Wolfbait & B-girls

The vibrant Wolfbait & B-girls storefront located at 3131 W. Logan Boulevard 
Hello friends! Today I had the privilege of interviewing the lovely Shirley Kienitz, owner of women's clothing boutique and locally made goods retailer Wolfbait & B-girls. If you've ever been to the Logan Square community on Chicago's Northwest side, you can't miss its bold signage and wonderfully quirky window displays just off of the Logan Boulevard circle. It truly is a community staple, and one of the first times I visited Logan Square I absolutely had to stop in. Since, I've been in countless times, each time adding to my rather impressive collections of both locally crafted wall art, natural and handmade bath products, and incredible-smelling candles!

The always impressive handmade earring collection
Greeting cards and wall art abound at Wolfbait 
Two weeks back, I decided to ask the woman working, whom I now have the privilege of knowing as Jenny Stadler, whether she or someone would be willing to interview with me. She gave me owner Shirley's info, and the rest, as they say, is history! We had a great conversation on what its like being a small business owner in a time where such businesses are seen less and less, the challenges of doing business in a rapidly gentrifying community, unique challenges facing Logan Square as of late, and how she got her start. Read on and enjoy, my dears!
Locally made jewelry including necklaces, earrings and bracelets 

Me: Hi Shirley. It's so great to finally meet you, how are you?

Shirley: I'm well, thank you, how are you doing?

Me: I'm good! So, how long have you owned Wolfbait and how long have you been at this location?

S: We've been at this location the whole time, we opened in 2006 so we've been open 13 years.

Me: Okay wow! And have you always been the owner?

Shirley Kienetz, the proud founding mother of Wolfbait

S: Yes, founding father...mother! Founding mother. :)

Me: What inspired you to call it Wolfbait? What's the story behind the name?

S: Wolfbait & B-girls comes from a book called Chicago Confidential. There's a chapter called Wolfbait where they refer to the women coming from the farms looking for work in the city and how easy they were to underpay and take advantage of, and they were referred to as wolfbait. Then there's another chapter about women working in the city and how they 'should all be b-girls" which is bar maids or burlesque dancers. A b-girl was also a common phrase for a woman who was paid by bars to get men to drink more. So it's kind of the seedy underbelly of Chicago's history with women working here. So we wanted to take those derogatory terms and turn them around, show them what women are doing today.

Me: So do you have a lot of female designers and artists that you feature?

Wolfbait's women's clothing, a lot of which is made by Shirley herself!

Wolfbait's door features plenty of "shop local" signage to encourage its customers
S: Yes, that's right, we represent about 250 different local artists, the majority definitely being female. We also represent a handful of woman-run Chicago based fair trade companies.

Me: That's awesome. What do you feel like has been challenging about being a small business owner in Logan Square given the rapid gentrification that's been happening here?

S: I think it's important when you're starting a small business that you pursue something you're passionate about because it is a lot of work. There's a lot of obstacles and the reward has to be in the work you're doing and not what you expect to get paid for it. So my value system is more based on what I'm offering to so many people that are pursuing the noble act of 'makership' and uniqueness and how it should be valued in our culture and society and making a safe haven where everyone feels welcome to express themselves. Whether that's by showcasing what they make, supporting other artists, or wearing something truly unique. So those values stand up to any economic climate.

Me: Definitely, I would agree. What do you love the most about this community? What might you tell someone who was looking to move here?
Mugs and kitchenwares

S: This community has been really supportive both in the general customer and maker way, just supportive of the arts. As it has gentrified, people have been wanting to ensure that we survive. And I really appreciate that message from my customers and community. I also serve on the board of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce, so I think this is a very participatory neighborhood. A lot of the businesses are owner-operated, so you can meet and mingle with the person whose dream you're experiencing, which I think is very different than other business ventures that are purely paper exercises...for it to be something that people are more participatory in is very important. I think Logan Square's biggest changes are just happening now, so won't really know how much they change Logan Square for a few years. Like all of the commuter oriented housing. We're just now leasing those and just getting to know who the new people will be in the neighborhood, so I think it's too soon to tell who will define this neighborhood in the next 5-10 years.

Me: Yes that makes sense. Do you live here?

S: I actually live just west in a neighborhood called Belmont Cragin.

Me: Oh yeah, I'm familiar. And you did cover this a bit, but what would your words of advice be for someone in Chicago wanting to start a small business like this? Like where would you suggest they get involved and what are the important things for them to know in regards to staying afloat?

S: Yeah, I think it does have to be passion based. If you open a small business hoping to get rich you're sadly misled! So if it's not a passion project I don't think you'll be able to see how hard it is to succeed.

Me: Yeah, for sure. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges Logan Square is facing and how would you encourage people to get involved?

The wall of beautiful and hilarious tees
S: Well, it goes back to gentrification. I think the property owners are kind of sucking the community dry, both in a residential capacity and because empty storefronts have been incentivized here in Illinois for several years. Our local state representative Guzzardi is looking to reverse that, so keeping your storefront empty will no longer be incentivized so rents won't be pushed up by the lack of available space.

Me: What do you mean by incentivized?

S: Right now you get an amazing tax rate for not renting your unit. So these people that are already rich from the amount of property they own are getting to write off a huge portion of their income by keeping their commercial space empty.

Me: Yeah and based on some of the people I know who do live around here that I've talked to there seems to be certain investors that have been rapidly buying up space. It definitely seems to be a theme.

Handmade soaps, body butter and scrubs 
S: A group of banks and developers does not make a community. So I think when those are unincentivized or maybe incentivized in reverse when you rent at a reasonable rate to a small business that grosses under a certain amount, if that gives you a certain tax break, that can help make the community more vibrant. I think that legislation has to be made not always in the property owner's favor, as more and more property is not owned by individuals.

Me: Yes, very true. Also, one last question. How did you get to know the artists you represent?

S: I used to be on the Illinois Apparel Industry Board. When we were first starting I went to a lot of their meetings and all of the events and shows that I could to network. And at this point it's mostly word of mouth, since I've been doing a fine job representing these artists and taking care of their goods, they've been telling other makers they meet at shows or selling at other places. Also whenever I see someone who buys almost exclusively from local or independent makers, when I find them through my own shopping, I'll say 'Hey, you make a great product and I'm really interested in it. Can we represent you over at Wolfbait?' And I do make a lot of the clothes that we sell myself.

Me: Really? That's incredible, and they're so cute. I think that's all I have right now, thank you so much!

S: You're so welcome!


Meeting with Shirley was a great time and I highly recommend Wolfbait & B-girls to anyone who lives in or plans to visit the city and wants to experience authentic and independent Chicago art and fashion. I encourage you all to shop small when and however possible and support your locally owned businesses. That's how our neighborhoods grow and stay strong. On another note, I'm super excited to try these bath soaks I left the store with today! 


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