From DNA Chicago (Now Block Club) in 2016:
“To some, the arrival of J. Crew on the Southport Corridor was just another sign the block was flourishing.
To others, it was less than thrilling.
“Can we stop drooling over this already?” one person wrote on Facebook. “We get it. Everyone on Southport loves basic, poorly made, over-priced clothing.”
Since Anthropologie arrived on Southport Avenue a decade ago, neighbors have cautiously guarded against the corridor losing its small business flavor. National chains like Gap, J. Crew and Lululemon might draw in visitors, but some worry the corridor risks becoming too bland to stand out and too costly for local shops and boutiques.
“I don’t think we’re there yet, where we really need to be worried we’re going to turn into the suburbs or North and Clybourn,” said Lee Crandell, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. “But we want to maintain that diversity.”
It started with Anthropologie exactly 10 years ago.
The higher-end clothing brand tied to Urban Outfitters and Free People was the first national apparel store to open on the corridor, which spans roughly from Belmont Avenue to Irving Park Road.
“The reason J. Crew probably went there is because Gap is across the street. And the reason they all went there is Anthropologie,” said Chris Irwin, senior vice president of Jameson Commercial, which has sold or leased 39 Southport Corridor properties since 2003. National chains are seeking spots near their peers “simply to feed off” the other national chains, he said.
But with big chains come big money, and rent prices reflect the shift.
When Anthropologie moved into 3532 N. Southport Ave. in 2006, it leased the shop for $30 per square foot, according to Jameson Commercial. Four years later and one block south, Free People paid $35 per square foot for a smaller storefront.
Southport hit a lull during the recession, with fewer deals and no price hike from 2006-10 for Jameson. But the market has rebounded, and rent is up significantly compared to pre-Anthropologie times.
By the time Lululemon arrived on the scene in 2011, it leased 3556 N. Southport Ave. for $44 per square foot. Other national brands followed: Francesca’s, Paper Source, Lolë, David’s Tea and Splendid among them.
Rent prices on the Southport Corridor went up 50 percent over the past decade for Jameson Commercial properties. Between 2003-05, the average rent was $27 per square foot. In 2013-15, it averaged $41 per square foot.
It’s clear why, Crandell said: West Lakeview’s $1.5 billion spending power and population density make it an attractive choice for retailers.
“It’s really a sign of success,” Crandell said. “It’s a challenge of too much of a good thing.”
One obvious trend in the spread of national brands on Southport is their location. Virtually all are south of Addison Street, in the 3300-3500 blocks.
“I have people say, ‘We want the 34-3500 block, not 36, not 37, because our client is the same client that goes to Paper Source or Free People,” Irwin said.
Local shops like Frankie’s, meanwhile, find rent prices north of Addison more “reasonable,” as co-owner Rae Lisenby phrased it.
It comes at a cost: Being farther from the Southport “L” station is problematic, and it can be difficult to get foot traffic past the big-box blockades of Jewel-Osco and CVS Pharmacy, Crandell said.
“When you have small shops all next to each other, people keep walking. But there’s a gap at Addison,” he said. “When that happens, people tend to turn around and walk back the other way.”
The chamber is working on ways to keep people walking, considering fixes like a mural or public artwork near Jewel and CVS to draw visitors north. It hopes adding unique stores that draw specific crowds like Candyality can uplift the north end of the corridor. Increasing population density with initiatives like transit-oriented development provide for a long-term solution.
It’s “obvious” that the north end is a “quieter” block, said Candace Canty, owner of Dogaholics. With less foot traffic in the area, it’s vital for neighbors to support small business if they want to see the shops stick around.
Fortunately, the corridor’s north end has two big draws: The Music Box Theater and Mercury Theater, which “both bring a significant amount of people to the block each week,” Canty said.
In all the chatter about Southport, Lincoln Avenue shouldn’t be ignored.
“There’s a movement here. There’s something happening,” said Mike Salvatore. “We just need to get it to the point where it tips the scale in our favor, and I think a few more businesses will do that.”
Salvatore has been patiently eyeing the scale since opening Heritage Bicycles four years ago at 2959 N. Lincoln Ave. The street’s biggest cheerleader, Salvatore pushed to get one of the city’s first people spots in front of his bicycle/coffee store in 2013.
Since then, though, “I’d say we’ve been forgotten about on a public service level,” Salvatore said. With a new Whole Foods on the way, Salvatore sees good things ahead for Lincoln Avenue. This year, he hopes to bring back the people spot and organize a bicycle race.
“As far as business goes, everybody should be celebrating the fact any business would be coming in,” Salvatore said of the Whole Foods. “There will be more people coming through this neighborhood and more eyes on the street.”
Like Southport, Lincoln Avenue benefits from transit-oriented development laws, which allow developers to build projects with far less parking spaces than normally required under city code, Irwin said.
“All the same guys are doing a lot of development on that Lincoln and Roscoe area,” he said. Getting transit-oriented developments that will increase population density will jump-start business, he said.
“That’s what drives a lot of this,” Irwin said.