Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=121549
Story Retrieval Date: 5/19/2013 9:14:37 PM CST
However, the square-mile community, roughly bordered by Lake Street, Ashland Avenue, the Eisenhower Expressway and the train tracks along Rockwell Street, has experienced hopeful change in recent years. Old buildings were razed to make room for the United Center, the housing projects were torn down, townhomes and condominiums were built, and personal incomes are rising. Now, new retailers are setting up shop.
The Shoomi shoe boutique on the corner of Western Avenue and Monroe Street is part of this transformation. “Shoomi was the first retailer to open up their doors since 1968 at Madison and Western—and in such a bold, bright way,” said Michael Quinlan of the Near West Side Community Development Corp. “It’s got those beautiful colors and large glass windows. It’s a warm welcome.”
Shoomi sells women’s boots, party shoes, purses and accessories—many of them under $50— and boasts a fun, inviting atmosphere that contrasts sharply with the industrial corridor it inhabits. It opened in mid-October and is among 11 new businesses to come to West Haven this past fall and winter.
The store’s 25-year-old owner, Nefertari Moore, grew up in the area and looked solely in West Haven for a promising space to open her business.
She picked the spot "because it’s up-and-coming and has a lot of traffic,” she said. “I know they’re putting a lot of money into upgrading the area. So I figured this place, because it’s on the corner, would attract a lot of attention. I put the bright colors in here to grab people’s attention.” They're even attracting customers from beyond the neighborhood.
Lovely Carter, 28, a resident of Berwyn—over eight miles away—said she gets all her shoes from Shoomi. She came to the store last Friday with her friend Qiana, 29, a West Haven resident, and joked that Qiana’s savings had been drained by indulgent shopping at Shoomi.
“We put Qiana on a Shoomi diet because she purchases too many shoes and purses from here. But, as you can see, she just bought a purse today!” Carter quipped. “They’re really nice and friendly here and always make you feel welcome.”
Maria Aranda, 27, lives in Avondale but already has bought from Shoomi multiple times. She noticed the boutique shortly after it opened last fall.
“I work in the Loop and was driving down Western one day and spotted the store,” she said. She noticed the bright colors and "decided to stop in and see what it was about.”
David Thompson, a middle-aged West Haven resident who works at the Post Office next door, was the only male customer to enter the store Friday afternoon. He buys from Shoomi for his female friends and relatives and enjoys supporting local entrepreneurs.
“It’s great to see people striving and making it in today’s world,” Thompson said.
Other businesses that opened in West Haven within the last nine months are Class Hair Salon, A & G Mortgage Solutions Inc., American Family Insurance, HL Interiors, Jean Works LLC, West Haven Laundry, Dunkin' Donuts, West Haven Super Market, Cricket, and Angel’s Restaurant.
The Near West Side Community Development Corp. has helped to promote this growth through a grant it received from Partnership for New Communities, a non-profit that aims to stimulate large-scale economic revitalization in Chicago’s most distressed neighborhoods.
Quinlan said the Near West organization is striving to fill a void in local services that are typically available in other Chicago communities.
He has marketed existing retail businesses online and hired CleanSlate, a social enterprise firm, to keep Madison Street clean. The grant money for the CleanSlate program recently ran out so he's looking for other funds to bring the service back.
To attract business, Near West publishes data showing that since 1990 West Haven’s median income has grown by 402 percent and nearly half of all households now earn at least $35,000 per year, according to a 2007 study by LISC MetroEdge, an urban market research firm.
More than 200 newly-constructed homes are selling between $200,000 and $550,000 within an eight-block radius of the United Center, according to Ryan D’Aprile, a broker with D’Aprile Realty. D’Aprile said that, while the housing market has slowed during the recession, he sold several homes last month.
Having lived in West Haven most of her life, Moore has witnessed these changes firsthand.
“There used to be a lot of project buildings over here,” she said. “A lot of people would just be hanging out. There were a lot of drugs. It’s just not like that anymore.”
Mandy Burrell Booth, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Planning Council, said West Haven "is certainly demanding more retail opportunities, more places for people to shop. It’s a challenging time to be starting a business. But then again, people need shoes.”
At this point much of the West Haven retail space remains vacant. Over 600,000 square feet of ground-floor storefront is available for sale or lease to businesses, according to Near West’s guidebook, and most lease space ranges from $16 to $25 per square foot. Banners touting bargain lease rates can be seen throughout the neighborhood.
Construction is slated to begin soon on a new hockey rink which will host local leagues and Black Hawks practice sessions. Neighborhood leaders hope to obtain $9 million in state and federal funds to transform the community's main thoroughfare, Western Avenue, with trees, light poles, garbage cans, benches and crosswalks.
In the meantime, Moore and other small business owners face the daunting task of turning a profit in the midst of a recession. Moore, however, is undeterred.
“People are constantly buying shoes—all the time,” she said. “I don’t think the economy has affected me at all. I don’t think so. I’m doing well….I didn’t think twice" about opening the business. She declined to disclose sales data.
The challenges posed by the recession are complicated by higher-than-average security risks in the neighborhood.
Last year, 2,601 crimes were reported in West Haven, compared to 744 in nearby Ukrainian Village and 2,092 in Wicker Park, according to the EveryBlock Chicago database.
Even during the daytime, Moore keeps the door to her store locked. She opens it with a remote controller whenever a credible-looking customer knocks.
“Because I am a young female, I’m just taking extra precautions as far as who I let in the store—just to be extra careful,” Moore explained. “Sometimes I’m here alone.”
Customer Maria Aranda said she leaves her car in West Haven during the day and takes public transportation to work in the Loop. She’s “never had any problems” and “feels safe.” She’s even looked into buying a home in West Haven but found that the prices were too high.