Had Chicago’s North Side a Goliath resting an uncombed, curly crown on a 3 1/2-mile pillow fluffed til it reached beyond Rogers Park and toward the municipality of neighboring Evanston, then the nape of the monster’s neck would bend ever so gently at the intersection of Devon and Broadway, at the 6400 North block. Next, as the line of its body conformed to Broadway’s angles, its shoulders would obliquely round away from the lakefront and toward the corner at Thorndale, tilting ever so slightly through the line of Ethiopian- and individually-owned restaurants and bars lining the avenues of the Edgewater neighborhood. Its mid-backside would then twist comfortably past the city’s initial theater district at the corners of Lawrence and Broadway, allowing the hips to roll under the elevated train line at Wilson, through Uptown, to a point just beyond the Irving Park fissure. They would idle at Sheridan Road, where the muscular femur would lie past Addison, beyond fanatical Cubs’ enthusiasts tending their game. Finally, the inert knee lying in front of the Melrose Diner at the Melrose-Broadway junction would allow the calf to remain relaxed through Surf Street, where the flexed toes would touch Broadway’s endpoint, Diversey Parkway.
Germain Roignant, proprietor of 40-year old La Creperie, which lies parallel to the anatomical location of the contrived beast’s distal shin, has occupied a front row seat and witnessed how Time’s passage has altered the neighborhood formerly referred to as “New Town”, proximal to the exact spot where the beast’s fifth phalange would rest.
“We started in 1972,” he began.” In front, there was an old building, which was taken down to build the Ace Hardware on the corner that was sold to Border’s [later]. After that, coming north, there was an old Japanese restaurant, Keo’s, which went out of business. Across the street, there was a dinky, dinky, dinky house, and three other houses that had been there for probably one hundred years. And there used to be a bunch of little houses on our side, where there are [currently] two or three places for rent. There was a little arcade, a big night club called The Phoenix, and The Century Mall, which used to be a big place. But as far as change was concerned here, it was rundown.”
A decade after opening, changes did indeed begin to happen at the corners where the drowsy colossus’s baby toe brushed the pavement. The slow crawl of the gay community that inhabited the area south of Diversey began to shift northward, as it was wont to do.
“This whole neighborhood became more expensive,” Germain noted of the time.” The gentrification, people cleaning up and renting buildings… There wasn’t too much happening here, but on Clark, and past Diversey on Clark, there became better opportunities for a small store to start.”
Lamenting the higher tax bracket under which the area had suddenly fallen, the energetic senior mentioned a pet store that briefly occupied a neighboring space. It closed when business slowed in the late ’90′s, resulting in a still-vacant storefront.
He added,” Unless you have an amazing formula or a name to back you up, you’re going to lose money on the space at the end of the block. A little guy cannot make it, not if he has to pay $3,000.00 a month and make money somewhere to pay overhead and taxes. That’s why it remains vacant.”
Rising from his seat and walking toward the window, Germain shakes his left index finger at a “For Rent” sign in an unoccupied three-flat across the way.
“I’ve seen a man come and change that sign ten or twenty times over the years. We now have three or four stores in the same block that are all empty, because they [are too expensive]. Those buildings will still be for rent in ten years. So we’re stuck. We’re idle, instead of being able to change gears and go.”
The time has finally arrived for the Lakeview corner where the ogre’s limb brushes the asphalt to indeed switch gears and lurch forward after years of stillness. In addition, as prophesied by Germain Roignant when he spoke, it is not by one, but a trio of recognizably-branded corporations, each of which is contracted to occupy three of the mentioned spaces, including the former Border’s space. And although the end-result is uncertain given the confounding number of options in the area, one fact is certain. The Sleeping Giant will awaken, if only for the vibration of increased foot-traffic.