‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Lincoln Square

Lincoln Square on Chicago’s North Side gets its name from the 16th president, but much of its community’s cultural heritage comes from the German immigrants who founded the area in the 1840s.

“You have Merz Apothecary, one of the oldest German apothecaries dating back to the late 1800s, you have Hanse Clipper, you have the Huettenbar, you’ll have the Maypole in Lincoln Square along with the beautiful facade, and we even have a piece of the Berlin Wall in the Western Brown Line station,” said Monica Jirak of the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center.

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The center was closed for 16 weeks due to the coronavirus — this week, the staff is happy to be cautiously reopening.

Nearby, Eco and The Flamingo opened its storefront just a couple of weeks ago, delayed from the Earth Day grand opening its owners had envisioned. Their goal is to be Chicago’s first “zero-waste” store, in which customers are “bringing your own containers into our store and filling them here rather than purchasing something that you’re probably going to end up throwing away,” said co-owner Jackie MacCartie.

Because of the pandemic, the store had to make some modifications.

“Originally, people were going to be able to dispense all of their own goods, but for now and maybe forever we’ll be doing all the food goods. Anything where your hand has to go inside … boxes,” said Bethany Barbouti. “We wear gloves. Safety first.”

On Damen Avenue, the Shanghai Inn has been serving diners for three generations — and it just recently reopened. Even though it could have kept up with takeout orders throughout the stay-at-home order, its owner says she held a meeting with her staff and they collectively decided to close down. 

Now they’re back, but not completely: The restaurant isn’t offering any indoor or alfresco seating.

“We all decided that it’s best to do carry out and deliveries — that’s the best way. Even with our delivery orders, we leave it at the door, contactless. Carry out is the same way,” said owner Lisa Yuen-Umfurer. “I think this is the best way for us for now. It cut my business in half but we chose to be safe -- protect our customers, protect our staff.”

Ald. Matt Martin, 47th Ward, says the area fortunately hasn’t been hit as hard as other places, “but we don’t want to take anything for granted, especially when it comes to employees and others who are in our restaurants and bars. We want to make sure folks continue to wear masks, that they are social distancing appropriately.”

Video: Our full interview with 47th Ward Ald. Matt Martin.

Still, the economic downturn the virus created has led to more demand at the Friendship Center food pantry. It’s based in Lincoln Square and generally serves the surrounding neighborhoods — in recent weeks, they’ve been serving people from around the city.

“Just in the last couple of weeks we’ve had our busiest single day that we’ve had in our entire 50-year history,” said Melissa Sobota, a Friendship Center board member. “We usually serve about 2,000 people on a monthly basis. That’s since doubled.”

Coronavirus concerns means the pantry has made big changes to its services. “We pre-bag the food for every family that comes to our doors and we provide it in to-go bags … which are something we are always in need of. We also have a lot of safety protocols in place for not only our volunteers but also our clientele,” Sobota said.

Video: Our full interview with Melissa Sobota, of the Friendship Center Pantry.

And as with many Chicago neighborhoods, demonstrations for racial justice have been making noise — in this case, literally. The demonstration “Honk for Justice” has been coming to Lincoln Square every Thursday.

“Cars honking, people bring pots and pans out, we had one guy show up with a trombone at one of the protests, we had some marching band drummers. It really is about disturbing the peace,” said organizer Jocelyn Prince. She was born on Chicago’s South Side and says the objective is to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement. “We want to keep the volume up so that people here on the North Side understand what Black people are going through not just here in Chicago but around the country.”

Martin says he hopes the momentum from the recent demonstrations translates to concrete action: movement on the Chicago Police Department reforms outlined in the consent decree the agency is under, changes to police union contracts, and civilian police oversight getting passed in city council.

“That’s something we’ve heard consistently from constituents before and especially after the recent protests. They want to see that. We’ve got two versions that we’re considering in City Council. We need to pass that as quickly as possible,” said Martin, who sees upsides in both the competing proposals currently before the council.

“I want to make sure that we pass the strongest possible version. I think there are elements from both that are really strong. What we’re in the process of doing is bringing folks together who support both, and other folks on the council, to make sure that’s going to happen,” he said.

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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