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Six Corners District Slowly Recovers, Fill Vacant Storefronts

The Six Corners shopping district on Chicago’s North Side has seen business after business leave the area and replacements have been slow to come.

What used to be one of the biggest shopping attractions Chicago had to offer is now an eyesore of boarded up buildings.

“It used to be Chicago’s second largest shopping district after Downtown,” said George Borovik, executive director of the Portage Park Chamber of Commerce. “Now it looks like a ghost town.”

Borovik said there’s promise the area will be further developed in the next year or two. Slowly, the boarded-up buildings along Irving Park Road, Milwaukee Avenue and Cicero Avenue are being filled with new businesses, many of which are set to open as early as next year.

While Sears continues to be an anchor for the shopping district, a new 300-seat German-American restaurant, a 90-unit senior housing development and the new National Veterans Art Museum will add to the success of the district.

“Six Corners is still a place to be,” Borovik said. “I’m not saying every vacancy will be filled in two years, but a lot of them will be.”

One tactic the Portage Park Chamber of Commerce, the Six-Corners shopping district and Ald. John Arena (45th) are using to bring in new businesses is fixing some of the 118 current businesses.

The hopes are to bring in new businesses by beautifying the area through the use of Tax Increment Financing funds and taking advantage of the Streetscape Project, said Arena, whose ward encompasses 75 percent of the district. Arena also encourages shoppers to stay local and help expand the shopping district.

“Take a stroll down the street and shop the local stores,” Arena said. “We all have to be part of the solution.”

Since 2003, the Streetscape Project has covered $17 million for the Six Corners facelift and has attracted private investment, Owen Brugh, Arena’s chief of staff.

Last year, there was 12,000 square feet leased and between 20,000 to 25,000 so far this year, said Arena, though the newly leased buildings are not yet open.

In 2010, 35 vacant buildings lined the two-square block area. In 2011, the number trickled down to 32 and so far this year, it has shrunk to 24.

Kathleen Lange 42, said the area needs to have more restaurants so shoppers can do everything in one stop.

“They need to make it more like Lakeview,” she said.

Lange is a resident of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood but frequently shops the Marshall’s at the Six Corners shopping district because of the cheap prices and ample free parking.

“I would be disappointed to see more businesses go from here, it’s so much easier to get around,” Lange said.

Arena said she agrees the area needs to be more like Lakeview.

“They come from the east, looking for amenities they had there,” said Arena of the influx of younger families moving into the area with a disposable income.

To entice the families to stay in the area, five new restaurants are being built, along with the 99-seat Filament Theater Ensemble, a tradition folk theater, which is expected to open in 2013.

“Six-Corners has certainly been in a decline,” said Ed Bannon, member of the Six Corners Association. “Things are on the way back up, but it’s a little hard to tell now.”

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