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Can Avondale's Polish Village Return to its Former Glory?

 The once-robust Polish community in Avondale has dwindled in recent years, but some hope to change that.
Polish Village
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AVONDALE — Chinatown, Greektown — Polishtown?

That's what some leaders in Avondale would like to see.

Though the stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Diversey and Addison avenues is still commonly referred to as the Polish Village, there are few reminders of the robust Polish population that once dominated this heart of Avondale.

Notable mainstays still pepper the area — the Kurowski Sausage Shop, Red Apple Buffet and the Maryla Polonaise nightclub for example — but it's just a shadow of the old neighborhood, once filled with Polish-owned businesses of all kinds.

Dan Pogorzelski, executive director of the Greater Avondale Chamber of Commerce and Forgotten Chicago history buff, would like to see the Polish Village return to its former glory.

"Particularly in Avondale, many of the businesses there were tailored to newly arrived Polish immigrants," Pogorzelski said. "We're looking to have Chicago's Polish Village be a place where people can come have that experience."

Jackowo and Wacławowo are the two Polish communities that make up the Polish Village, which with the Polish Triangle at Division, Ashland and Milwaukee avenues once helped make Chicago home to the largest population of Polish immigrants in the United States.

According to census data, however, New York City's Polish population surpassed Chicago's in 2000.

Pogorzelski said many of Chicago's Poles have moved to the suburbs, while immigration and tourism also have declined.

"Poland did not suffer a recession and the economy's even gotten better after joining the EU," he said, explaining that many Poles decided against moving to the U.S. Onerous visa requirements make short visits difficult as well, he said.

Unlike many other European countries, Poland is not part of the visa waiver program.

Cook County Commissioner Edwin Reyes, whose district office is in Jackowo, is among politicians interested in revitalizing the Polish Village.

"Businesses are closing up or moving to the suburbs because there's really no impetus or concerted effort to bring people to that strip," he said. "Let's conserve it, let's figure out how we can re-energize this community to make sure we don't lose this piece of ethnic community."

Among ideas to bring attention to the strip is to put up Polish Village signs or other visual markers that clearly identify the Polish makeup of the neighborhood, similar to those in Chinatown, Greektown and on Division Street in Humboldt Park.

"You have the honorary streets [named for Polish leaders] but nothing else," Reyes said. "We need something more to reflect that ethnicity."

Jackowo and Wacławowo signs were once posted throughout the area but were taken down sometime in the 1990s.

Bringing back the signage is one of the first things leaders hope to do, though Reyes said more meetings and community input is needed to develop a "game plan" for the area.

In the meantime, Pogorzelski hopes to entice Polish business owners in other parts of the city to relocate to Avondale.

One nonprofit organization is already considering such a move.

MultiKulti is a community art center that serves people of all ethnicities, but its Polish president, Jan Wiktor Soroko, hopes to move it to Avondale within a year.

"That was my first Polish neighborhood after I moved [to the U.S. in 2001]," he said. "I still live here."

Though it's not specifically Polish, he thinks moving MultiKulti, now located at 1000 N. Milwaukee Ave., to Avondale would be a step toward revitalizing the area overall.

"It's important to provide a space for Polish heritage," Soroko said. "Avondale needs some support to save it. ... Let's keep fighting for surviving."