Milwaukee Avenue, the bustling social corridor surging through the Northwest Side of Chicago, has been changing for well over two decades. As the street breathes, in and out, development has slowly been following that breath, all the way from Wicker Park to Avondale – leaving Logan Square sandwiched between, maybe with a little less breathing room.
Whether or not the development is a positive neighborhood change has been a hot topic of debate for everyone involved in the community. Words like “gentrification” and “displacement” have grown into buzzwords, and even aldermen’s offices have been attacked on such grounds. However, whether viewed as positive, negative or both, there have been instances of businesses simply picking up and moving from Wicker Park to Logan Square, leaving some questioning the originality of the neighborhood as the development sets in.
Buzz: Killer Espresso is one of these businesses – having opened in January of 2010 in Wicker Park on Damen Avenue, Buzz is now relocating to Logan Square as a coffee roaster and baker, and plans to be open by next week on Milwaukee Avenue just south of Diversey Avenue. According to co-owner Stefan Hersh, there was virtually no one in Wicker Park serving craft coffee when they first opened their doors in the neighborhood, and pour overs were just an emerging trend. After struggling to make ends meet in Wicker Park for the beginning of their business, Buzz estimates that Logan Square will hold customers more readily excited for craft coffee in the first place – without that beginning struggle.
“Logan has emerged as a neighborhood ripe for growth,” Hersh said. “With its easy access to O’Hare and the Loop, the Northwest corridor along the Blue Line all seems to have potential, and a few pioneers in the neighborhood paved the way and have made it an easy leap for those of us a little later to the game.”
As far as craft coffee goes, Buzz won’t be alone in their move. Travis Schaffner, owner of Wormhole Coffee in Wicker Park (1462 N. Milwaukee Ave.) issued a city permit to convert a medical office at 3431 W. Fullerton Ave. into a coffee shop/cafe with on-site bean roasting.
Furious Spoon, the hip ramen restaurant jumpstarted by happening restaurateur Anshul Mangal at Idea Kitchen (behind other chic restaurants such as FireFin Poke), opened first in Wicker Park and then Logan Square about one year later. While Mangal says both locations have similar customers, he sees more families and fewer tourists in Logan Square than in Wicker Park.
“The target demographic is identical in Wicker Park and Logan Square,” Mangal said. “They are very similar neighborhoods, and if something works good in Wicker, rest-assured, it will work well in Logan Square because of the type of clientele we are catering to.”
Food and coffee aren’t the only clientele jumping up Milwaukee from Wicker to Logan – other lifestyle destinations such as Eskell Boutique have made the move. Eskell owner and designer Kelly Whitesell opened her vintage clothing and furniture store in Wicker Park in 2008, and will be opening in Logan Square near Bucktown before the holiday season begins this year. The move feels natural for Whitesell, as the location is closer to home for her, and she feels as if many of her customers would come over from Logan Square regardless. Now it’s just going to be easier for the both of them.
“We will only extend our customer base,” Whitesell said. “There is a lot of development happening in the neighborhood, and overall I think that it’s a good thing. We moved to Wicker Park in 2008, the year the market crashed, and we stared at a vacant Burger King lot for years before it finally became Native Foods. I am more worried when things get stagnant. Urban neighborhoods are always changing and evolving and you kind of have to embrace that.”
Also embracing that is Twisted Scissors Salon, having opened their first location in Logan Square in 2007. Ten years later, they opened up the door to their “Little Sister” salon in Avondale, just up Milwaukee Avenue.
Neighbors have watched the development creep from Wicker Park to Logan Square, and wonder if Avondale is next, also up the Milwaukee corridor and off the Blue Line. Avondale has hosted a restaurant crawl, a hot sauce festival and more. However, Katy Skinner, salon manager of Twisted Scissors Little Sister, sees their Avondale salon maintaining more of a family vibe than the one in Logan Square. (Editor’s Note: Skinner is social media community manager for LoganSquarist.)
One of the reasons Twisted Scissors opened their second location outside of Logan Square in the first place had to do with development in the neighborhood, according to Skinner. Rents were rising, and the owners wanted to secure another space where they could focus on growing their business for another decade, at least.
“It’s having a really negative impact on a lot of small businesses in the neighborhood, with the worst case scenario being permanent closure. One of the reasons I love working for them is that they always want to have options for their employees and stylists and always want to make sure we have a home where we can work and perfect our craft.”
Maintaining that feeling of home is key for most of these local businesses, wherever they move. As the Jewel Oscos and Starbucks find a nest in nearly every neighborhood now, and development drives down new streets and unworn paths, the forces of change are likely to continue to displace people and businesses. For some, it’s all about finding the balance, without being pushed out.
“We do a lot more than just our work behind the chair,” Skinner said. “We hope our clients continue to seek us out wherever we may be.”