Going green with Circuit ridesharing

By Stephanie Racine

With Mayor Lightfoot’s new proposal on taxing solo rideshares, Circuit is a new viable option.

Circuit is a free and green rideshare company that made their debut in Chicago over the summer. New Eastside is a popular stop. The cars resemble shuttles, with each of the six passengers having their own door. The vehicles are fully electric and are hailed just like other rideshare companies, by using an app. Circuit has almost completed its pilot period in downtown Chicago and is winding down in November, but the company has no plans to leave.

“By no means do we want to leave Chicago. We’d love to be there full time,” said Circuit Co-Founder Alexander Esposito.

Circuit is looking for new ad partners for Chicago, but ideally they’d like to operate in Chicago by working with the city itself.

“We’re hoping to secure a longer-term service agreement with the City, local transit agencies or another local organization,” said Esposito.

In San Diego, there are 22 Circuit cars in operation with around 21,000 rides a month. Chicago’s ridesharing numbers are much larger than that, with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning reporting 286,000 rideshare rides per day. 

Esposito said they want to help with downtown congestion by making Circuit easily accessible at parking garages. They also want to help promote public transportation use.

“If more people could get a ride to the train, I think more people would use public transportation,” Esposito said.

According to Co-Founder James Mirras, there was a trend of Circuit customers using the app to get to and from the Washington/Wells CTA station.

“I was visiting family in the suburbs and used Circuit to get from the Metra to an appointment I had,” said Ana Ayrempour.

Ayrempour was surprised at how smooth the process was, especially with it being a free service.

“It was a quick pickup and the driver was nice,” said Ayrempour.  

Circuit employs drivers full-time and wants to focus on having local people driving their cars. Esposito thinks this helps bring a more comfortable feel to the experience.

“I’ve seen a driver taking time to teach an older woman how to use the app,” Esposito said.

Circuit was started by Esposito and his partner, James Mirras, as a beach shuttle in the Hamptons in New York, and was originally called The Free Ride. Now, Circuit has grown in different cities—both big and small. South Florida, Texas, California, and the Jersey Shore currently have Circuit.

For more information and to download the app, visit thefreeride.com

AmazonGo coming to the Prudential Building

By Stephanie Racine and Mat Cohen

AmazonGo is under construction at the Prudential Building on the plaza level, near Lake St. and Stetson Ave., according to the Amazon website. 

It will be the second AmazonGo location in New Eastside, joining its Illinois Center location at 111 E. Wacker Drive. AmazonGo is Amazon’s version of grocery and convenience store shopping. Customers scan in with the AmazonGo app, take what they need from the shelves, and walk out. 

“Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning,” the website stated. After Amazon automatically detects what has been taken, the items appear in a virtual cart, and the customer’s account is charged. 

AmazonGo is a popular stop for workers and busy people in New Eastside. “I’m about to get on an airplane so just wanted to stop in quick to grab a bottle of water” said AmazonGo Shopper Bill Meier. Meier has been to the AmazonGo in San Francisco as well, and is a big fan of the convenience. “It’s high tech, futuristic and where things are going,” said Meier. 

“I don’t always have a ton of time in the middle of the work day, or when I’m trying to get home at the end of the day,” said shopper Catherine Phaneuf. For Phaneuf, stopping at AmazonGo is the easiest and fastest way to grab a snack, or a full meal in a hurry. 

Beyond groceries, AmazonGo offers ready-to-make meal kits, which can be cooked for two people in 30 minutes. Local bakery and other artisanal items are also available.

AmazonGo even has organic raw beef or chicken to pick up. “It saves an extra trip to the grocery store if you decide to cook something on a whim last minute,” says Phaneuf. 

For more information about AmazonGo, visit amazon.com or download the AmazonGo app.

Christkindlmarket brings German Christmas to Chicago

By Elisa Shoenberger

Entering its 24th year, the Christkindlmarket brings a bit of German Christmas to Chicago. Debuting in Pioneer Court in 1996, the market grew to three markets in 2019, expanding to locations in Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville and Milwaukee, Wisc.

The German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) founded the market for business and cultural reasons. They wanted an opportunity to provide small businesses in Germany with a place to feature their products before deciding to invest in the U.S., explains Maren Priebe, CEO of German American Events, a subsidiary of the GACC.

But it wasn’t just about commerce. Christkindlmarkets are popular across Germany and the rest of the European Union. The tradition of Christkindlmarkets grew out of medieval markets going back to the 14th century, said Kate Bleeker, Director of the German American Events. Annual holiday markets began to evolve into social occasions where families and entire communities came together.  

The Chicago market was modeled after the Nuremberg market, reflected by the red and white huts.

The market was a bit of a risky venture given Chicago’s snowy winters, Priebe said. But the risk paid off in the first year when 300,000 people showed up to enjoy the market with 13 vendors in Pioneer Court. The following year, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office invited them to Daley Plaza, where the market has been since.

The Christkindlmarket “has become a centerpiece of the city’s holiday celebration for locals and tourists,” Priebe said. The central location of the market, close to transportation, hotels, and the business district, and free admission have helped the market grow.

In 2014, the market expanded to Wrigleyville and in 2018 Christkindlmarket opened in Milwaukee. GACC has consulted with other fairs across the country but as far as they know they are the most traditional of the Christkindlmarkets in the US.

Bob’s Belgian Hot Chocolate and Wacky Wonderworks are two new vendors in this year’s market. Based in Downers Grove, Wacky Wonderworks sells 3D wooden puzzles, such as Tyrannosaurus Rex or Pegasus, that do not require additional tools. Bob’s Belgian Hot Chocolate will sell his hot chocolate, made from combining Belgium dark and milk chocolate, as well as other chocolate products. 

For many, collecting the Christkindlmarket cup is a long tradition. Priebe said the new Christkindlmarket cup will be unveiled Nov. 4. 

The Milwaukee and Daley Plaza markets are open from Nov. 15 to Dec . 24  and the Wrigleyville market is open Nov. 22 to Dec. 31.

Chicago care services making house calls

By Elisa Shoenberger

Throughout Chicago there are doctors and other medical professionals who will go to residences. Instead of traveling to a doctor’s office or hospital, people can reach out to different services for non-emergency medical care in their home. 

Decades ago, it was common practice for doctors to travel to people’s homes with their recognizable black bag. Today, though the practice is not as common, doctors still bring medicines and IVs to treat patients in their own homes with many of these services even having specialists on staff, such as wound care specialists or technicians who bring along portable X-ray machines.

Locally, Chicago Express Doctors, founded by a few emergency room doctors, wanted to address the problem of crowded waiting rooms. One of the staff doctors, identified only as Dr. Allen, said the doctors thought, “Why don’t we do something more convenient?” and Chicago Express Doctors was born. Patients can call the service and have a doctor dispatched within an hour.

Another service, MD at Home, which has 9,000 unique patients each year, works largely with patients in their homes, typically with patients that have mobility or cognitive issues. MD at Home provides primary care services as well as helping coordinate other services as needed. Dovi Weill, Director of Business Development, said MD at Home is trying to solve a “gap of care” and prevent hospitalizations.  

The virtual medical service, Teledoc, allows people to speak with a licensed doctor or therapist via phone, web or mobile. Teledoc has more than 20 million members, or patients, in 130 countries.

Other medical groups provide at home nursing services as well as hospice assistance. Each service caters to different patient populations. For instance, Chicago Express Doctors works with travelers who don’t want to go to the ERs while away from home, and people with tight schedules. MD at Home works more with geriatric patients in their homes.

However, all the services are meant for non-emergency medical care. Even with former ER doctors on staff, Chicago Express Doctors advises people go to the ER when facing emergency situations.

Go back with the best—the hottest back to school stuff

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Fall is upon us, which means a fresh start on the schoolyear and brand new items to purchase. Be prepared for back-to-school with these useful for parents and fun for kids trends!  

Home Sweet Locker

Decorating lockers has always been a way to showcase personality while at school, but options have been upgraded since the days of magnets and magazine clips. Target has options such as magnetic succulent plants, magnetic and battery-powered “chandeliers,” and removable wallpaper. Specifically, check out UBrand at Target, which has all the previous options, plus more, like a disco ball!

Fashion is Clear

A trend for all ages, that’s also helpful for parents. A clear plastic raincoat is cheap, easy to clean, and also fashionable for a kid of any age. Currently, there’s one available at Walmart online for $10. Clear backpacks are also cool, and won’t require parents to ask if their kid forgot anything on their way out—it’s easy to see inside!

A Bento-Style Lunch

Bento Boxes are no longer just for mom or dad’s sushi lunch. The omieBox, available on Amazon, has spaces for both cold and hot foods. It comes with different inserts, depending on what’s for lunch that day, and can include cutlery. Everything in the box can be put in the dishwasher, to make daily cleanup easy. There are simpler versions, like the stainless steel LunchBots containers on Amazon.

Eraser Fun

Put a smile on their face with fun erasers in all sorts of shapes. Yoobi’s fast food eraser set, available at Urban Outfitters, includes a mini hamburger, hotdog, French fry, and sandwich all for erasing. Acbell’s erasers are in the shape of macaron cookies and brightly colored. Handy Basic’s erasers are ice cream treats. Both are available on Amazon.  

Streeterville Best Buy to close Nov. 2

(Published July 31, 2019)

In late July, the home electronics chain Best Buy announced they would not renew their lease at 875 N Michigan Ave. Best Buy has occupied the space since 2008 and the two-story store is the chain’s flagship location. The chain will not close its 31 remaining stores in Chicagoland. 

The Michigan Avenue store is 35,000 sq. feet. Large retail outlets have struggled in recent years. In 2018 Crate and Barrel left their 646 N. Michigan Ave. location, though a Starbucks roastery is still expected to open later this year. 

A spokesperson for the chain, Mathew Smith, said the downtown location had high rent and proved not to be as popular as other locations in the city. 

This location has one of the highest rents in our portfolio, even higher than most of our Manhattan stores,” said Smith. “Additionally, we’ve seen that most of our customers prefer to shop at one of our nearby stores like South Loop, North Avenue or Bucktown since parking is easier for big items like TVs and appliances.”

The store employs 35 people and management has said they hope to transfer those workers to other stores.  

A closer look at hidden bars around downtown

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff Writer

Looking for someplace new? Someplace weird? Someplace out-of-the-way?

Look no more. Here is a list of the best hidden bars downtown.

The Library

The Library is located in the basement of the Gilt Bar in River North. It has a speakeasy feel with soft lights, bookshelves and gentle 1920s music playing. They don’t take reservations, expect a wait.

Gilt Bar

230 N. Kinzie St.

The Drifter

This River North establishment is also in the basement of another bar, the Green Door Tavern. The cocktail menu varies because drinks are printed on tarot cards, and different cards list different drinks. Risk-seeking patrons can snag a fortune cookie from a Buddha cookie jar where each fortune lists a cocktail or liquor. After 8 p.m., there’s burlesque and musical entertainment curated by Michelle L’amour. Expect to pay a cover charge.

Green Door Tavern

678 N. Orleans St.

The Milk Room

This tiny hidden bar is on the second floor of the Chicago Athletic Association, 12 S. Michigan Ave. Allegedly, it was used by members during Prohibition. Paid reservations are recommended as the bar only has eight seats. This is the place for the discerning cocktail aficionado since they serve rare spirits.

Chicago Athletic Association

12 S. Michigan Ave.

Blind Barber

The Blind Barber, in West Loop, is in the back of an actual barber shop. When a patron enters the barbershop and asks for the bar, they will be directed to an unmarked door. Once inside the cocktail bar, it’ll feel like a time warp with soft lights and cozy chairs. In addition to a delicious cocktail list, they offer a grilled cheese that isn’t to be missed.

Back of a barber shop

948 W. Fulton Market

SafeHouse Chicago

A Milwaukee transplant, this Streeterville bar lets patrons feel like secret agents. First one must locate the red door and then provide the password or perform a designated task. Once these tests are passed, patrons find themselves in a spy-themed cocktail bar. It’s goofy and fun with lots to explore, including secret entrances and passages.

60 E. Ontario St.

Build a Bear offers a ‘pay your age’ promotion

(Published June 11, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Build a Bear Workshop, a popular retailer that allows customers to design their own teddy bears, is hosting a limited time “pay your age” promotion.

The chain has a retail outlet at the Navy Pier and through June 16, customers can enter to win a birthday party and a new bear.

“More than 200,000 Guests around the world are expected to receive a Pay Your Age limited ticket,” the Build a Bear website says. “With their ticket, Guests will be able to visit a Build-A-Bear Workshop during one of two redemption periods in the week of June 24 through June 28 and make one furry friend per child present, limit two furry friends per ticket. Additionally, ten Guests will win the Count Your Candles Sweepstakes grand prize of a birthday party experience to use any time in the next twelve months valued up to $250.”

Customers must be Bonus Club members (it’s free to join) and anyone can sign up online at buildabear.com.

CrossFit gym first to offer unique fitness program to Streeterville

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Frank Dowie, owner of MagMile CrossFit, likes to think his new CrossFit gym has something for everyone and every part of everyone can get fit.

Since the gym opened in late April at 7 E Illinois St., Dowie has seen a steady stream of various clients.

A traveler can lift kettlebells or do calisthenics in the morning, as a trio of business travelers from Mexico did one recent morning for less than $30. For the locals who love workouts, there’s a $240 option offering unlimited access to the facility and courses. There’s an $80 a week option or for $100 users get five classes.

Dowie’s gym is as versatile as CrossFit, a branded fitness program that aims to work out the whole body, combining fitness philosophy with community. Greg Glassman developed CrossFit in 2000 and in the last 20 years, the workout has developed a dedicated cult following.

“A big part of CrossFit is, CrossFitters love CrossFit,” Dowie said. “They don’t want to go to a traditional gym. It doesn’t scratch that itch.”

Dowie said he got into the CrossFit program in 2011, and fell in love with it. CrossFit doesn’t include many machines. Rather, it may involve lifting weights or throwing weighted balls and other activities that combine aerobics along with muscle development. But it’s also about mutual support and interacting with other people. Dowie said people don’t workout at a CrossFit gym wearing earbuds, and there are no mirrors on the wall, so members don’t focus on themselves. It is about other people.

“CrossFit is built on community,” Dowie said. “These people become your friends. This isn’t the kind of thing where you put your headphones in. You encourage each other. It’s a very positive environment and I loved that aspect of it.”

Dowie said many gyms—including his—do regular charity drives. In May, MagMile CrossFit raised money for local veterans and in June, he has hopes to raise money for a local gay pride nonprofit.  

Dowie, a Streeterville resident, said he opened MagMile CrossFit in the community because there’s not another CrossFit gym in Streeterville.

“I’m a resident here and I love this neighborhood,” he said. “I’m excited to bring our community to the community. I think it would be a benefit to the neighborhood.”

For more information, visit magmilecrossfit.com, email info@magmilecrossfit.com or call 312-577-9669.

Tails in the City celebrates 15 years in Streeterville area

(Published April 29)

By Elisa Shoenberger, staff writer

Tails in the City is celebrating 15 years of bringing dog accessories to the neighborhood.

The shop opened its doors in 2004 when owners Bruce Haas and Phillip Emigh

sought to start their own retail business. They decided on a luxury dog shop because they saw a need for high end dog items and Tails in the City was born at One East Delaware Place.

“We don’t offer anything that you need, we only offer things that you want,” said Philip Emigh.

They have $200 down snowsuits, sparkly bow ties, designer pet carriers, and even punny dog toys from Haute Diggity Dog —Chewie Vuitton and Woof Clicquot. They also have freshly baked goods in the shape of martini glasses and crowns that “fly off the shelves,” Emigh said.

They have a loyal following of neighborhood residents and they get business from tourists who go to the shop as a last stop before going home, according to Emigh.

Ani Sergi, a customer who has been shopping at Tails in the City since day one, explained that she loves the atmosphere and talking with the people at the shop. She notes that her dog, “loves to be there and she welcomes everybody. They give treats to the dogs.”

Emigh noted they’ve been popular with celebrities who are in town, such as Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood. When Harpo Studios was in Chicago, producers sourced their goodies for their guests from the shop.

The store also gives back to the pet community. For the fourth years in a row, the dog store will host a fundraising event for Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that trains and provides assistance dogs. Seasonally the store raises money for PAWS or the Anti-Cruelty Society through pet photographs with Santa or the Easter Bunny. They also host an annual halloween party and parade where pets and pet parents can win awards for best duo costume.

At the end of the day, the shop owners want the space to be be a fun place for people.

“Who wants to sell boring things? We want to sell fun things,” Emigh said. “Otherwise we’re competing with pet big box stores. We want to surprise our customers with what we have and make them happy.”

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