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Trader Joe's Wicker Park: Grocer Eyes Ex-Site of Miller Lumber on Division

By Alisa Hauser | February 5, 2014 12:36pm
 1815 W. Division St.
1815 W. Division St. in Wicker Park
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WICKER PARK —   A Trader Joe's could be coming to an old lumber yard on Division Street that has been vacant for more than a year, but an alderman's spokesman said on Wednesday that some "heavy lifting" would be required for the specialty grocery store to open there.

Trader Joe's wants to open its sixth Chicago grocery store in Wicker Park, Crain's reported.

Matt Bailey, a spokesman for Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), confirmed that the alderman had met with Trader Joe's, and the 1815 W. Division St. site was discussed as a location for the grocery store. But he said the plan was still in the "idea stage."

"We've only had one meeting with them," Bailey said. "Anything is still in the idea stage. There would be a ton of heavy lifting, including zoning and traffic changes, were this to be a reality."

Bailey added any plan would need to be vetted by the community.

"Right now, all we're interested in is hearing what the residents and local community groups think," he said.

Downtown developer Smithfield Properties purchased the 27,000-square-foot Miller & Son Lumber Co. building at Division and Honore streets in September 2011 for $3.2 million. The lumber yard was demolished in October 2012.

Neal McKnight, president of the East Village Association, said on Wednesday that his group has received "no proposal" from Trader Joe's and hesitated to comment in detail. 

"It seems like a tight spot, and proximity to the school [LaSalle II Magnet Elementary, 1148 N. Honore St.] would have to be addressed, but since we haven't even seen a proposal or are even sure if it's a full-blown concept or a smaller store, we're not going to comment," McKnight said. "Until the alderman comes to us, I don't even want to weigh in because we'd just be talking about rumors."

Bailey said Trader Joe's had not signed a lease.

If Trader Joe's wants to sell alcohol, it would have to challenge a liquor moratorium prohibiting the sale of packaged goods on the south side of Division Street between Wood Street and Hoyne Avenue.

While Division Street has some small grocers, like Plenty at 2036 W. Division St., and a new Mariano's is taking over a shuttered Dominick's at 2021 W. Chicago Ave, just a few blocks south, there is no large grocery store on the street between Ashland and Western avenues.  

Zoning attorney Rolando Acosta was representing Smithfield on a plan to bring a five-story apartment building with 52 units to the lot Trader Joe's is eyeing. The proposal was later downscaled to four stories and 36 units after community members voiced concerns.

That plan had included two restaurants owned by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, but in October, officials working on finding tenants could not confirm whether it was still a viable plan. 

Stan Nitzberg, a principal from Smithfield, said on Wednesday that the firm has "nothing to add at this point."

During the previous negotiations between Acosta, Moreno and the East Village Association, a planned development was drafted for the restaurant and apartment plan, but Bailey said on Wednesday that the planned development would not be valid for any new concepts, such as a grocery store.

Smithfield also made other recent changes and is no longer working with Acosta on its plan for the site, having switched to zoning attorney Jim Banks.

Bailey confirmed that the one meeting Moreno has had about the Trader Joe's plan was with Banks.

Banks did not return calls for comment, while Alison Mochizuki, a spokeswoman for Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe's, said, "I do not have a Wicker Park location to confirm."