Monday, June 08, 2015

Textile Discount Outlet - Chicago, IL

Dr. BB and I spent a couple of days in Chicago last week. A high priority that was on my list of things to do was go to the Textile Discount Outlet at 2121 W. 21st Avenue.

I've written about how I'm learning how to sew here before, so that's nothing new to you. But the thing is that I'm not very good and fabric is kind of expensive. You can get patterns on sale with some regularity (on Memorial Day, Jo-Ann Fabric had Simplicity patterns for $1/piece!), but getting decent fabric at places like that can be expensive. It's hard to work with inexpensive, flimsy fabric and I'm just not at that skill level yet. I don't need the best fabric, but I do need some level of quality and I  don't want to break the bank if I have to end up throwing away something because I still kind of suck a little bit.

So this place is a giant warehouse of fabrics, textile, and notions including zippers, cords, ribbons, and assorted beads, hooks, and loops.  But I had read such mixed reviews about it on the internet that I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Here's the scoop.

There were three main types of clientele there when I was there on a Thursday morning: women and girls buying fabric to make quinceanera dresses, gay men, and mostly white women who seemed to be delighted at finding such awesome deals. I'll leave you to figure out which group I immediately wanted to be a part of and which group I actually was a part of.  Anyway, the place was not packed, but it was quite busy, especially for what was the middle of a work week.

1) It's giant. There are five or six HUGE rooms on each of three floors. If you don't see something you fall in love with here, you are a different kind of person than I am.
2) You can haggle at the cutting table. I got some cream-colored fabric that was stained and they knocked down the price for me right there when I asked.

3) The prices are crazy cheap. I had a bolt in my hands that was originally priced at $21.99/yard that was selling for $5.99/yard.
4) There is quality stuff here. You might have dig, but I saw some nice fabric still in the original cellophane wrapping at hugely discounted prices.

5) The experience of wandering around with other slightly mystified shoppers cannot be underestimated. I was on the top floor when these two ladies started Marco Polo to find one another. I heard one lady yell "I'm heading east" to another as they split up. I think going shopping at a place like this with someone who would think of it as a treasure hunt would be tremendous fun.  (Dr. BB waited in the car, so it was just me laughing at the Marco Polo women.)

1) It was fairly disorganized and as you got deeper and deeper into the store, disgustingly filthy. I don't really want to talk about the basement. Ever.  The main floor (the second floor) is fairly organized and it was clear that this was cotton, this was satin, this was suiting, and this was upholstery material, but once you left that main floor, all bets were off.  Linen next to silk next to curtain fabric.  And, again, the basement is really, really gross.
2) The staff are super busy up front, cutting fabric and checking folks out, so there's not a lot of help in the trenches. If you want one of those giant rolls of heavy curtain fabric, you have to heft it down off the rack yourself and haul it over the cutting table like a strong person at the circus. Sure, you can use one of the shopping carts provided, but woe unto you if you pass another person with another shopping cart.  Also, I have no idea how to get the carts up and down the floors because the only elevator I saw was a freight elevator for staff use only.

3) Parking is awful in that neighborhood. Dr. BB dropped me off and circled for ten minutes before finding someplace to park. Again, this was a Thursday mid-morning, so I imagine it would be worse if you went on a Sunday (the place is, oddly enough, closed on Saturdays).

4) Look, sometimes it's hard to get the fabric. It's all smooshed together and it takes Herculean strength to get a bolt out from around other bolts. If you're holding three other bolts (ahem) and you have to put them down on a disgusting surface, it's possible you might drive yourself crazy.
5) This place is actually kind of unsafe. See those metal racks? Some of them had sharp pieces sticking out. The upstairs and basement frequently had abrupt endings, like a maze. I can't imagine attempting to get out in an emergency. And if you have asthma, make sure to pack an inhaler because the dust and mildew are out of control (again, especially in the scary basement).

What's the Verdict?
Overall, I loved this place. Yes, sure, I was medicated for allergies. Yes, sure, I was a bit concerned I was taking my life into my own hands and I started to understand why so much of the early labor movement in the States was centered around the garment industry. Yes, sure, it was kind of like I was a rat in a maze. Yes, sure, if I was looking for something specific I would have been absolutely clueless about how to proceed. Yes, sure, I knotted the bag shut as tightly as I could when I put in the car and will not be opening it until I can deposit the fabric directly into the washing machine.


It was a magical shopping experience. I felt like I was getting away with something. Does the health inspector know about this place? What about the pricing police?  DOES MY MOM KNOW?

It's definitely worth some time if you're in the Chicago area and you like this sort of thing.

*As always, there are no affiliate links used. I went to this place on my own, shelled out $80 for yards and yards of fabric, and do recommend it.

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