‘The heart of the city’: State Street Corridor to be revitalized

by Stephanie Racine

“Elevating State” will be the goal and catchphrase of a new plan to revamp the State Street Corridor in the Chicago Loop.

The State Street Corridor plan was the main focus of the Chicago Loop Alliance and Foundation Annual Meeting on Feb. 20. Ernest Wong, co-founder and principal of Site Design Group, presented his plan for the revitalization.

“I am excited about the State Street Corridor plan,” said Deputy Mayor of Economic and Neighborhood Development Samir Mayekar in his speech at the meeting. 

State Street has a long history of being the hub of commerce and tourism in Chicago, Wong said. Marshall Field’s and Sears were heavily visited by locals and tourists for many years in the 1900s, but Wong recognizes commerce has changed.

 “Retail is more of an experience” he said. 

With commerce change, so must the location change, according to Wong’s proposal. Wong has looked to other famous streets for inspiration and examined why they are so popular.

Great activities and destinations, safety, equitability, accessibility and an inviting nature are all aspects of a street designed to be visited, Wong said. 

He observed the humor of streets in Shanghai with anthropomorphized dumpling sculptures and noted that it really is the people that make a place. 

Wong plans to conduct workshops this year that focus on three features of developing State Street—place, mobility and market. 

Wong and Chicago Loop Alliance welcome the opinions of residents on how to Elevate State Street in the upcoming months. By late 2020, using the workshops plus feedback from residents, Wong will solidify the plan for the corridor. 

“The Loop is the heart of the city, and we want to make sure the heart is strong,” Mayekar said. 

To learn more about the project and to lend your voice to the upcoming plan, text ELEVATE to #63566 or visit loopchicago.com/elevatestate

Bringing in the spring market with growth in Chicago

by Urban Real Estate

The Chicago-area housing market is showing strength, as sales and median  prices increased for a second consecutive month after a slow 2019.

 In the city, 1,427 homes sold in January, according to data released by real  estate trade association, Illinois Realtors. That was an increase of 5.9 percent from January 2019 and followed December’s 10.5 percent year-over-year increase. Chicago is a consistent market in which the city is often monitored for its units and volume in communities as diverse as the residents who call them home.

“In evaluating where the market is headed, seeing real estate pick up after a slower fall and early winter is a welcome sign of stability,” said Matt Farrell, managing partner at Urban Real Estate. “We see cautiously optimistic buyers looking for just the right home, and making offers on compellingly priced houses.”

This especially matters as full-service real estate brokerages continue to  expand their own value proposition, in- creasing services and marketing efforts,  and raising the bar in the industry.

“We are proud to every day be able to do our part to move the market and  serve buyers, sellers, renters and investors from many corners of the world,”  Farrell said. “But we also know that staying ahead means fastening your seatbelt and trying new and different ways to bring quality service to our  clients—an endeavor we are embarking on this spring with excitement  and pride.

“The Chicago market continues to perform like few others for its diversity, access to education, history, culture, medicine, and real estate,” said the founder of the New Eastside’s number one real estate office. “We continue to raise the bar, guiding our clients through the single largest transaction of their lifetime, one we will continue to help them navigate in any market.”

Urban Real Estate has served the community for more than 15 years and Farrell said his gratitude for being in New Eastside is unparalleled.

“I am proud to call New Eastside  home to my family, as well as to our brokerage. It has been paramount to our  success, and we believe our growth will continue in large part because of the neighbors who support us and the work we do. It doesn’t get any better than this fantastic neighborhood in a city as grand as Chicago.”  

A novel approach: Local writer Richard Rose works in new genre

by Doug Rapp

Local writer Richard Rose thought his screenplay, “Comic Crusaders,” would never get off the ground. It had been optioned twice by movie producers but never made.

Then Savant Books reached out, looking for works to publish as screenplay novels, which Rose describes as a bridge between novel and screenplay. He offered up “Comic Crusaders” which was released last November.

Rose described the plot in two sentences, likening his summary to the logline for a movie in TV Guide: “A teenage cartoonist uses a magic pen to bring a superhero to life to help him find his father who has mysteriously disappeared. In so doing, he unwittingly unleashes a grotesque supervillain and his dark legions challenging him to find a way to save his father while preventing the dark legions from taking over the world.”

To read a screenplay novel, “the reader has to use his or her imagination,” the semi-retired financial advisor said. “The action and the dialogue move the story forward at a much faster pace.” 

Whereas a novel or story might describe a scene in several paragraphs, Rose said he opens a scene in “Comic Crusaders” in an adolescent’s bedroom with a simple, “A teenage junkyard.”

The longtime Streeterville resident had been thinking of ways to reach today’s readers after observing people in bookstores.

“Kids don’t read like we did,” Rose said. “They’re very impatient. They’re looking at video games and movies.”

Rose, who has also published several novels and short stories, thinks screenplay novels like “Comic Crusaders” are one way to reach them. 

Richard Rose

“It’s a revolutionary way to beget a new genre and attract a much younger audience,” he said. 

The roots of “Comic Crusaders” go back to Rose’s childhood in Kokomo, Ind. He and his brother Charlie would create comic strips with superheroes and villains parodying well-known citizens of his north-central Indiana hometown. Over time, Rose said, it morphed into the story it is today.

“It’s lighthearted and a fun read,” he said, contrasting it with contemporary superhero stories that he characterized as violent and lacking humor.

Rose said he is working on “Redemption,” a sequel to his novel “The Lazarus Conspiracies,” about a maverick Chicago cop who uncovers a deadly conspiracy.

“Comic Crusaders” is available at Amazon.com

Get your brackets ready for March Madness

by Jon Cohn

It’s all about the brackets in March. 

Bracketology, to be precise. No, it’s not about shopping  hints from the fix-it folks at your local hardware store. And these brackets will definitely not  be sold on the Home Shop- ping Network. 

The brackets that come to the  forefront this month are all basketball induced. College basketball to be precise.

 For the uninitiated, brackets refer to a 68 team tournament, involving the top college basketball teams. Now  famously known as March Madness, it has become all the craze the past couple decades.

The cool thing about the tournament is that it brings in even the non-sports fans. Chicago residents who may  never glance at a college basketball score during the regular season, and who may think the “three second rule” has  to do with picking up food that you dropped on the floor, suddenly become fans. 

Office pools, family and friends lotteries, posted brackets everywhere. Just the general buzz of conversation can  bring the most remote of fans into the frenzy.

Often we have a favorite team. Maybe it’s the college we  attended. Maybe it’s a local school (not much here in Chica- go with only Loyola University a contender to make the “big  dance”), or maybe it’s a team you just happened to pick out of the selection hat and if the piece of paper said “Duke”— lucky you. My pick is often a school that ends in “Technical Institute,” which usually means my players will graduate with great jobs but my team loses in the first round.

All the fun begins with Selection Sunday on March 15. Once it begins, the games come at you in waves. It is a three-week whirlwind that culminates on Monday April 6 with the National Championship.

Finally, one of the 68 competing teams will be crowned as Champion.

And then March Madness quietly recedes.

John Cohn is a New Eastside resident.  

Cover image courtesy of PNG Tree.

Volumes Bookstore begins new chapter in Gold Coast

by Doug Rapp

A popular Wicker Park bookstore has opened a second location at 900 North Michigan Shops in the Gold Coast. Rebecca George, who co-owns Volume Books with her sister Kimberly, said they were approached by the six-level shopping destination after they had a successful pop-up store at Water Tower Place during the 2018 holidays.

“They recognized that most of their clientele were more local and how they can serve the needs of that local community in a more effective way…I think our missions align a little bit,” George said

A former educator, George said the response to Volumes’ new downtown location, which opened in late September, has been positive.

“Everyone’s very thankful that there’s a bookstore nearby,” she said. “We already have a number of regulars we see on a weekly basis.”

Similar to their original location, the new Volumes will feature supplemental programming. George said they’re hosting weekly story time and may branch out beyond their fifth-floor location to do events in the Aster Hall space on the fifth and sixth floors. She added that they’re starting a happy hour book club next month and another afternoon book club catering to retirees living nearby.

George said they will host author events as well, including mystery/thriller writers in late March. John F. Hogan, who wrote a history of the Chicago Water Tower, spoke in December but bad weather hampered attendance, so they may reschedule that, George said.

“We’ve got lots of plans in the works,” she said, noting that 900 N. Michigan wants more programming for community building. “We’re just now getting into the programming aspect and what we hope to build over there.”

George said it is challenging to open a bookstore these days downtown.

“It’s like any bookstore—it’s a tough margin business, it’s a small margin business,” she said.

George said joining the established 900 North Michigan Shops makes it easier.

“No bookstore in today’s world could open ground level downtown,” she said. “It’s impossible. The cost is too insane anywhere in downtown Chicago…The trouble with being downtown right there is that in a vertical world, everyone’s really contained especially in the cold months.”

George said they’re hoping to reach out to businesses and hotels in the area to raise awareness and are considering a delivery service for customers with limited mobility. Despite the challenges of opening a new location, George said she’s pleased with what she, her sister and their employees have established.

“I really enjoy that community,” she said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of really interesting people. I’m excited for what we can get done there in the world of books.”

Pinched on the River opens wine bar with dollar deal

by Doug Rapp

A local eatery is offering mid-week wine deals.

On Wednesdays, Pinched on the River, 443 E. Illinois St., is offering first glasses of wine for $1.

From 6 to 8 p.m. on hump days, customers can try a glass of red, white, rose or sparkling wine for a buck. The choices will be rotating varieties selected by staff, general manager Nasi Dimashi said. 

The wines will be offered upstairs at Pinched, where their coffee shop is located, but are also available downstairs at the main bar in the restaurant. 

Dimashi said the restaurant, which serves fast-casual eclectic Mediterranean food, started the deal in late January.

“People want to grab a quick drink,” Dimashi said. “We thought, why don’t we offer wine since we have so many delicious ones?” Customers aren’t obligated to eat but can grab a drink for a nice “mid-week break.”

“We want to bring some unique wines you don’t find daily yet they are delicious,” he said, noting that many came from countries not known for wine, such as Bulgaria and Slovenia.

Dimashi said his favorite is the Pullus pinot grigio from Slovenia, which is dry but looks like a rose since it’s fermented with the grape skins to give it a rosy shade.

“It’s a very interesting wine,” he said. 

The initial dollar wine night exceeded their expectations, Dimashi said. They thought a few people might stop by, but “the entire place filled up…which was a good problem to have,” he said.

The response from the neighborhood has been great, he said. “Overall the neighborhood has been very supportive. We’ve seen an increase in walk-in traffic.”

In addition to wine, Pinched offers cider and beer, both traditional and craft, including local breweries such as 312 and Two Brothers, which makes a special hazy IPA called Son of a Pinched exclusively for the restaurant. 

Happy hour at the main bar is 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. 

Pinched on the River, named because of the “pinch” of many flavors, Dimashi said, is the business’ second location. The original is in Lombard and owner Ranka Njegovan chose Streeterville when looking for restaurant space in the city.

“We wanted to be somewhere neighborhoody,” Dimashi said. “It’s a friendly environment, a family environment, and touristy with Navy Pier nearby…I love the neighborhood.”

Doorperson of the Month: Sheri Campbell at Elm Street Plaza

by Mat Cohen

Sheri Campbell is an integral part of the community she loves.

She’s been a doorperson at Elm Street Plaza, 1130 N. Dearborn St., for four years and has won Streeterville News Doorperson of the Month.

“It’s all just a lot of customer service and interacting with people,” she said. “It’s helping people, communication and meeting new people. I enjoy it, I’m a people-person, you kind of have to be.”

Campbell grew up in Cicero and worked in security for 25 years, including stints for retail buildings, other apartment buildings and the Chicago Public Libraries. 

She works the morning shift at Elm Street Plaza, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and enjoys sending people off to work with a smile and quick conversation.

“I love being kind and courteous, anything to help people,” she said. The meaning in her job comes from smiling and speaking to people.

She also enjoys watching kids get older and enter high school. She said events the building puts on bring the whole community together. She remembers a pool party last summer when a maintenance worker in the building danced the hula to win a prize. The event was a highlight of her year.

“He put his hula skirt on and really danced his heart out because there were tickets for a trip,” she said. “So he wanted to win the tickets, it was so hilarious. It’s good when all the tenants and staff come together and we do events for both.”

When she’s not at the building, Campbell likes to bowl with friends or catch a movie at the theater. She’s been bowling since she was a teenager and was familiar with the neighborhood because of the shows and theaters.

“I used to do that a lot maybe ten years ago, so I’m familiar with the area,” she said. “It’s a nice area and it’s a really nice building with really nice people.”

Streeterville doctor’s class helps expectant parents know what to expect

by Stephanie Racine

Expectant parent classes can cost a substantial amount in downtown Chicago. For example, classes at Northwestern Hospital cost from $50-$120.

 But Dr. Daniel Weissbluth, a pediatrician who has an office in Northwestern’s campus in Streeterville, is out to buck the trend.

We figure it should be free,” he said. 

Dr. Weissbluth’s office offers free prenatal classes on topics including CPR and infant safety, breastfeeding, sleep and newborn care. 

“We saw an educational gap and we wanted to fill it,” he said.

The classes include important information for new parents. Dr. Weissbluth said most first-time parents are unaware of the sleep deprivation that comes from having a new baby.

New parent Jessica Kushner took the classes at Dr. Weissbluth’s office in preparation for her son Lorenzo, born Oct. 14, 2019. The most valuable class she took was Newborn Care: The First 48 Hours and Beyond, Dr. Weissbluth said. Newborn Care covers the delivery process in the hospital and what to expect once new parents arrive home.

“I would have been walking in blind,” Kushner said.

The internet is inundated with information about having a baby, but Dr. Weissbluth’s classes gave Kushner a baseline of truth, she said. 

The classes are intended for first-time parents and family members who want to attend are welcome—as long as they register in advance. 

The instructors offer their email address for participants to follow up with any questions they may have. Dr. Weissbluth’s office is also available for information. 

“We encourage questions,” Dr. Weissbluth said. 

Northwestern Hospital offers free tours of their triage, labor and delivery and postpartum floors at Prentice Women’s Hospital. Registration is required. Visit classes.nm.org for information. 

For other expectant parent classes, UChicago Medicine offers free classes at their Hyde Park location. Visit uchicagomedicine.org for information.

Dr. Weissbluth’s Streeterville office is at 737 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 820. For questions about the free classes or the practice, call (312) 202-0300. Register for classes at weissbluthpediatrics.com

Dr. Weissbluth also has offices in Bucktown and South Loop.

“The Times Are Racing” an innovative art piece

by Stephanie Racine

The Joffrey Ballet’s “The Times Are Racing” is a modern repertory ballet, with five works from contemporary choreographers. The performance, taking place at the Auditorium Theatre from Feb. 12-23, displays innovation, while still maintaining artistry.

The production begins with “Commodia,” which harkens back to classical ballet, as it’s set to the music of Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella.” Although the performance has the commedia dell’arte style, the movements are decidedly modern. New patterns are made, as the shapes on the harlequin costumes fit together in different shapes as the dancers work in pairs or groups.  

“Mono Lisa” features two dancers under an array of light. Set to the sounds of a clicking typewriter, the pas de deux elicits gasps of awe from the crowd, as the couple completes acrobatics in a seemingly casual fashion. With hints of a competitive spirit, the pair provoke each other to new heights. 

“Bliss!” was created by Chicago choreographer Stephanie Martinez for the Joffrey and originally premiered in 2019. The piece flows from quiet to joyfully enigmatic throughout. There are instances of simplicity, as the male dancers’ don neutral-toned sweatpants, juxtaposed with moments of opulence featuring the female dancers’ bejeweled tutus and tiaras. That mode is reflected in the movements, as some are quiet and close, while others are fierce and bold.

“The Sofa,” with music by Tom Waits, presents a love triangle between two men and a woman, with fighting and desire, accompanied by a large yellow sofa as a prop. The lovers fight and come together with a comedic, but truthful, energy. 

The eponymous “The Times Are Racing” is a sneaker ballet, with costumes designed by Opening Ceremony. T-shirts and jackets are adorned with words such as “resist, “shout” and “defy.” The dancing is frenetic and full of vibrancy, featuring moments that resemble breakdancing and tap alongside ballet. 
“The Times Are Racing” is at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr., through Feb. 23. Tickets start at $25 and are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s box office in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St., at the Auditorium Theatre Box Office, at (312) 386-8905 or at joffrey.org.

Freezin’ for a reason: Special Olympics’ Polar Plunge celebrates 20 years

by Doug Rapp

They’re freezin’ for a reason.

The 20th annual Chicago Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Chicago is scheduled for Sunday, March 1, 2020, at North Avenue Beach. “Plungers” collect donations and pledge to jump into the icy waters of Lake Michigan.

“People are excited we’ve been doing this event this long,” said Heather Kundert, executive director of Special Olympics Chicago.

Kundert said they’re expecting 4,000 plungers, a combination of nearly 300 teams and individuals. Their goal, she said, is to raise $2,020,000 for the year 2020, all of which benefits the Chicago Special Olympics organization.

For the 20th anniversary, Kundert said they’re recognizing people who’ve participated since the beginning. Long-standing team Kidd Krue has raised over $42,000 and is the top non-corporate team. Some of the polar plunge founders attending this year include Gerry Henaghan, Pam Munizzi, Ernest Alvarado, Richard McAvoy and Michael Brady.

Kundert said they also want to recognize some other participating agencies, such as Envision and Misericordia, that support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

“We’re excited to partner with some of our sister agencies in a different way this year,” she said.

New this year, Kundert said, will be an “Olympic village,” where sponsors and partner agencies will have different fun activities to encourage people to learn about other agencies helping out people with disabilities.

Kundert also praised the park district and the dive team on hand during the plunge. 

“We’re really proud that the city has really embraced this,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what we do at the scale we do it without the park district’s help and their partnerships.”

John Fahey, of Team Dan Fahey is plunging for the fourth time this year. His brother Daniel is a Special Olympics athlete, he said, who plays basketball and baseball among other sports at Mt. Greenwood Park. John Fahey said his team raised $38,000 last year but this year they’re hoping to raise $40,000.

“We know it’s a good cause…we wanted to give back a little,” Fahey said.

Fahey recalled how last year was exceptionally cold and ice had to be cleared to make way for the plungers, but it’s an experience he still enjoys.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said of running into the chilly lake. “It’s exhilarating, you get a pretty big rush. The adrenaline’s pumping. You’re yelling and screaming out there with a bunch of your friends.”

Kundert said many of the participants like Fahey have a personal connection to the Special Olympics but many plungers just want to help out. 

“Really they’re just all trying to get behind the city of Chicago and what we’re doing and what we do for these individuals,” Kundert said. “They really believe in supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities.”
To register as a team or individual or to donate, visit https://sochicago.org/chicago-polar-plunge/.

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