BEVERLY — Chicago aldermen don't typically advise their constituents on where to buy Halloween costumes.
Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th) did just that last week, asking residents to support Halloween City at 2210 W. 95th St. in Beverly. The seasonal shop will occupy the former Borders bookstore, which has been vacant for almost four years.
"While many residents may be hesitant to patronize a store like this, I hope that you will stop in to help demonstrate that a permanent Party City would thrive in Beverly," O'Shea wrote in his email.
Howard Ludwig says the Beverly neighborhood is a "hidden gem" but could use some higher end shopping and dining options:
The Southwest Side alderman admits that Party City wasn't his first choice for the 25,000-square-foot building that sits prominently along 95th Street. But after years of shopping the former Borders building to potential users, he's realized that the party goods retailer might be the best fit possible.
"We've been chasing the A-list," O'Shea said of his efforts to find a tenant.
Meetings with high-end grocery chains such as Whole Foods, Mariano's, Trader Joe's and The Fresh Market were unsuccessful. Discussions with retailers such as Crate & Barrel, HomeGoods and Barnes & Noble ended similarly, O'Shea said.
He then turned to the wellness industry, first approaching health clubs LA Fitness & XSport Fitness. When those efforts failed, O'Shea met with several hospitals about using the Borders site as an outpatient clinic or satellite office. Nobody was interested.
Late last year, Shorewood Development bought the property. The Buffalo Grove-based real estate development firm has listed the building for $2 million. Shorewood is the driving force behind Halloween City, O'Shea said.
The former Borders would seem to be an easy sell. The building sits along a heavily trafficked mile-long strip that runs through the prosperous North Beverly area. It also boasts a parking lot with 80 spaces.
But Beverly's 95th Street corridor has been operating largely without an anchor for years, as redevelopment of The Plaza in neighboring Evergreen Park has stalled.
Tampa-based DeBartolo Development LLC bought the mall at 9500 S. Western Ave. in March 2013. While several plans to transform the 765,961-square-foot indoor shopping center have been floated, nothing has materialized.
"What everything hinges on is Evergreen Plaza," O'Shea said.
And yet the surrounding area continues to thrive. A shopping center anchored by Menards and Meijer opened in April at 9100 S. Western Ave., also in suburban Evergreen Park.
The new retail development debuted despite an outcry from adjacent Beverly residents who fumed as decades-old oak trees on a former golf course were mowed down to make way for the big-box retailers.
With anchor tenants established, the 91st Street mall is now developing outlots. O'Shea said he expects managers of those smaller storefronts to attempt to lure away established businesses on 95th Street, namely Panera Bread at 2314 W. 95th St.
Panera's lease expires in December. O'Shea said the bakery cafe along with the nearby Chipolte Mexican Grill at 2302 W. 95th Street could consider moving to take advantage of the additional parking in Evergreen Park.
But despite the parking situation, both Panera and Chipolte post strong sales in Beverly, O'Shea said. And Panera's owners have told the ward office they intend to stay put.
In fact, a Domino's pizza recently signed a lease for the last remaining vacancy in the shopping center fronted by Panera, O'Shea said.
Parking is a consistent concern along 95th Street. Business say they need more space for customers. Meanwhile, residents often find themselves inconvenienced, as desperate patrons turn to residential streets when parking lots reach capacity.
"It is 20 percent vacant on 95th Street, but you can't find a parking spot anywhere," O'Shea said.
The parking situation and congestion have been made worse by a streetscape and utility project that dates to April 2012. The improvements aim to enhance the look of the shopping district in the long term, but businesses have suffered during construction, said Erin Healy Ross, the executive director of the 95th Street Beverly Hills Business Association.
"Don't write off 95th Street because it is challenging with parking," Ross said, encouraging residents to ride bikes or walk to the many small businesses along the strip.
To combat the parking problem, low-traffic businesses have been sought, such as Safeguard Self Storage. The Atlanta-based company plans to take over a former bookstore at 1909 W. 95th St. that has been vacant for nearly a decade. Demolition begins in March.
Nearby residents initially weren't thrilled with the 78,000-square-foot storage facility, but they quickly warmed up to the idea after managers met several demands, including funding a cul-de-sac at 95th Street and Winchester Avenue, O'Shea said.
The vacant shopping center in the 1800 block of West 95th Street would benefit from a similar owner willing to demolish and rebuild, Ross said.
A giant sign that reads, "Available for Sale: Entire Property on City Block" calls attention to the aging strip center on the north side of 95th Street. A price tag of $650,000 was placed on the property during a recent auction. No bidders stepped forward, Ross said.
"We have large, ugly, old structures on 95th Street, dating back to the 40s and 50s," O'Shea said.
But not all of the old buildings need to come down. Optimo Fine Hats bought the former firehouse at 1700 W. 95th St. a year ago. The high-end hatmaker is converting the building into a manufacturing facility and headquarters. It's expected to open this fall.
"The building looks fantastic, " Ross said.
The former library at 95th Street and Hamilton Avenue has also been empty for five years. The stone structure remains attractive, but vacancy has taken a toll.
The system for boarding up the windows to keep out vandals also requires the windows to be open, so the building's interior has been damaged by the elements. But a potential restaurant and banquet facility has recently shown interest in the property.
The sale of alcohol looms as a potential stumbling block at the site, as does the limited parking at the shuttered library, O'Shea said.
Not far away, Brocks for Men, a longtime men's formalwear store at 2025 W 95th St., closed last week after the owner retired. But the store manager plans to open a similar store above the realty management offices of C.N. Russo & Co. Inc. at 2141 W. 95th St., Ross said.
"There is never a lull on that street," she said.
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