was only 505 sq. feet, but had a separate kitchen with bi-fold doors and HUGE windows overlooking Lake Michigan

I'll never forget this view and how often I'd just stare at the beautiful shades of blue...
BEFORE shot of the apartment looking towards the entry 
BEFORE shot of the kitchen w/ bi-fold doors to enclose from rest of living space 
It was a 15 min. walk (10 if I hurried) to work, with a doorman, walk-in-closet, and in-house w/d facilities. A few hours later, I got approved, and moved in that week thanks to a generous friend and wonderful mother who packed and shipped boxes and boxes of all my stuff.

AFTER shot of the kitchen
AFTER shot of straight forward view from the front entryway
AFTER shot of apartment looking towards the entry (now looking at this photo I think things look a bit cramped, but I think I did great for 505 sq. ft.! p.s. I found that curvy lamp on my bedside table by the trash shoot out in the hallway~ I'm guessing it got tossed because the former owner was moving because it worked great! I liked thinking of it as one former tenants gift to another ;)).
I had so much fun living the single girl life in Chi-town. For two years, I visited some of the most swankiest bars/restaurants and museums, enjoyed walks along Lake Michigan, got tickets to the Oprah show and broadway musicals/plays, as well as access to some of the BEST shopping in the country. I will ALWAYS be thankful for my time there but am also glad I knew when it was time to come home. As my mother told me when I left "Remember, you can always come home." And I did.

When people ask me what Chicago was like compared to Utah, I tell them you really can't compare since they're almost total opposites. One thing I can compare is where I was before and after my time there, and I know I would not be the person I am today had I not gone. Yep, life in the Windy City was glamorous and fun, but life here in Utah is naturally beautiful and a wonderful place for my husband and I right now to raise our family while being close to family. We can't say for certain where we'll end up, perhaps wherever the wind blows.... 


  1. I LOVED this post!! What a wonderful experience, thanks for sharing! I think you did an amazing job with your 505 square ft. of space!

  2. I had no idea you did all of this! How wonderful! :) You did AMAZING with that small of a space! Thanks for sharing this.

  3. How neat! Nathan and I got to go to Chicago for a conference when Blake was 2 mo old, but we only spent a few days there. Someday I would love to go back!

  4. You did not work at H&M. I am dying!!! I love that place. Ah, to actually work there. Fun post!