Adam’s Apple, Chicago’s Oldest Head Shop, Closes West Ridge Store This Month After 52 Years

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WEST RIDGE – From the dawn of hippie culture to the legalization of weed, Adam’s Apple in West Ridge has led Chicagoans through the ups and downs of counterculture.

But after 52 years in business, Adam’s Apple will close at the end of the month. The city’s oldest main store, located at 6229 N. California Ave., will have its last day of operation on January 31. Longtime owner Shelly Miller is planning to retire.

“At 75, I think I have a few good years left,” Miller said. “I’m a quiet guy. I’ll just disappear.

Adam’s Apple opened in the spring of 1969. At first, it was one of the few places in town to purchase rolling paper and other accessories for the burgeoning pot culture, Miller said.

In the ’70s and’ 80s, Adam’s Apple served as a destination for thousands of North Side teens in search of tie dyes and flare jeans, while battling concerns from neighbors and police about these establishments.

Today the shop is a blast from the past, offering a litany of pipes, papers, bongs, canoes, storage boxes and other stoner supplies. The damp, below-grade store is filled with stickers, posters, and other decors indicative of such head stores. But few stores in town can claim this level of authenticity from the counterculture.

In 2018, Adam’s Apple was named one of the 10 Legendary Top Stores by High Times Magazine.

“I just couldn’t figure it out,” Miller said of his store’s longevity. “I don’t know if it’s personality, but it’s definitely a quality product and fair prices. And something that people forget: customer service.

Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Shelly Miller looks at her store at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing smokehouse in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.

Spring of ’69

Adam’s Apple was opened by Miller’s Friends, who rented the California Avenue storefront primarily to make pirate recordings on 8 tracks. The friends decided to open a store in space – but closed after a scare of the record companies.

Miller, fresh out of the Navy and having completed a tour of duty in the South China Sea, was a local kid who was sharper than his long-haired friends who had opened Adam’s Apple. He reopened the store in the fall of 1969.

Miller’s military service and appearance gave the company more legitimacy in those decisive early days, he said. A petition to close the store failed after Miller, then 23, intervened, he said.

“Before I took over, they had long hair. [The store owner] was ostracized, ”Miller said. “The scene was demonstrations, marches, anti-bills. I was never a protester myself, but that was the vibe.

Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
The sign at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing tobacco store in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.

Adam’s Apple was boosted in its early days by another booming scene: FM radio.

As the legendary WLS radio station expanded its reach and played rock music in the late 1960s, Miller began advertising Adam’s Apple on the station. It put Adam’s Apple on the Chicago hippie map.

Adam’s Apple jumped into the ’70s denim craze early on and has grown into one of the area’s most popular jeans stores, Miller said. On weekends, Adam’s Apple was packed, as the store became a destination for teens strolling along nearby Devon Avenue.

Miller still sells jeans.

“This neighborhood supported me because there were a lot of young people here,” he said. “Devon Avenue was the perfect location. There were all kinds of record stores, jeans stores. It was a very hip jeans store.

Adam’s Apple’s popularity also had its downsides. It became a place where people gathered – outside, Miller said – to buy drugs. This led to further heat from the police, who occasionally raided the store. Police would even examine cigarette butts left behind to make sure they weren’t joints, Miller said.

“In the 1970s this place was notorious,” he said.

Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Shelly Miller, owner of Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing tobacco store in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.

Bell Bottom Blues

Starting in the 1980s, a shifting culture and shifting demographics in West Ridge hurt Adam’s Apple, Miller said.

It is then that the young clientele of the shop leaves their hippie and settles in the suburbs. Attitudes to drugs and hippie culture have changed, hurting the company’s bottom line.

“Children did not pack it in their [school] don’t break anymore, ”Miller said.

In recent years, the increase in vape shops has also reduced the customer base of Adam’s Apple. Adam’s Apple has never sold vape liquid or a lot of vaping supplies, but vape does stock pipes and rolling paper, which is Miller’s bread and butter.

A vape shop has even opened across the street in recent years.

Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Glass pieces on sale at Adam’s Apple.

Legalizing cannabis in 2020 has never proven to be a boon to the head trade, Miller said. Most of the dispensaries that have opened also sell main store items.

Adam’s Apple still had loyal customers, but Miller began to see the writing on the wall.

“It’s been a hobby for over two years,” Miller said. “At my age, I can’t stand standing here, especially when it’s slow.

Adam’s business license for Apple expires on February 15, making it a good time to retire, Miller said. He will likely sell the building that houses the Adam’s apple and travel to retirement.

There won’t be a windfall sell-out, Miller said. It would not conform to the style of Adam’s Apple. Instead, he’ll be looking to sell what he can and see as many regulars as possible before going out of business.

“I don’t know what the next step is,” Miller said. “I still have some health and a life I want to live.”

Adam’s Apple is open from 12:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Items for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing tobacco store in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Shirts for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing tobacco store in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Jeans for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing tobacco store in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Shirts for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing tobacco store in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Shelly Miller poses for a photo at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing tobacco store in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
A wall at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing tobacco store in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Shelly Miller speaks at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing tobacco store in West Ridge, on January 5, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
Pieces of glass for sale at Adam’s Apple, 6229 N. California Ave., a popular and long-standing smokehouse in West Ridge, January 5, 2022.

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