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Oak Park Arts District is almost at full capacity

No longer the commercial district that Oak Park forgot

November 6th, 2018 12:50 PM

Harrison abuzz: The Oak Park Arts District is alive with new businesses. Keelin Burke (left) and her mother, Karen Beard (right), eat lunch at Buzz Cafe, 905 S. Lombard. | Photo by Timothy Inklebarger

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

It has been decades in the making, but the Oak Park Arts District is coming into its own.

The little business district that was once defined as struggling, fledgling, up-and-coming even, is almost full up with restaurants, shops and galleries.

It's a day that Laura Maychruk — president of the Oak Park Arts District, owner of Buzz Café, 905 S. Lombard Ave., and a real estate broker with Gullo & Associates — thought might never come.

Maychruk opened The Buzz, a restaurant and coffee shop with an artsy appeal — the walls of the shop are lined with paintings and works by local artists and the cafe frequently holds poetry nights and other art-focused events — in 1998, back when many of the storefronts in the district were vacant.

 She says so many new businesses have opened up in the district, which runs along Harrison from Austin Boulevard to South Elmwood Avenue, that she's having trouble keeping track.

"I can't even remember all of the new businesses," she said in a recent interview.

Among the new ones that have opened since the beginning of last year are: MORA Asian Kitchen, 201 Harrison St.; Rare Bird Preserves, 211 Harrison St.; Nature Yoga Sanctuary & Café, 146 Harrison St.; Happy Apple Pie Shop, 226 Harrison St.; District Kitchen and Tap, 220 Harrison St. And that's just a sampling of what's happening in the business district.

Four new townhouses — known as Flexhouse and built by developer Bob Ranquist — also are being completed in the 200 block of Harrison Street.

Maychruk is upping her own game as well at The Buzz, completing a costly renovation of the business. The dining area looks largely the same, but Maychruk has invested tens of thousands of dollars updating lights, electrical, plumbing, floors and walls, among other renovations. 

She says the key to the district's success is the departure of Chris Kleronomos, who owned several of the storefronts along Harrison and left them vacant for years. The six buildings owned by Kleronomos were purchased by Harrison Street Ventures LLC in 2015.

Kleronomos still has a minority ownership stake in the properties — it was never disclosed how large — but has no decision-making authority over how they are marketed.

A recent walk along Harrison Street revealed new life in the area. Foot traffic is more common these days and the district is becoming the destination Maychruk and others had always envisioned.

Jason Morales, owner of MORA Asian Kitchen, said his 85-seat restaurant opened in September and has been at full capacity.

"It's been really fantastic," he said.

So fantastic, he said, he's planning to open another restaurant across the street at the corner of Lombard and Harrison.

"I want to do a taco joint," he said.

The concept entails tacos inspired by cities around the world. Paris, Rome, Sydney, and Chicago, of course, are all in the running, Morales said. The Chicago taco likely will be based on the Italian beef sandwiches that originated in the Windy City, he said.

"The layout will probably be one giant bar, and the bar will do cocktails and drinks as well as the tacos," he said.

Morales hopes to have the new place opened before the end of the year.

Next door to MORA is Rare Bird Preserves, which offers fruit preserves, jams, jellies, scone mixes, and other products.

Owner Elizabeth Madden opened the shop on Sept. 22 and already is holding classes on topics like sourdough bread baking. That two-hour class is scheduled for Nov. 17 and will be led by a local bread baker, said Madden, who has already gotten a lot of support from the surrounding community as her business gets up and running. A lot of it, so far, has come from patrons looking to put together gift packages for loved ones. "Curating little gifts" for house-warming parties, kids going to college, and other events is a specialty at Rare Bird.

tim@oakpark.com

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  • Brian Slowiak (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: December 4th, 2018 12:13 AM

    Get a fly over map of Columbus Park and expressway area. Grid the map with numbers and squares so officers can give out their location by a numbered grid.

  • Brian Slowiak (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: December 3rd, 2018 11:54 PM

    This is very good news. With all good news, there is a down side. With all these good people, dining,meeting, shopping, cars and cell phones comes robberies and car jackings. I hope the police are taking the winter months to locate the easy access to Columbus Park by squad car, the blind spots and hiding spots in the Park.Driving thru the park on frozen ground is different than driving thru thru the Park on soggy spring weather ground. Hint, large pond s/e corner of Park is soggy all year round. Also watching e/bound for the west bound lanes from Austin and Lombard n/side of the expressway for any motorist on the shoulder who might pick up a person running through the Park. Regardless of emergency lights, it is almost deadly to go from e/bound Austin ramp to e/bound Central exit ramp. I would suggest every officer assigned to s/of Madison Street to spend an hour on foot on Harrison Street. Plain clothes detectives should not be exempt. Get some fly over photos of the area to determine escape routes. Keep an eye out for those parked cars facing n/bound on any side street n/ of Harrison, to easy to make Jackson, two blocks away. Good luck guys and gals in blue.

  • Wendy Lalli from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: December 3rd, 2018 12:15 PM

    Glad to see the growth on Harrison being recognized. There are also the new events at the Eastgate Cafe adding to the excitement - bands every weekend, comedy night, storytelling and now a Sunday afternoon jazz jam session. All contributing to the artistic flavor of the Harrison Street Community.

  • Roxann Lopez from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: November 8th, 2018 7:40 PM

    We are so pleased to see the growth in our part of town! We have waited for so long to have more dining options close by. Great news!

  • Ada Johnson Tikkanen (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: November 7th, 2018 3:41 PM

    best news ever!

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