COVID-19 Across Chicago: Wicker Park

Businesses across Chicago are starting to reopen following COVID-19 closures and some property damage that accompanied civil unrest several weeks ago.

The Milwaukee Avenue commercial strip in Wicker Park, like so many other business corridors, suffered extensive damage just as businesses were about to start welcoming shoppers inside once again.

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Interactive: More from our series, COVID-19 Across Chicago.

Reckless Records has just started letting in a limited number of customers after three months of online-only selling — some of that included some rare records the shop had been holding on to.

“Some of these records, we sold for $1,000, $1,200, said Reckless manager Matt Jencik.

Down the block, Volumes Book Café is taking appointments for customers who want to stop by and browse. 

Owner Rebecca George says the community stepped up in recent months by ordering books online. Right now, she says, books that deal with racial justice and race relations are the most popular.

“In the last few weeks, it looks like people really want to put in work and have more understanding of themselves and how do they combat racist ideologies,” George said. “We’ve had hundreds upon orders for these books.” 

But George says the future might be ominous for small business on Milwaukee, with high rents and mom-and-pop shops doing a fraction of their normal business. 

She worries the street might start to lose its independent character in the coming months. 

Sections of Wicker Park and Bucktown are represented in Chicago’s City Council by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward). 

Video: Watch our full interview with with Ald. Scott Waguespack.

He says recent looting in the neighborhood looked like something out of a “Fast and Furious" movie, with coordinated groups moving from store to store. 

“We were really concerned about the viability of our small business owners, just seeing a lot of their property damage … it was really devastating to see that so many people were flooding into this area,” he said. 

A longtime economic anchor in Wicker Park has been independent music venues like Subterranean and the Hideout. Closed since March, it’s likely to be months, if not longer, before they reopen.

That’s led to a lobbying effort mounted by the Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL), which is composed of concert halls and show spaces around the city. 
“It’s extinction mode at this point,” said Chris Bauman, a CIVL member who owns the Avondale Music Hall and Patio Theater. “We were first to get shut down, we’re going to be last to open back up.”

Video: Full interview with Chris Bauman of the Chicago Independent Venue League.

Bauman says independent venues in Chicago haven’t received any funding from the state or federal government. He hopes that will change soon. 

“We can’t operate solvently at 50% capacity or 25% capacity or 75% capacity — we’d actually lose more money,” Bauman said. “Really until there’s a vaccine, a lot of us, for the health of the community, we’re in this bind.” 

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Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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