Without an anchor

In Milwaukee Avenue’s ebbing tide

What Milwaukee Avenue needs is to weigh anchor, to bring on board an anchor in order to set sail away from its current listing, from its listlessness, from its current downward — or at best stagnant — trend.

Special events, like this past weekend’s Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival and simultaneous sidewalk sale (photos left) can make the neighborhood a destination for a day. That in turn can serve as an introduction to the neighborhood and what it has to offer. A fixed anchor, though, can clear the way for a new direction for Milwaukee Avenue, a rising tide to lift all boats.

Milwaukee Avenue needs to Think like a shopping mall. Department stores have traditionally served as anchors for shopping malls. Folks would go to the mall knowing they could fulfill their shopping needs at Marshall Field or Carson Pirie Scott, and in the process patronize the multitude of other shops in the mall along the way. Department stores could negotiate better terms and rents because they were the
drivers of mall traffic. Similarly, large grocery stores and discount stores still drive traffic to strip malls and commercial areas.

The size of the store is not the deciding factor, though. The much maligned Starbucks will drive traffic to a commercial area, as it has done for Logan Square’s restaurant row on California Avenue (see ABC 7’s “Unique Options in Logan Square“). Given the right mix of stores, other small chain stores can do the same. Entertainment, like a theater, can also drive traffic. A destination restaurant too.

Or a conglomeration of restaurants or shops or uses that complement one another. Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park is a popular shopping area with a collection of small upscale boutiques and restaurants. Devon Avenue is a popular conglomeration of ethnic shops and restaurants serving the cultural diversity of the Rogers Park community.

Or a fitness center. The promise of Cheetah Gym (see Take the Cheetah challenge!) was in its role as an anchor that would generate traffic for the surrounding businesses on this stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Logan Square’s square and Diversey Avenue .

Offices and government services will drive traffic too. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of filing for unemployment insurance or contesting a parking ticket (and who hasn’t?) at the strip center on Addison Street, you’ve experienced the volume of traffic that government services can generate.

Indeed, an anchor for this commercial corridor could take a variety of forms.

A conversation starter: What types of anchors might work for Milwaukee Avenue or have attracted you to other commercial districts?

Next: Not without a mooring

Summer diversions in Logan Square:

Movies in the Park:

at Unity Park August 17


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