Among the fast-food chains along North Sheridan Road near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus lie empty storefronts begging for local businesses to fill the vacancies.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries closed its doors earlier this semester after six years of business. Last semester, Royal Coffee bid adieu to its spot on the corner of Sheridan and Pratt. Bar 63, a former favorite Thursday night hang-out for Loyola students, said farewell to the neighborhood last year. GoGrocer also closed a few years back.
These businesses closing their doors have left storefronts vacant, and it’s time Rogers Park reverts back to its local roots.
The neighborhood has long been a poster child for local businesses — from the eccentric Armadillo’s Pillow bookstore to the somewhat swanky Rogers Park Social cocktail lounge. But near Loyola, storefronts have fallen into the trap of appealing to college students simply through corporate chains.
Local businesses are essential to maintain the unique identity of Rogers Park and its niche economy.
According to statistics from multiple studies performed by Civic Economics — an economic analysis firm — about 48 percent of each purchase at local businesses was recirculated locally, compared to less than 14 percent of purchases at chain stores.
The trend of chains moving into the neighborhood noticeably detracts from the Rogers Park character we see in our beloved local businesses.
It’s no secret corporate chains are less unique than local spots. Instead of an offbeat interior design and an owner who lives a few blocks from work, cookie-cutter processes take over. The experience becomes less intimate and efficiency is prioritized over personality.
It’s hard not to fall into that trap. College students often prioritize two things — cheap options and cheap options that are open late. Just look at the success of the Taco Bell on Sheridan Road. On any Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, the lobby is packed with students looking for a late-night snack.
But what chains like Taco Bell are missing is local color, community investment and often a friendly conversation. Sam’s Chicken and Ribs is located near the Granville Red Line Station and it’s open until four in the morning on weekends. Regulars at Sam’s can expect their regular order to be thrown on the grill before they even place it. Sam’s should be an example for the type of business that should be located on Sheridan Road.
With three shuttered businesses in close proximity to campus, this is an opportunity to show students the beauty of shopping local.
Our preference? A replacement for Bar 63 — a locally owned spot for students to socialize on a weekend night. Last year, The Phoenix Editorial Board published a piece calling for more bars near campus, laying out numerous benefits, including safety.
We wouldn’t argue with an authentic bakery either. Ideally, it would feature comfortable armchairs made for long hours of studying and a wide array of treats and snacks unable to be found at the several Dunkin’ or Starbucks locations within walking distance.
Since the December 2018 loss of the Heartland Cafe just north of the Lake Shore Campus, we could also use a locally owned restaurant with more vegan and vegetarian options. Not to mention we’re feeling the absence of the Red Line Tap, where local musicians were able to showcase their latest work.
To supplement Taco Bell, what about an authentic Mexican restaurant that’s open just as late? While North Clark Street just west of campus is dominated by good Mexican eats, it’s clear we’re missing something like that in the area immediately around campus. No matter how much you love Margarita Monday at Flaco’s Tacos, that just doesn’t cut it as authentic or local.
While Insomnia Cookies cures the hankering for sweets, it’s just another chain. We’d like to see a spot where students can hang out, satisfy their sweet tooth and put dollars back toward their community.
This isn’t the first time this editorial board has voiced its appreciation for local businesses. We — as students and journalists — have grown to know and love our community, but we need more opportunities to support it.
While students have their own responsibility to patronize and appreciate local hubs, we can only call on Loyola students to appreciate their community if there are options to explore.
This is a chance for Loyola to benefit the community and revive local business on Sheridan.
Don’t get us wrong, we love Taco Bell in the newsroom, but we’d love even more to see Sheridan Road lined with Roger Park shops.