WEST ROGERS PARK — Howard Rieger remembers when Devon Avenue west of California Avenue was a busy commercial strip.
People would come from all over to be there, he said. He would come from Uptown, where he lived with his family, to shop and eat.
But in recent years the distinctly Jewish area of an otherwise bustling Devon Avenue has lost businesses and gained empty storefronts.
"In the '50s and '60s," he said, "this is where it was at."
Rieger left Chicago for 40 years. When he came back recently he saw a neighborhood that had changed.
So now he hopes to bring back some of the energy.
He formed a group to raise money, then hired a consultant to help come up with ideas to drum up neighborhood support.
The group's first initiative is a storefront makeover contest. Any store owner on Devon Avenue between California and Kedzie avenues can participate.
The storefront that is most improved by replacing windows, doors and signs between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30 wins $2,500. Second best wins $1,500 and third wins $1,000.
The contest was announced at a small gathering inside newly renovated Ted's Fresh Market at 2840 W. Devon Ave.
Richard Trumbo, 57, owner of Music House Academy of Music & Dance, said he'd already bought new signs for his Devon Avenue storefront.
"Apathy from everyone" in the area, he said, has driven businesses away.
West Ridge Chamber of Commerce director Amie Zander was at the meeting, too, along with several board members.
She said the new group might be duplicating the chamber's efforts, but she also welcomed the help.
East of Western Avenue, she said, 98 percent of storefronts are filled. But near California Avenue, it's a different story.
"Down here," she said, "I've had places vacant for five years."
Rieger said his newly formed group and the greater Jewish community of West Rogers Park wouldn't be able to return the little stretch of Devon Avenue to what it was in the '60s, but perhaps some semblance could be resurrected.
"Neighborhood change is fine," Rieger said, "but you have to adapt to the change."
Business owners can contact consultant Mike Schubert at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about the storefront makeover contest.