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Trader Joe's Wicker Park Raises Traffic Concerns, Shopping Excitement

By Alisa Hauser | March 4, 2014 10:57am
 A proposed plan to bring a Trader Joe's to 1819-25 W. Division St. in Wicker Park was discussed at a community meeting on Monday.
Trader Joe's Community Meeting
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WICKER PARK — A plan to bring a Trader Joe's to a former lumber yard on Division Street drew more than 120 people to a community meeting Monday, with many expressing concerns over noise and traffic while others saying they look forward to a new grocer.

Located at 1811-25 W. Division St., the Smithfield Properties' development would be three stories, with 14,900 square feet for the Trader Joe's on the first floor and two adjacent retail storefronts offering about 2,000 square feet each, according to plans by architect Joe Antunovich.

Two levels of parking offering a total of 73 parking spaces would be on the second and third floors.

During a meeting at LaSalle II Elementary School, 1148 N. Honore St., Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) said the plan would require the lifting of two liquor moratoriums, one two blocks to the east and another two blocks to the west, as well as changing state law that prohibits liquor sales within 100 feet of a school.

 More than 120 people asked questions at a community meeting to discuss a proposed Trader Joe's at 1811-25 W. Division St. in Wicker Park.
More than 120 people asked questions at a community meeting to discuss a proposed Trader Joe's at 1811-25 W. Division St. in Wicker Park.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

When asked if Trader Joe's would consider operating without a license to sell alcohol, Adam Mutolo, a regional vice president of Trader Joe's, said, "All of our stores in the city and state sell alcohol and frankly we would have to evaluate that."

In addition to the city and state liquor hurdles, traffic flow would be altered, too, with Trader Joe's hoping to make Honore, currently a one-way northbound street, into a two-way street.

Henning said customers leaving Trader Joe's would be able to only turn right, or north, onto Honore toward Division Street to prevent traffic onto neighborhood streets south of the market.

This prompted concerns for residents south of Division.

"Maybe you will think people will work an honor system and not go south," said Alison Burrows, who questioned why there would be a plan to make Honore a two-way street and then expect customers to not go south.

Burrows lives in the 1800 block of West Thomas Street.

While the walk-up entrance to Trader Joe's would be on Division Street, the loading zones for trucks and a ramp to the upper-level parking garage would be on Honore Street, directly across from the entrance to LaSalle II Elementary. That worried parents who feared for children's safety during pick-up and drop-offs.

Mutolo said there would be up to three semi-trucks delivering daily to the store, though they would be there in the early morning before school begins. Mutolo said there would be smaller deliveries with "U-Haul sized" trucks about twice each week.

The store would open at 8 a.m., after the school's "bell time" of 7:45 a.m. Mutolo said most of Trader Joe's business is at nights and weekends.

Tiffany Wilson, a Local School Council member, said she liked idea of having Trader Joe's in area but not at expense of jeopardizing children's safety.

When asked by the LSC members about volume, Mutolo said they would expect the store to have between 15,000 and 19,000 transactions weekly or about 2,000 daily, with sales revenues of $30 million annually being "a realistic volume for a city store."

Adding a chain store to a street dominated by independently-owned shops, boutiques and restaurants was a concern for some.

"Division is a special street with big sidewalks. After [living here] 25 years, I don't want to be in a generic neighborhood," said Ziggy Dyrkacz, co-owner of Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St.

Suzanne Keers, a local resident and member of the Special Service Area's volunteer planning committee, which sponsored a "Master Plan" for the neighborhood, said, "This is not a food desert, " and referred to five locally owned grocery stores and two major grocery stores in the area.

Mutolo told Keers, "We have had this concern before, but a lot of time we end up finding that business skyrockets around [a Trader Joe's], even businesses that think we are competitors, such as flower and wine shops within literally 100 feet. Trader Joe's has been lucky we built up a brand that creates a great opportunity for the businesses around us."

A few people gave kudos to the plan, such as Wayne Zuschlag, who said he supported the Trader Joe's, even though he owns property near the proposed store.

"I think the community has an opportunity to shape what is going there because [Trader Joe's] needs the community's permission. The fact is it's going to be something, and especially compared to what it is now, Trader Joe's is a step up," Zuschlag said.

A man who identified himself only as Keith said he was "just a normal guy looking forward to the day I can welcome a Trader Joe's to the neighborhood."

Kevin Henning, president of Smithfield Construction, said a traffic consultant would develop a comprehensive traffic impact study.

Once the study is complete in about three weeks, Bill Smith, president of Smithfield Properties, plans to schedule another meeting with the community that will be arranged through the LaSalle II School's LSC, Henning said.

When asked if they are looking at any other location for the Trader Joe's, Brandt Sharrock, vice president of real estate for Trader Joe's, said, "As somebody that's been scouring this area for years, I can honestly say there aren't any other sites of this size that could accommodate us right now."

While Sharrock would not acknowledged if there is a lease signed for the location, Jim Houlihan, a consultant working with Smithfield Properties, said, "There is an agreement between Trader Joe's and Smithfield Properties; however, the agreement depends on addressing all of these questions. There may be a lease but there are conditions. If the conditions don't satisfy Trader Joe's, then there is no lease."

After the meeting, Grant Drutchas, president of the school's Parent Teacher Organization, said he thought the meeting went well and that the general sentiment was "everyone thinks a Trader Joe's could be great for the neighborhood but the main question is whether next to a school is the best site."