University of Chicago Pushes Out Businesses on 53rd Street

By Sam Cholke on May 23, 2013 9:50am 

Slideshow
 Several business owners on 53rd Street say the University of Chicago is pushing them out.
53rd St. Businesses
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HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago is clearing out businesses on 53rd Street as its new office tower prepares to open.

Two businesses at the corner of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue are preparing to close and others say the university is trying to renegotiate their leases.

“The University of Chicago bought the building and told us we have to move,” said the owner of the Avignon clothing shop who asked to be identified only as Ms. Kim.

The business has struggled through the construction of a new office tower for the university on the site of a former city parking lot at 1525 E. 53rd St.

“Now that everything is done, we have to leave,” said Kim, who has run the clothing boutique in Hyde Park for 26 years and will close the shop at 1500 E. 53rd St. on June 22.

Juanita Gratten, who started working at Avignon in 1994, said sales dipped at the start of the recession and tapered off after the parking lot became a construction site.

“Business used to be real good up until then,” Gratten said.

She said new stores moving into the area don’t meet the needs of Avignon’s shoppers.

“This is the only store in the neighborhood that doesn’t cater to young people,” Gratten said. “We are the only adult store.”

The university has not bought the building, according to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office, but signed a lease with building owner Chang Yoo giving it control over Avignon, Starbucks, the former Apartment Finders offices and American Mattress.

Calmetta Coleman, a spokeswoman for the university, declined to comment on why the university leased the space or its plans for the storefronts on 53rd Street.

Starbucks will move to a corner location in the new office tower in late July.

The manager of American Mattress wasn’t sure what would become of the storefront at 1506 E. 53rd St.

“They’ve done so much work and now we don’t know if we’re going to be here still to enjoy it,” said Wally Blake, who has managed the mattress store for the last three years.

He said he had put off moving to Hyde Park because he was unsure what would happen to the store.

In December, the university bought the building that houses Hyde Park Cigars, Rajun Cajun and Lake Beauty Supply, and now Hyde Park Cigars is holding off on renovations to its store.

Manager Mike Allan said the business already invested $200,000 in the shop at 1465 E. 53rd St. to create an area devoted exclusively to selling cigars. He said the owners were planning to remodel the rest of the store, but were now reconsidering.

Allan said the shop had a five-year lease, but the university had attempted to break that agreement after buying the building.

“They’re trying to not honor my lease,” Allan said. “I don’t know why they’re even picking that fight, they’re going to lose.”

Next door, Rajun Cajun’s owner Trushar Patel said he had a seven-year lease and the university had not talked to him about renegotiating terms.

Lake Beauty Supply at 1463 E. 53rd St. had closing-sale signs in the window, but the owner was out of town and not available for comment.

Many of the businesses upstairs, including a psychic and salon, did not answer their doors, and Allan and Patel said many had already left or were planning to leave soon.

“We have not announced plans for either building, and the university does not discuss details of tenant leases,” Coleman said.

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