Debra Does Devon

You may have heard that the Chicago Sun-Times endorsed Silverstein, saying she brought unspecified  “improvements to the community, including along the key Devon Avenue commercial strip.”  The Sun-Times is just plain wrong.

I have walked Devon from McCormick to Ridge many times over the past six months and tried to inventory the businesses that actually operate on the street. The task was more difficult than it should have been because of outdated signage as well as the papered and painted windows in some buildings and storefronts that make it hard to tell if a business actually exists, regardless of signage.

I suggest we lift our eyes from the street scape and look at the retailing experience these 24 blocks on Devon Avenue offer.

  • Beauty shops                                                                           22
  • Convenience Store/Grocery/General Merchandise                 37
  • Electronics/Cell Phone stores                                                 20
  • Medical (including 4 optometrists)                                          24
  • Nonprofit/Religious Institutions                                               14
  • Restaurants (other than fast food)                                          37
  • Sari Shops                                                                              31
  • Supermarkets                                                                         10
  • Vacant Buildings                                                                      6
  • Vacant Lots                                                                              2
  • Vacant Restaurants                                                                  5
  • Vacant Stores                                                                         30

Devon Avenue was once a middle-class shopping district. Now it is home to

  • 47 stores whose primary business is selling groceries
  • 37 restaurants, plus 4 fast food operations
  • 34 storefronts occupied by medical businesses, nonprofit social services organizations, and religious institutions that generate no sales taxes (the exceptions being the 4 optometrists) and, in some cases, remove properties from the tax rolls
  • 43 vacancies (stores, restaurants, buildings, lots)

This is what happens when the alderman fails to deliver an economic plan.

This is what happens when the Chamber of Commerce refuses to work with residents to develop a shopping district that meets community demands and needs and instead relies on nonresident shoppers for business.

This is what happens when business owners refuse to accept that there simply aren’t enough customers to support such an overwhelming number of outlets selling the same damn thing.

I don’t care how many endorsements Silverstein and the mayor buy. The 50th Ward needs new leadership.

 

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6 thoughts on “Debra Does Devon

  1. We could forgive the lack of an economic plan for the street if our alderman would do the minimum it takes to arrest the deterioration and disinvestment that is taking place in the 50th. As one who recently bought a condo in the area, I am disturbed by the unkempt appearance of many

    The first baby steps toward reversing these troubling trends would be to improve the appearance of the street by enjoining shopkeepers and property owners to restore facades, install attractive signs, and keep the sidewalks and adjacent vacant lots clean and free of trash and weeds.

    The next step would be to work with businesses, developers, and the owners of vacant lots and buildings to bring new businesses to the area.

    However, our alderman will not do these things because she is not anymore interested than any other politician in making the ward, or the city, more business-friendly by making sure it is competitive with other cities (and states) in taxes, fees, wages, and general business conditions. Our politicians’ idea of “economic development” is throwing tens of millions of dollars at big corporations to bring said “development” that is a net tax recipient instead of contributor. It should be obvious that no one with a sense of self-preservation is going to open a small neighborhood business that tries to compete with Target, Walmart, or Home Depot, and that someone with limited capital who might otherwise be motivated to open a small, original business, will be daunted by the bureaucratic hoops and obstruction. I have personally looked into the possibility of opening “boutique” type businesses here, but even getting the place licensed and permitted would consume a good part of my capital. Entrepreneurs don’t need “help” -what they need is to be reasonably free of obstruction and unnecessary regulations, fees, and costs. A major minimum wage hike does not help, to say the least.

    Can we perhaps do what Wicker Park, which was in MUCH worse shape, did back in the 80s, and turn this into a draw for artists, perhaps pull together a cohesive art community? WP used to have a wonderful art community that was the salvation of the place, but these people were long ago priced out, and the formerly cohesive and energetic art scene in Chicago has become so fragmented, it hardly exists anymore. Maybe we could revive it here in the 50th?

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    • Laura, Everything you say is true. I have talked with Zehra Quadri about these issues and they are part of her economic redevelopment plan. We are one of the few wards in the city without an arts district and that needs to be remedied. To do anything, we need an alderman who is interested in re-imagining our commercial corridors and who is not beholden to the special interests that run Devon. For my money, that’s Zehra Quadri. It’s the reason the business interests are working so hard to defeat her.

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    • A wonderful suggestion. I know that Zehra wants to building a new library and is aware of discussions on EveryblockChicago about the need for arts space here. Many residents want to see cultural attractions, galleries, performing space, etc. and all these things could be part of a new library complex that would replace some of these vacant lots. It’s only the alderman who isn’t aware that we have options for redevelopment other than filling storefronts.

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      • Thank you for bringing up the matter of a new library. We are possibly the only ward that isn’t getting one. Is there any of the ward’s “menu” money left that could be put toward such a project? Another issue that urgently needs to be addressed is zoning. Devon is chaotic, with too buildings that don’t go together too well, different setbacks, and too many parking lots fronting the street. Planning for future re-development should consider reducing the number of curb cuts and imposing a uniform lot line, preferably with wider sidewalks, on all new construction. We also have a real, and rare, opportunity to develop Western Ave into a real urban street with urban-appropriate mixed use development to replace all the car dealerships that are vacating their spaces. The auto district is dead and is unlikely to revive- people are leaving that business and those who remain are being made to build new dealerships on massive tracts of land, which is why they are going to the outer burbs. There is a lot of beautiful multifamily residential on the streets either side of Western, and these blocks would benefit a lot from attractive mixed use development with small to medium retail. I’d like to see things like a Jewel Store, a CD discount cleaner, and more “mainstream” restaurants and shops, that tend to want newer, slightly larger spaces.

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      • Debra put all the menu money into the street scape, I talked to the Northtown library manager several months ago, and she told me that Debra is aware of the need for a new library but that with new libraries in adjoining wards there was no chance of getting one here. The issue of chaotic building and street irregularities is addressed in Zehra’s economic plan. Western is ripe for redevelopment, but there won’t be any more grocery stores. We have 10 supermarkets on Devon alone, with Aldi and Cermak Foods just off Devon and a huge Jewel on the Evanston side of Howard at Kedzie. The trouble with attracting mainstream businesses of any kind is the heavy density of Indian businesses on Devon and the designation “Little India,” which has come to mean the entire ward. In my opinion, unless and until the Indian business owners agree to share the ward with other merchants in a truly diverse shopping district (and it’s not likely, given that they’ve just formed their own Chamber of Commerce separate from that of the West Ridge Chamber), we will be unable to attract any mainstream businsesses.

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