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MetroEdge Quantifies West Haven Retail Success

Three years ago, the business community near the intersection of Madison and Western consisted of a Walgreens, a dental office and a pawn shop. Today, after the worst economic downturn in 70 years, there are 15 businesses, with a 60,000-square-foot Pete’s Fresh Market set to break ground later this year.

So an upbeat report on the retail success and potential for West Haven, released in May by LISC/MetroEdge, did not surprise Mike Quinlan. But the executive director of the Near West Side Chamber of Commerce and commercial district manager at Near West Side Community Development Corp. appreciates the data nonetheless.

The once-lonely Walgreen's at Madison and Western now has plenty of retail company — with more to come.

Courtesy of Near West Side Chamber of Commerce

“It’s a confirmation of what I’m seeing,” Quinlan says. “At the worst freakin’ possible time on the planet, we’re getting unprecedented growth. … It’s really great, with MetroEdge, to have the numbers. It’s not just us saying it. It was a confirmation of our gut feeling, but people don’t like to hear our gut feeling.”

The report, presented during a luncheon June 2 at Angel’s Restaurant, defines the West Haven “trade area” as running from Ashland west to Rockwell, and from Kinzie south to the Eisenhower Expressway. Located two miles west of downtown, West Haven averages nearly 27,000 cars per day on Western and another 10,000 on Madison, along with hundreds of thousands of “El” riders.

“We’re hoping to use this [report] to get even more businesses in the neighborhoods,” Quinlan enthuses. “I don’t know to find transit counts, but my God, when you can tell someone you’ve got half-a-million [El] riders up and down Western, that’s important.”

Pete's Fresh Market will soon break ground on a 60,000-square-foot store at this site across from the Walgreen's.

Courtesy of Near West Side Chamber of Commerce

Within this area, MetroEdge reported, household income and income diversity are both increasing, creating strong residential buying power. The community has grown slightly to 22,000 people over the past decade, the first increase in several decades, while median income is nearly $20,000, up 16 percent since 2000 and 165 percent since 1990.

“This is a neighborhood that’s seen some drastic decreases in population – when the projects were ripped out, it looked pretty scary, on paper,” Quinlan says. “But we’re starting to see growth again.

“Population is stable in West Haven, after having gone through a long period of decline,” agrees Jake Cowan, project manager at LISC/MetroEdge. “While not a surprise, that’s a good sign of stability. We certainly saw the diversity of household incomes increasing, and in general incomes were on the rise.”

About 18 percent of households earn at least $50,000 per year, up 43 percent since 2000, more than double the city’s average rate of increase. The homeownership rate is 11 percent, and the median income of new homeowners in 2008 hit $73,744, up from $40,500 a decade earlier.

The Retail Bottom Line

Shoomi is among the new clothing and accessories stores to set up shop.

Courtesy Near West Side Chamber of Commerce

The bottom line for retailers, according to MetroEdge, is that West Haven boasts $166 million of buying power per square mile, about $10 million more than the city as a whole and about three times that found in an upper-middle-class suburb like Northbrook, due to greater population density.

“It’s showing the increase in purchasing power,” Quinlan says. “We’re doing more than well. Every year, things are getting better, despite international and local trends.”

Breaking retail potential down into categories, MetroEdge found the most potential for growth in general merchandise stores, with all shopping taking place outside the neighborhood; sporting goods, hobby, book and music, with 73 percent of retail dollars leaving West Haven; and electronics and appliances, with 44 percent “leakage” of retail money.

In the broader trade area that the Near West Side Chamber considers its bailiwick, which runs from Grand south to Roosevelt (while still within Ashland to Rockwell), gasoline stations and clothing and accessories stores enter the mix of retail uses of which MetroEdge found the community could support more.

Cowan does not see that much potential for clothing stores because a few have opened in just the past few years. He figures Pete’s Fresh or possibly Walgreens could be open to a discussion about adding more general merchandise. “You could show them that there’s money leaving in that area and spur them to look at what’s leaving and whether there are any additional dollars they could capture,” he says.

MetroEdge said the redevelopment of the former West Town Bank Building has been among the keys to revitalizing the neighborhood.

Courtesy of Near West Side Chamber of Commerce

But Quinlan notes that the general merchandise category will receive a major boost, at least in the broader trade area, when a planned Costco opens at 14th and Ashland. He figures another category to look into might be a small hardware store.

“You don’t see too many of them around,” he says. “We have this retail study – and there’s a possibility we could find an Ace Hardware and let them know about the demand, particularly after the Pete’s is built out because we still have space available. But it’s leasing up pretty fast.”

Quinlan probably would suggest a sports-related store next, except that one just opened at Madison and Damen, across the street from the United Center. The location had been a Chinese restaurant in “a little bombed-out building that got completely restored to the point where it’s unrecognizable,” he says. “I bought a Blackhawks hat there yesterday.”

MetroEdge views the United Center, with its 1½ million Blackhawks and Bulls attendees (and a hockey fan base on the grow after the recent Stanley Cup win) along with another 100 events and concerts, as perhaps the major draw into the area. The 200 companies hosted in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor and the more than 7,700 students at Malcolm X College, along with 2,400 events last year that drew 210,000 people, also bring people into West Haven, the report notes.

Major developments that will support the continued growth of West Haven will include the Pete’s Fresh, another 10,000 square feet of retail at Madison and Western, the soon-to-be complete Johnny’s Ice House rink, the renovation of the West Town Bank Building with 62 residential units and 5,000 square feet all leased, and the West Haven Park and Jackson Square housing projects.

“We can continue to see an increased pace of residential development,” Cowan says. “There are tangible signs of progress on the street that are meaningful. Everything within the market shows stability or upward movement.”

The Near West Side Chamber and Near West CDC, a lead agency in LISC/Chicago’s New Communities Program, undergird much of this progress with investments like Operation Clean Sweep, Green and Clean Events, and new grant funding for beautification and signage. The Chamber provides tools and resources for businesses like a database with space available for lease.

The MetroEdge presentation happened June 2 at Angel's Restaurant on Ashland.

The community continues to face challenges with crime – both the reality and perception – although this has eased over time, MetroEdge reported. The number of violent crimes is two-thirds the city average, at eight per 1,000 people from November 2008 to November 2009, while property crimes are about 83 percent the city average, at 34 per 1,000 people over that time period.

Quinlan has another metric for measuring people’s increasing sense of safety when they drive into the area for sporting events.

“One of the ‘tells’ that people are a little more comfortable in the neighborhood is how comfortable they feel parking,” he says. “Every year, people park a little further and further into the neighborhood – to the point that now, we’ve never had this before, but because of the Stanley Cup, we can’t park in front of our building anymore. That’s a small litmus test."

To download the LISC/MetroEdge report about West Haven, please click here.

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