It doesn't say a whole lot of good when a place tries to use shopping to advertise itself. It's perfectly understandable if, say, you don't have access to the variety or items you need and there's a big mall 90 minutes down the road; Buffalo and Toronto claim to hate each other, but the two cities - which are in different countries - have a very balanced relationship which is like that. But would you go jet-setting to Minneapolis to visit the Mall of America from Utah? I didn't think so.
Chicago's Near North Side has a very famous stretch right north of the Chicago River called the Magnificent Mile. Chicagoans refer to it using the nickname Mag Mile, but no matter the name, what everyone knows is that the Magnificent Mile is one giant mother of a shopping district. It's the largest shopping district in the city, featuring some 3,100,000 square feet of space with a shitload of retail outlets, boutiques, restaurants, and hotels.
Take a look at that last feature. Hotels. That should say everything about the audience the Magnificent Mile is aimed at.
The main stretch of the Mag Mile is located either directly on or just off Michigan Avenue. Michigan Avenue's stretch contains three shopping malls: 900 North Michigan, Water Tower Place, and The Shops at North Bridge, which is notable for floating over Grand Avenue with an enormous Nordstrom. There used to be four malls, but one of them, Chicago Place, closed down a few years ago and is in the process of being converted into office space. It also contains a lot of the bigger hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton, Park Hyatt, and Four Seasons. If you need a quick cash infusion, you can stop through Bank of America, Citibank, and JP Morgan. Or if you're in the mood to use a Chicago bank for the local economy, there's always LaSalle Bank and Harris Bank.
Let's face it, though, I have no clue how LaSalle and Harris manage to maintain any kind of active presence on the Mag Mile. Because if this place is any tourist's idea of sampling the local wares, said tourist needs to be run out of town on a rail. Here's a quick sampling of the vendors who set up shop on the Mag Mile: Gucci, Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani, Tiffany and Co., The Grand Lux, Drake Hotel, Rolex, and Prada. Now, what do all those vendors have in common? Aside from the fact that affording their better items means taking out a second mortgage? All of them are national brands with a large presence in most major cities.
So this is what tourists are looking for when they shop along the Magnificent Mile. Large retail chains that can be found in a million other cities in the country, or possibly the world. You're not seeing Chicago or any of the most unique or local wares it has to offer by running up and down Michigan Avenue. You're getting the same brands as anywhere. I'll grant you'll be getting a lot more of them; many of the bigger retailers run their stores on multiple levels. The Macy's store at Water Tower Place takes up space on all eight floors of the mall.
Say you're in Chicago to see some of its world-famous architecture. The Magnificent Mile doesn't have a whole hell of a lot of that, either. The southern end has the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building, and the north end contains the Chicago Water Tower - a remnant of the Great Fire of 1871 - and the John Hancock Center. It won't take much more than 20 minutes to walk from one end of Michigan Avenue to the other, which should be more than enough time to take all the photographs you want, unless you're trying to visit the observation deck at the top of the Hancock.
If you're looking to visit more unique places in Chicago, the Milwaukee strip in Bucktown and Wicker Park is a lot better. Or if you really don't want to leave your mainstream comfort zone, at least try Clark Street through Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville. There's really nothing magnificent about this mile unless the size of the crowd and buildings really impresses you all that much.