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Wicker Park Economics Push Efforts to Buy Local First

Snapshot of Wicker Park's Division Street area

Wicker Park is easily accessible by the Blue Line station, a branch of Chicago’s El train system, and it boasts a scene that diverse residents can easily fall in love with.

“It’s a really good neighborhood,” said Francisco Lopez, local since 1964. “People move in, you know. White people, everybody.”

“It’s a lot of people coming together in a central location,” said 28-year-old Scoop NYC employee Karrington Keyes. “There’s a lot of good shopping around here,” he added.

Waitress Erin P. a 29-year-old,  describe the ease of access in Wicker Park. “I really like the proximity to everything,” she said. “I can walk everywhere; I mean, food, entertainment, work.”

Walking along Division Street, one gets a taste of everything the town has to offer, including restaurants, bars, art galleries, and more. There’s Real Naked Food, an organic food store. There’s Sorelle, a women’s boutique, among others.

Dalia Manjarres, the owner of Sorelle boutique, chose to open her business in Wicker Park because in her opinion, it “accepts trendy fashion, and innovates all the time.”

A dental studio named Ora is conveniently located here, as well. Favorite Records, owned by Morry Barak, is also nestled in a block of stores on West Division Street. Though Barak originally wanted his store to be further north, he decided to take on Wicker Park.

“It just dawned on me, and [I] found the [for sale sign] in here, I was all over it,” said Barak, whose business has been in Wicker Park for four months. “I know what the neighborhood is all about. That can’t be beat.”

Barak went on to talk about how the demographics of Wicker Park work in his favor.“For someone to buy, you know, vinyl records here, it’s not that uncommon,” he said.

Though Wicker Park seems appealing on the outside, some residents found fault with the inner workings that are plaguing the town. Besides crime that is often an issue amongst city dwellers, other residents shared a different gripe.

“I kind of like when it was a little more dingy,” said Erin. “It seems that a lot of the independent businesses, restaurants, and shops, are getting pushed out and more corporate things are coming in and it’s really sad.” She said, noting the Walgreens across the street.

Erin also credited the neighborhood’s individuality as one of the factors that made her want to live in Wicker Park.

For Keyes, bad parking is a complaint. However, says attributed gentrification means “taking the good with the bad.”

Gentrification refers to the changes that occur when wealthy people begin to own property in low income neighborhoods. When these changes take place, and the cost of living increases, original residents are displaced. And that’s when large corporate businesses move in, raising rents and pushing smaller establishments out of the way for good.

Gentrification has been ongoing, but as the cost of living increased recently, some in the Hispanic community have been forced to seek less expensive housing. According to the Wicker Park/Bucktown website, a recent demographics report says that almost half of the population is between the ages of 21 and 44, as opposed to families with younger children,which no longer make up a good portion of the town.

The Wicker Park/Bucktown Chamber of Commerce meets every month—with the exclusion of August this year—to discuss issues that face the community.

At the October  meeting, some of the hot topics were funding for the town’s Boo-Palooza, which is a Halloween event, whether or not to relocate the annual Do-Division festival, and the struggle to keep locally owned businesses.

Jessica Wobbekind is the Interim Program manager of the Special Service Area for Wicker Park/Bucktown. Though she is relatively new to the meetings, the main concerns from Wicker Park citizens are similar.

“Probably the biggest concerns for the chamber would be, you know, businesses. Not really citizens, but businesses, because the economy is bad,” she explained. “and keeping people shopping local.”

Wobbekind pointed to  Local First Chicago,which compiles lists of local businesses are organized by neighborhood.

Local First Chicago features a video and it lists many reasons why citizens should buy from locally-owned businesses. From  keeping money within the neighborhood, to embracing diversity, and helping the environment, they urge residents to “buy local.”

Although the threat of local businesses becoming extinct is real, the appeal of the neighborhood still lingers. Barak, who took a strong dislike to the city’s unclean appearance, appeared optimistic on the outlook of the future.

“I’m real happy here. Everybody who works here is great, it’s a real labor of love,” he said. Future plans for Favorite Records include a disc jockey, promotion of their rock photography, and posters.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed.” Barak added.

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