It’s kind of hard to describe The Silver Room, now located in Chicago’s Hyde Park. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone who walks through its doors.
There’s a retail section selling silver jewelry, accessories, clothing; an art gallery; and on any given day, there are classes in such areas as dance and business 101 as well as performances, from spoken word to jazz ensembles. It’s a hodgepodge that founder/owner Eric Williams is proud of.
Williams is a serial entrepreneur and this is reflected in the concept of The Silver Room. While in college, where he studied finance, an enterprising Williams sold tee shirts and sunglasses. He ventured into stock brokering for a while. During the 1990s, he collaborated with and supported an urban cultural shop called Lit-X targeting young African-Americans. In 1997, Williams launched The Silver Room, first as a retail store then it developed into more of a community service center. There was also a restaurant/juice bar/magazine store called Square One in 2001.
“Basically, I opened The Silver Room 18 years ago. It started off as a retail store and I was selling silver accessories, watches, hats and I began meeting lots of local people who made stuff so now most of the things in the store are locally made. We also sell clothes, art, and then 10 years ago, we started hosting events,” says Williams. “Because we had a bigger space and there was no place for people in the area to hold events, we began to host them–listening parties, book signings, art exhibitions.”
Because The Silver Room does many services for the community that are not money-making, Williams says it is a continuous struggle to get financing for the venue. ”This is probably the biggest challenge,” he says. “When I first opened the store, the purpose was just to sell stuff to make money and I realized it was important for the people in the community to have a space to do things. It’s nice to hear people say, the first art exhibition I had ever was in your store, or when someone says the first piece of jewelry I sold was in your store. That makes it all worth it.”
But challenges aren’t stopping Williams. He has major plans for 2016–one is to bring back one of his most popular events, The Silver Room Block Party. “We had to skip last year’s party because we were moving locations for the store, but we are looking to do a bigger and better block party in 2016,” he says. “From when we started, it has grown every year, going from 200 people to 6,000 for the 2014 party.” The block party includes performances from a wide array of local artists, from jazz and spoken word to house. “Even though it has grown so large, I try very hard to keep the vibe very local,” shares Williams. Williams funds the summer block party himself, though this year he may look for sponsors.
“The block party grew organically,” says Williams. “That is the way I like to work. If you grow something organically, it’s not just me doing; it is ‘we’ doing it. I really try to partner with people.”