LINCOLN PARK — An economic downturn caused by the closure of Children's Memorial Hospital has forced local businesses to get creative as they struggle to survive.
He just didn't know how bad business would be while he waits for the eventual customer bases brought in by two projects: the Webster Square development at the former Lincoln Park Hospital at Lincoln and Webster, and the Children's Memorial redevelopment.
His business at 2218 N. Lincoln Ave., like many in area surrounding the desolate hospital site, is losing money, he said.
"There's nobody really on the street. We aren't busy. We aren't doing well," Lakin said. "The only reason I'm not too worried about it it because I have my Evanston location that is supplementing it."
The Evanston outpost of the burger shop has gained national accolades for its food, and Lakin assumed that reputation would have been enough to keep the Lincoln Park location in the black.
It hasn't, he said.
In the two blocks along Lincoln Avenue from Webster to Fullerton, which abuts the shuttered hospital site, there are nine vacant storefronts.
A few blocks east on Clark Street there are seven vacant storefronts between Webster and Fullerton.
Rents remain high in the area and, without foot traffic, storefronts are remaining vacant.
Restaurants and bars such as Lincoln Park Station, Rickshaw Republic and Fuel Station coffee shop have opened since the hospital shut down, but they don't drive foot traffic, according to Sean Tehrani, owner of Fuel Station and Basil Leaf Cafe.
"It's not easy to be in Lincoln Park and make it without foot traffic," Tehrani said. "If it's just restaurants, it's not going to happen."
The loss of Lincoln Park Market on Clark Street in May, which remains vacant, did not help, Tehrani added.
Neighbors in the immediate vicinity of the of the Children's Memorial site have been the most vocal in opposition to the proposed height of 19-story apartment buildings that would be built on the old hospital site.
Tehrani, who has owned Basil Leaf Cafe since 1998, said neighbors fighting the proposal aren't helping support local small businesses.
"All these vocal people who go to meetings, where are they?" Tehrani said. "How come they aren't shopping here?"
Most of his customers come from Lakeview, from Downtown or from the suburbs, but the immediate neighbors aren't coming, Tehrani said.
The two major redevelopment projects that remain in the planning stages, the Children's Memorial site and the recently-proposed 11-story Lincoln Centre apartments, would bolster what is being called the "crossroads of Lincoln Park."
Those projects are years away from completion even if they are approved by the city's plan commission in February.
What to do to stay afloat in the time it takes for the proposed developments to become a reality remains a question.
Edzo's has been keeping its doors open until 8 p.m. in Lincoln Park for the past year. The Evanston outpost had been closing at 4 p.m. since it opened in 2009, but began staying open until 10 p.m. on Jan. 28.
Starting in a month or two, the Lincoln Park location will begin staying open until midnight on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Lakin said the lack of customers in Lincoln Park plays a role in that decision.
"It wasn't the only factor, but it was one of the factors for sure," he said.
Lakin is also working with City Grounds Coffee owner Steve Chang to host weekly open house events in the coffee shop's upstairs space, 507 W. Dickens Ave., promoting local independently owned businesses in the neighborhood.
The idea is to have five or six local businesses giving free samples of food or services once a month.
The decision by businesses such as Edzo's, Insomnia Cookies and Mrs. Green's Natural Market to enter the market knowing the difficult business climate is promising, according to Padraic Swanton, director of communications and marketing for the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce.
"It's reassuring to the community," Swanton said. "I think their willingness to take that risk shows there is value in the community as a whole."
Swanton said many small businesses that work with the chamber have been holding on and waiting to hear something "for a long time," in terms of progress in the neighborhood.
"We can't deny that it's been difficult and can't deny that some businesses have closed," he said.
During the last community meeting to discuss the latest proposal by Children's Memorial developer McCaffery Interests' plan, some 35 people spoke in favor of the proposal versus 15 who spoke against it.
The chamber of commerce is doing its part by working with the city's Department of Business Affairs and the city's tourism agency, Choose Chicago, to boost business in the meantime, Swanton said.
"Any way we can help them get people from conventions downtown, off Michigan Avenue and out to the great assets we have out here, that's what we really want to see," Swanton said.