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Milwaukee Avenue Construction Tests Yoga Shop's Zen

IRVING PARK — Yoga has long been thought to create a sense of peace among its practitioners.

But it didn't much help Jim Cogan, a certified yoga instructor and owner of the Yoga Shop studio in Irving Park, when he learned a road construction project on Milwaukee Avenue would block access to his fledgling business for the better part of a year.

"This is all I'm thinking about now," said Cogan. "I was just telling somebody, I used to always walk by buildings with scaffolding and feel sorry for them. Now I'm one of those buildings."

The Yoga Shop is located near Milwaukee and Kilpatrick avenues, essentially ground zero for a massive overhaul of Milwaukee that will close the street to southbound traffic from July through December, and again from spring 2014 through August 2014.

"My mind was blown, that's for sure," Cogan said of the moment he was notified of the roadwork, barely a week before the July 8 start date. "I didn't sleep that night. This caught everyone unawares."

For Cogan, the construction comes at a critical juncture for his shop, which opened in October 2012.

"I wouldn't wish my first two months in business on my worst enemy," he said. "One day would be incredibly encouraging, the next, freaky scary."

After a rough start, business has gradually built to a comfortable level for Cogan, who splits his time between Portage Park and Lake Geneva.

His concern now is that all his gains will be wiped out for lack of parking — the exact opposite of his message that Yoga Shop is a welcoming oasis for all comers.

A former recording engineer and instructor in audio arts at Columbia College, Cogan specifically chose the Irving Park location, by the Metra tracks, in a bid to "democratize" the practice of yoga, which can feel exclusionary, he said.

"It's not Bucktown. It's not Wicker Park," Cogan said. "I'm working with a lot of people here in this area who may have been curious about yoga but never tried it. This studio is really attracting people who would have or did feel intimidated at other studios."

The very name Yoga Shop was intended as a play on barbershop, butcher shop and beauty shop — places of gossip, community and swapping stories.

"Come huddled masses," said Cogan. "You're not going to be judged. It's OK to be hung over — I think people find that liberating."

Taking the same creative approach he's used with his business — coming soon, rooftop yoga — Cogan scrambled to turn the road construction's negatives into a positive.

He's working with 45th Ward Ald. John Arena's office to ensure sidewalk access to the shop and perhaps obtain a bike rack for patrons. "We'll say, 'Let's go green,' " said Cogan.

Most importantly for Cogan, a fellow business owner has agreed to let Yoga Shop clients park in his nearby lot.

"It's a saving grace. It saves my business," Cogan said of the arrangement. "Finding I have good neighbors — it's huge."