PILSEN — A Dunkin Donuts is on the verge of opening at Pilsen's La Casa Student Center in a storefront that's been vacant since the center opened in 2012.
The center, which provides housing for college students, is run and owned by Pilsen nonprofit The Resurrection Project. The north facing retail shop — the only one in the center, which was built with $8 million in state funds — has been vacant since the student center's opening 18 months ago.
That storefront, at 1815 S. Paulina St., will now be filled by a Dunkin Donuts owned by Sanj Khatau, who owns 17 Dunkin stores in the city. He said he plans to close a location that had been a half block west at the 18th Street Pink Line stop for the past eight years when the new one opens April 7.
He said he approached the nonprofit in October regarding the 1,600-square-foot storefront.
Khatau, 48, said the new store will have "more of a cafe feel" and will seat around 20 people. He said residents are welcome to apply for a job at the new store.
Khatau was not the first local business owner to express an interest in the storefront. Cafe Jumping Bean owner Eleazar Delgado said he reached out to Resurrection Project when the space first became available in hopes of starting a restaurant.
But Delgado said the high cost of the lease and property taxes made the building inaccessible to local businesses.
"No small business on 18th Street could afford that lease. It's a franchise lease. It's meant for franchises," he said.
But Oscar Hernandez, director of property management for the Resurrection Project, said the price tag was flexible and — while many local businesses inquired about the property — only Khatau followed through with an offer.
"It's not that we’re bringing in Dunkin Donuts out of the blue, it’s that they’ve been there and they want to expand. We just didn't think any company would commit to the space so fast," Hernandez said.
Community reaction to leasing to a chain has been mixed in an area featuring many small businesses, vintage shops and local restaurants.
On Thursday, Pilsen business owner Cammie Christopher — whose vintage shop Revival A GO GO is just east of the student center — posted her disappointment on Facebook.
"Super $&@* bummed that Dunkin Donuts is opening in a huge space in la Casa Student housing in Pilsen. I don't see how people in charge of leasing could rent to Dunkin Donuts on 18th Street !?!" the post read.
Others, like 36 year-old resident Alejandra Aldaz, were excited for the store.
"I like it. It's more spacious," said Aldaz, who hopes to get a job from the new Dunkin Donuts. "We live down the street and I know my husband is just gonna love it."