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The Alley in Lakeview Closing After 39 Years, 'Slaughtered' By Construction

By Ariel Cheung | December 1, 2015 3:31pm | Updated on December 1, 2015 3:33pm
 Mark Thomas, owner of several counterculture shops at Belmont and Clark, announced he would run for alderman of the 44th ward in 2015.
Mark Thomas, owner of several counterculture shops at Belmont and Clark, announced he would run for alderman of the 44th ward in 2015.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — From its perch just off Clark and Belmont, The Alley weathered 39 years, the ups and downs of punk and goth culture and endless changes along Lakeview's central intersection.

In the end, it was the construction that killed it.

The Alley's days at 3328 N. Clark St. are numbered, and the store will liquidate and close for good in the next couple of months — likely by the end of 2015, owner Mark Thomas announced Tuesday.

"This construction here just slaughtered us," Thomas told DNAinfo Chicago. "And somebody walked in and made an offer I just could not say no to" to purchase the building. Thomas said Internet shopping, loss of tourism beyond Michigan Avenue and crime along Belmont Avenue were other contributing factors.

Construction at 3200 N. Clark St. has left nearby buildings "shuttering and shifting" since the project broke ground in August. The $50 million transit-oriented development is slotted to take 16 months to build, setting a projected opening date of early 2017.

Based on extremely sluggish foot traffic since construction began, Thomas said The Alley stood to lose too much to survive the length of construction. As he was considering his options, the buyer's offer came at a time when Thomas was questioning The Alley's future anyway.

"It's probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life," said Thomas, a past aldermanic candidate in the 44th Ward and co-founder of the Central Lakeview Merchants.

Taboo Tabou, the lingerie and adult store in The Alley's lower level, will remain at Belmont and Clark. Thomas said he had been scoping out nearby locations like the closing video store.

"Taboo is doing great, and what that means is the neighborhood is willing to support it. Taboo and The Alley have always been destination shops," Thomas said.

Small business retail is "in trouble and dying off," Thomas mused. So he's hoping to "start fresh" in Avondale, where he lives, with a multipurpose 10,000-square-foot space he wants to open next year as The Alley 1776. The hub will combine a coffee shop, bar, music stage, piercing studio, retail and space for remote workers and artists. Thomas envisions it growing into something akin to Downtown Project in Las Vegas.

For Thomas, the sky's the limit — he pictures food trucks stopping by and regular shows by local bands and bicycle repair shop. The retail will include familiar Alley fare like jewelry, leather jackets, shoes and aromatherapy, but clothing probably won't make the list.

"The whole rock and goth thing has just died," Thomas said.

Lakeview has gotten too expensive for small businesses other than restaurants to survive, Thomas said.

"I can't afford the taxes here anymore. It's time to get away" from the $44,000 he pays annually, Thomas said.

Earlier this year, Thomas tried to reboot The Alley, bringing in his daughter Alexis Thomas as a partner to run Taboo Tabou and help meet the needs of a new generation. Alexis Thomas will stay on to head Taboo Tabou in its new location, her father said.

The Alley's closure marks the biggest upset of Thomas' retail empire along Clark and Belmont. In the two years since plans for 3200 N. Clark St. development surfaced, Thomas closed Architectural Revolution, 3226 N. Clark St. and Taboo Tabou, 854 W. Belmont Ave. and relocated them inside The Alley's three-story structure.

Blue Havana Cigar Shop moved to 3240 N. Clark St. and remains open.

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 Mark Thomas, owner of The Alley, fears his building, originally a theater built in the 1920s, will be irreparably damaged by construction next door for the Belmont Clark development.
Mark Thomas, owner of The Alley, fears his building, originally a theater built in the 1920s, will be irreparably damaged by construction next door for the Belmont Clark development.
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DNAinfo Chicago/Ariel Cheung