Lincoln on the rebound
Residents flocking to area, and merchants running to catch up
Publication: Chicago Sun-Times
Date: October 22, 1999
Author: SANDRA GUY
Edition: LATE SPORTS FINAL
Word Count: 1229
A plaza, a street makeover and Wishbone restaurant are among the intriguing pieces coming together to reveal a gentrifying
Lincoln Avenue retail strip. To hear developers tell it, the Lakeview intersection of Lincoln-Belmont-Ashland avenues_the
city's second-busiest retail center 25 years ago_is set to become the next Lincoln Park.
Locally owned retail shops and restaurants popping up every few storefronts reveal a distinctly urban, artistic bent. They aim
to please singles, but they also target dual wage-earners with children who are flocking to the upscale lofts, condos and
town houses that have cropped up within a 10-block radius in the last two years.
Yet the aggressive development raises unsettling questions.
Will commercial rents skyrocket before the new entrepreneurs get off the ground?
What happens to mainstays such as Dinkel's Bakery, whose expansive square footage offers the perfect solution to
developers starved for parking and storefront space?
And how solid is the commercial base when well-known names such as Blind Faith Cafe and Service Merchandise close?
Though Lincoln Avenue remains pocked with vacant and dilapidated storefronts, a dozen new retailers are plowing exciting
Technicolor Kitchen, a restaurant in a stainless steel building at 3210 N. Lincoln, features a rolled-up roof that makes it look
like a top-heavy bread loaf. Technicolor opened in August, offering new American fusion cuisine with Asian and Cajun
influences. Jamie Dunn and Beth Berlin, co-owners of the Pepper Lounge, bought the 4,000-square-foot space that a
low-budget clothing store had occupied.
Diners might find themselves sitting in a blue room at the beginning of a meal, yet become aware at the end of the meal that
the room is purple. That's the result of an Italian-made, computer-controlled lighting system that adjusts the lights by
near-imperceptible increments. The average meal runs $35 to $50, and the menu features an extensive wine list.
A few blocks away, at 3350 N. Lincoln, Eye Spy Optical offers hand-made eyewear, much of it imported from France and
Japan, priced from $195 to $400.
"Glasses are like a fashion accessory," said owner/manager Alissa Fields, an optician who specializes in fittings and lenses.
An optometrist comes to the shop on Sundays to give eye exams.
Fields opened the shop one year ago because she'd been waiting for the perfect moment to start her own business. "It's very
neighborhood-y. I wanted it to be comfortable," she said.
Benjamin Moline, owner/manager of Significant Touch flower shop, created the floral arrangements for a Kevin Bacon
movie, "Stir of Echoes," as well as a Walter Payton/Jamie Redford benefit at the Harold Washington Library's winter garden.
The shop is starting to get return visitors two years after it opened at 3543 N. Paulina, at the northeast corner of the
Lincoln-Paulina-Roscoe intersection. Caravan Beads, a five-year veteran of the area, moved into a former laundromat at
3361 N. Lincoln last summer. The store hosts a glass beadmaking studio and jewelrymaking classes, and offers 300 colors
of the sought-after Delica bead from Japan.
The list goes on: Universal Sole, 3352 N. Paulina, a runners' clothing and shoe store that opened Sept. 12; Monarch's
Heaven, 3326 N. Lincoln, a specialty candle and gifts store that offers aromatherapy and massage oils, opened one year
ago; Fizz, 3220 N. Lincoln, a bar and grill that opened 19 months ago; Building Blocks, 3306 N. Lincoln, a children's toy
store that moved from its previous Clark Street site on Sept. 16, and Blockbuster Video, which opened in June on the
ground floorofthelofts at the southwest corner of Lincoln and School, site of the former Woolworth's building.
At the northernmost tip of the Lincoln Avenue strip is a new-concept Crate and Barrel store, called CB2, that's set to open
in January. The store, located in an old Butera foods store at the corner of Lincoln and Grace, will be a throwback to the
earliest Crate and Barrel look, with products spilling out of their original crates for display.
The anchor of the retail renaissance is the Whole Foods Market at 3300 N. Ashland, which opened 3 1/2 years ago.
Starbucks Coffee quickly followed.
Though these decidedly upscale baby boomer businesses have thrived, two businesses nearby have folded.
The former Blind Faith Cafe at 3300 N. Lincoln opened in June 1997 and closed in May. Wishbone restaurant is moving
into the vacant space on Nov. 1.
A Service Merchandise store below the Tower Lofts (the former Wieboldt's building) opened in November 1995 and
closed this spring.
Rumors are out that Borders Books & Music is eyeing the 34,000-square-foot ground floor of the Service Merchandise
space, and that athletic clubs want the 25,000 square feet on the second floor.
Keith Lord, president and managing partner of the Lord Companies LLC, the retail broker re-leasing the Service
Merchandise space, declined to confirm those reports.
"We have a ton of interest from both local and national retailers," Lord said. The vacant site shares parking with Whole
Foods' 180-car parking garage, and sits within two blocks of the CTA's Brown Line and four city surface parking lots. The
site also is served by three city bus routes.
That winning formula of "location, location, location" has caused retail square-footage prices to double to $20 within the past
two years. The Service Merchandise space is on the market for $22 per square foot, triple net. That compares with Lincoln
Park's $24 to $26 range.
The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce isn't waiting for the new tenants. Its board of directors has retained the
Chicago-based Lakota Group to develop a Streetscape revitalization for the Lincoln-Belmont-Ashland intersection and the
A vacant piece of property on the northwest corner of the Lincoln-Belmont-Ashland intersection known as "the point,"
which abuts the Tower Lofts and Service Merchandise property, would be developed as a plaza.
The designs will be presented to Ald. Ted Matlak (32nd) for city planning and funding, said Tom Waldeck, the chamber's
Streetscapes, such as the ones on State Street and Michigan Avenue, beautify an area so shoppers can have a fun walking
environment, with trees, benches, flowers, planter boxes, lighting, banners, information kiosks, signs and identifying themes,
said John LaMotte, senior principal with the Lakota Group.
Yet the population statistics and demographics that attract developers are causing inevitable growing pains.
An estimated 7,150 people live in a five- to six-block radius of the six-way Lincoln-Belmont-Ashland intersection. That's a
6 percent increase from 1996, when the population had soared 16 percent from 1990, according to the Chicago Plan
The newcomers are white-collar workers commuting into the Loop and families searching for child-centered activities.
The number of daily commuters entering the Brown Line L stop at Lincoln and Paulina avenues tripled last year to 1,640
from 550 in 1991, according to the CTA.
Membership at the Lincoln-Belmont YMCA nearly doubled in the last three years to 9,700, said Executive Director Linda
The land-locked, 71-year-old YMCA, which offers single-room occupancy to more than 200 men, hosts family swim
nights, and has plans for a pre-school activity center, an aerobics studio and a fitness center expansion.
"It's hard to accommodate the whole family (membership) at the same time, but that's something we want to address,"
Indeed, the growing residential neighborhoods could use more retail services, Lord said. Examples: More restaurants, pet
supplies, photo processing, mortgage services, electronics and computer stores, to name a few.
"This area is on a huge upward swing," he said.
Owner Alissa Fields helps customer Mark Bello try on sunglasses at Eye Spy Optical, 3350 N. Lincoln. At Caravan Beads,
3361 N. Lincoln, customer Beth Thomas checks out the merchandise. ILLUSTRATION; See roll microfilm.
TOM CRUZE; Greg Good
Copyright 1999 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.