State Senator Mike Simmons Shares Support for West Loyola Avenue Businesses and Residents

Illinois State Senator Mike Simmons shares his disappointment in Loyola for demolishing 1226-1234 W. Loyola Ave..

Illinois State Senator Mike Simmons said in an interview with The Phoenix he was disappointed in Loyola after learning of their plans to demolish the building located at 1226-1234 W. Loyola Ave., which he said housed his mother’s salon for 25 years, beginning in 1995. 

The university purchased the building Dec. 19 and announced the property will be demolished shortly after leases run out in 2025, The Phoenix previously reported

Simmons said he believes by going through with these plans, they will be failing to uphold their own Jesuit mission and their goal of being a good neighbor to the surrounding Rogers Park and Edgewater communities, which they stated in their strategic plan for community-centered engagement.

“I think the perception of the community is that Loyola is buying up a lot of buildings,” Simmons said. “It’s changing our neighborhood, it’s taking away the very things that make places like Rogers Park and Edgewater. The special places that make everyone want to live there.”

Simmons’ mother, Ramona Rouse, began renting the space at 1226 W. Loyola Ave. when Simmons was 12 years old and opened Salon Pastiché, a hair salon that she ran until her death in 2020. The space is now occupied by Archie’s Cafe.

Simmons said he spent a lot of time in the building growing up, helping Rouse to answer calls and entertain guests in the hair salon, many of whom were Loyola students. 

“Her space was so special,” Simmons said. “People loved her, they loved her salon space, and they love that block because of the kind of unique mom-and-pop businesses that have called that building home for decades.”

Simmons said Rouse was friends with Archie’s Cafe owner Roberta Schmatz and Roman Susan Art Gallery owners Nathan Abhalter-Smith and his partner Kristin. He said she was proud of the work they were doing in the building and what they were providing the community with. 

Schmatz said she has seen Simmons come into Archie’s on his mother’s birthday following her death as a way to remember her. She said he has expressed his appreciation for the community being built in the cafe and said he thought Rouse would be proud of what the space has become.

Schmatz said she is glad Simmons took the time to share his feelings on the university’s decisions with the community. 

“I appreciate his speaking out about it and it’s understandable because I think he does have an emotional bond to the block and the building there,” Schmatz said.

Abhalter-Smith said what began as a neighborly relationship with Rouse turned into a friendship he valued. He said he admired how she ran her business on her own terms. 

“When you went into her space, you knew it was her space,” Abhalter-Smith said. 

Abhalter-Smith said Rouse was an optimistic person even in difficult situations, but he knows she would not be happy about the demolition of the building. 

“She always seemed to look on the bright side of things, which we are also trying to do,” Abhalter-Smith said. “We’re going to try to look on the bright side and celebrate what we value in the situation.”

Abhalter-Smith said he shares Simmons’ concerns about a lack of communication from the university, as he has received no sort of response from the school beyond what they are legally required to provide. He said he has sent emails to various officials within the university but never received a response. 

After finding out about the purchasing and planned demolition of the building over social media, Simmons said he was upset about the way the university was handling the situation and wished they had been better about direct communication with community members. 

“This building is iconic for the community,” Simmons said. “People who have lived in Rogers Park for decades are able to access affordable rents and who love living in the community and love calling it home. Why would you want to tear down the building like that and displace those residents? And what about the business owners in the storefronts?”

Alderwoman of the 49th Ward Maria Hadden is looking into various avenues for preserving the building and preventing demolition, The Phoenix previously reported

Simmons said he believes what the community is experiencing is a “block-by-block erasure” of low and moderate income housing and affordable storefronts. 

“I think that’s problematic because it starts to chip away at the character of these neighborhoods and what makes them so special,” Simmons said. “The culture, the diversity, the creative businesses, the mix of incomes of the residents, these are the things that make Rogers Park and Edgewater very special places and why I’m proud to represent them in the Illinois Senate.”

Simmons said he thinks the purchasing and demolition of this building is dangerous because it represents a pattern of the university purchasing lots in the area and then leaving them vacant. Loyola has made a large number of real estate purchases in recent years and now leased over 30 storefronts and 500 residential units, The Phoenix previously reported.

He said it’s important the university takes the time to self-reflect on the decisions they are making and the way those decisions could impact their neighbors. 

“Meaningfully listening to the community and respecting the needs and wishes of the community is step one,” Simmons said. “I think step two is, you know, I think Loyola has to reflect on their mission.”

Photo Courtesy of Mike Simmons

Lilli Malone

Lilli Malone