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Accordion Shop That Traces Roots to 1889 in Italy Asks Community for Help

AVONDALE — Benilde "Bea" Polverini's tiny Avondale store, Alywind, traces its roots to 1889, when her family began making accordions in Italy.

But if Polverini can't get $2,000 by next week, she could be shutting her doors for good.

The store, at 3219 N. Elston Ave., is one of only a handful in the Chicago area that carry accordions and likely the only one that has "accordians."

Polverini, 58, now laughs about the spelling error she made when she put the sign up in haste for last year's "A Day in Avondale" neighborhood party.

"I actually didn't think about it when I was printing it with a machine. Then I saw it, and I was like, 'oops,'" she said with a laugh.

Opened by her father when he immigrated to the United States in 1952, the family business started in Italy, where Polverini accordions are still made by her relatives.

The shop moved from its original location on Christiana Avenue to nearby 2825 W. Belmont Ave. until it closed in the late 1990s, shortly before Polverini's father died.

When her mother died four years ago, the already widowed Polverini nearly sold the building on Elston Avenue where she had lived with her husband and parents for 30 years.

Her cousin Jack — who still is involved in the accordion business in Italy — came to the U.S. to help her reopen the store right under her apartment in the Elston building.

Named for a combination of the Italian words "a li" (roughly translated to "there it is") and "wind" for the Windy City, Alywind also carries unique house-brand wooden tube amplifiers that would make many a musician drool.

But Alywind quickly ran into trouble.

Polverini was laid off two years ago from her primary job as a second-grade teacher at Walter Reed Elementary School in Englewood and could no longer afford the mortgage payments on the building, which houses both her apartment and the shop.

"My income of $50,000 went down to $9,000," she said. "That's why I'm running into trouble and trying to figure out what to do."

She defaulted on her mortgage and racked up default fees that quickly overwhelmed her.

Efforts to expand the business after she was laid off have helped, but it just hasn't been enough. So now Polverini is hoping the community will help her stay afloat, starting an online crowd-funding campaign to stave off foreclosure.

Avondale resident Jim O'Donnell is one of those who has come through with a donation in hopes of keeping Alywind around, simply because he appreciates what shops like Polverini's bring to the neighborhood and the city.

"It's one of these funky, eccentric type of places that can only exist in a big, diverse city — and big, diverse cities can only exist with these places," he said. "Losing Alywind would take some of the color from the complexion of Chicago, and certainly of Avondale."

Her mortgage payments are now $2,650, but she only brings in about $2,500 a month from the shop and music lessons she gives at nearby Lorca Elementary School.

Polverini would like to refinance, but Federal Housing Administration rules don't allow it until she's been free and clear of the foreclosure for three years, leaving her no option but to pay the current mortgage.

She also hopes to raise a little extra to fix a leak in the back of the shop where she builds the amplifiers.

She needs $2,000 by Monday to stop the foreclosure, and $10,000 to bring her monthly payments back down to a manageable $1,200 a month, she said.

"It's got me scared to death," said Polverini.