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AKIRA Rides the Fun Wave to Success

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AKIRA co-founder Jon Cotay reminisces about 9 years in Chicago and how the retailer has managed to grow

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AKIRA's 9th anniversary party Thursday night offered a number of options at their cluster of North Avenue stores -- a Western-themed bash at the women's shop -- complete with a live horse eating hay, chickens and a piglet -- a Baywatch theme at the women's shoe store and a Toga party at the men's store. In the mix were DJs, lithe young dancers gyrating on platforms and plenty of free booze floating around.

Call it the AKIRA way. The owners like to have fun, and that aesthetic gets passed on to its customers, creating an AKIRA brand that goes beyond just the clothes.

"We feel like our customers should have a good time with us, so as much as possible they're traveling with us to what we're experiencing," AKIRA co-founder Jon Cotay says.

Of the three AKIRA founders, Cotay is more or less the curator of fun. The entire staff brainstorms on ideas for parties and shows, but Cotay is the driver.

"I always liked to throw parties, even as a little kid and through college, and now it's just a good way to do business," Cotay says.

But beyond the concept of having fun, Cotay lists building relationships and loyalty as one of the big reasons the company has grown from a single North Avenue boutique in 2002 to 14 locations today.

And it's also about looking forward. Cotay says if you thought this week's party was a spectacle, he's already started thinking about what they'll do for the 10th anniversary next year.

"You look forward to the next week and I look forward to every day," he says.

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