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Shinola still pursuing South Side factory: 'We love the South Side'

Built-in-Detroit watchmaker Shinola still intends to open a factory on Chicago's South Side, but the company is keeping plans around timing and what it will make close to the vest.

"(Chicago is) a very important market for us. It's a city that understands what we're doing," said Shinola President Jacques Panis. "We love the South Side of Chicago, and we believe that if we can create a few jobs there and share the story of the folks that are there, it could have a little bit of impact."

Detroit-based Shinola gained a following by selling not just its products, but the story it crafted behind the brand: a company bringing manufacturing jobs back to Detroit, where its workers assemble products including upscale watches, leather goods, bicycles and turntables. Its name traces back to an old shoe polish brand.

Panis, in town between the openings of Shinola stores in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood and Oakbrook Center mall, said he is actively exploring opportunities with potential landlords and facility operators.

Last year, Shinola floated plans of opening an eyewear plant on Chicago's South Side sometime this year.

Panis said the company is "very much still on that path," although there is no specific timeline and the factory will likely not be making eyewear.

"It has to do with the manufacturing side of things, and what we can do in a cost-effective way, and in a timely fashion to get things set up, and then finding the right partners," Panis said. "It's shifted a bit, but we're still very much looking at the South Side of Chicago for a facility of some sort to create some jobs down there."

Shinola has had a store in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood since late 2014. The company expects to open a fourth Chicago-area location at Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora in September.

The company is not looking at setting up plants outside Detroit beyond the proposed Chicago facility, Panis said.

"Chicago is a city with a rich manufacturing heritage. If you look back at the history of the city and what was made here and what still is made here, and you look at the South Side of Chicago and what is truly needed from a societal point of view down there, we don't know of a better place off the top of my head today where we would go," he said.

lzumbach@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @laurenzumbach

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