‘Chicago Tonight’ In Your Neighborhood: Revisiting Rogers Park

Chicago’s Rogers Park community sits on the city’s Far North Side, with Evanston to its north and Lake Michigan to the east. The neighborhood is home to Loyola University Chicago and has a healthy arts community and diverse dining options.

As the delta variant spreads and COVID-19 case counts rise across the city and state, community leaders in Rogers Park are working on vaccine outreach. Meanwhile, small businesses are in recovery mode after months of pandemic restrictions and residents are preparing for new developments in the neighborhood.

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Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward), who represents much of Rogers Park, says the area was hit hard by infections early on in the pandemic.

“Before there was a lot of access to vaccines, we had some pretty high infection rates and we lost a lot of people here,” Hadden said.

The community includes a lot of older residents who are vaccinated, though the immigrant population and residents of color report lower vaccination rates, Hadden said. Her office has been partnering with community organizations to do outreach, working to build trust among residents about the vaccine.

“We know delta is highly contagious. We know things are happening again here,” Hadden said. “People have been back to work, people have been back in stores. It’s wonderful to see all the activity and also, knowing what we are learning about delta, it’s more important than ever for us to get people vaccinated.”

Video: Watch our full interview with Ald. Maria Hadden

One organization helping to get residents vaccinated is Centro Romero Community Center. It’s been in the community for more than 30 years, offering immigration services, family services and youth programs.

Throughout the pandemic, the center’s work has significantly increased. Executive Director Daysi Funes said it typically helps around 14,000 families a year. Now, it’s assisting about 25,000 families.

“Our community, we were not ready to be virtual,” Funes said. “I can tell you that Centro Romero is doing everything to have information available, vaccines available and offering our kids classes.”

The center is now focused on bringing back regular services like in-person legal help and youth programs. In the meantime, it is continuing to fundraise for families in need of rental assistance, jobs and food.

“I think everyone is afraid and we are nervous because how can we provide enough to keep a family above the pandemic?” Funes said.

‘Food shouldn’t be a luxury’

Honey Bear Café on Clark Street opened in February 2020 — just weeks before the governor issued a stay-at-home order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Owner Prudence Faklaris, said with help from the community they were able to stay open. They also found ways to give back to the community, offering free meals to chilldren and linking up with Love Fridge Chicago to offer free food from their restaurant in a fridge next to their building.

“I and my husband believe that food shouldn’t be a luxury,” Faklaris said. “Some people take it for granted and it should be something that people should be able to eat.”

New developments coming

The Rogers Park Business Alliance is working to create two community spaces as part of the city’s Alfresco program, which aims to give neighborhoods an opportunity to get creative with family friendly outdoor public spaces.

The alliance has proposed layouts for two spaces to City Council. Once approved, construction is expected to begin by the end of August.

“There will be sitting and community tables where you can buy food from the restaurants and come sit at the tables,” said Sandi Price of the Rogers Park Business Alliance. “We plan to have a stage and one of the businesses plans to have some gazebos and we will have some events planned during the year for both of our Alfresco areas. One here on Glenwood and another one is in Jarvis Square.”

Another development is coming to the corner of Western and Touhy avenues, replacing the Bakers Square restaurant that closed in 2019.

“The people in this community were really sad to see Bakers Square shut down. It’s been around for a really, really long time and it was really sad to see it go,” said Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th Ward), which includes Rogers Park and West Ridge.

A strip mall will replace the Bakers Square with a Starbucks, Buffalo Wild Wings, GO and Athletico, she said. There’s a fourth spot open for another business yet to be determined.

“Everyone has been asking me for a long time for a coffee shop, so when the opportunity came around, everyone was very excited about that,” Silverstein said.

Video: Watch our full interview with Ald. Debra Silverstein

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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