Laura Guenther is the owner of Local Goods Chicago, 5422 W. Devon Ave‭. Credit: Photo courtesy Laura Guenther.

EDGEBROOK — A huge, months-long sewer project on Devon Avenue through part of the neighborhood’s main business district is hurting local shops as it drags into the fall.

So, in a push to help merchants, business leaders are asking shoppers to come out and support the stores. To kickstart it, they’re throwing a block party to remind residents to shop local.

The free party is scheduled for Sept. 1 and will feature music, local food, children’s activities and street vendors along with special deals from local businesses. Devon Avenue will be closed off between Central and Kinzua from noon-6 p.m. for the party.

“We have a wonderful array of stores, restaurants and services that are the backbone of this community and are ready to serve you,” said Jenny Herren, the executive director of the Edgebrook Sauganash Chamber of Commerce.

“If the construction has kept you away or if you have not had a chance to fully explore our storefronts recently, there is no better time than now.”

The chamber is co-sponsoring the block party with Edgebrook Community Association and Everyday Edgebrook. Since March the business district of Edgebrook has been overrun with construction equipment for a sewer improvement project at the intersection of Spokane Avenue and Devon Avenue.

Parking restrictions and traffic detours are in effect during construction and the project’s latest delay happened after crews hit an unexpected underground cable on Aug. 2, according to WBBM-TV.

Construction on Devon Avenue Credit: Photo courtesy Justin Ochonicki.

“Basically with all these businesses they were expecting this sewer project, this infrastructure repair, to be done by June or July of this year,” said Justin Ochonicki. “And now this cable was struck and work has just come to a screeching halt.”

Ochonicki lives in the neighborhood and is a member of Everyday Edgebrook.

“If you’re on Devon Avenue right now there’s no work being done,” Ochonicki said. “It’s just an open pit. There’s a borer in the ground while everybody gets their ducks in a row to see who’s responsible for what and how work can begin again.”

The intersection of Devon, Lehigh and Caldwell avenues in the neighborhood have overlapping jurisdictions that include the Illinois Department of Transportation, Chicago Department of Transportation and Metra.

Laura Guenther is the owner of Local Goods Chicago, 5422 W. Devon Ave‭. She’s talked to neighboring businesses and said the construction has caused sales go down by at least 30 or 50 percent.

“They say construction will be done in November, so that this point we’re trying to get people to shop local,” Guenther said. “Because people are definitely avoiding the area altogether.”

Guenther says the shopping district has a disadvantage being so close to the suburbs and worries customers are going to become accustomed to driving to nearby Skokie and Niles to shop.

“People are definitely finding new places to go during this construction,” Guenther said. “The question is, will they come back when this is all over?”

A photo of Devon Avenue construction on Aug. 23. Credit: Photo courtesy Laura Guenther.

The business community reached out to the overlapping agencies involved in the project and the offices of Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) and Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) to get some form of relief during the ongoing construction, Ochonicki said.

“Right now the streets are like a maze and sometimes there’s no way out. There’s cars speeding down the streets,” said Ochonicki. “It’s just a really horrible situation all the way around but the sad thing is people aren’t patronizing the area at all because they just don’t want to deal with the traffic. So the business owners from the area basically called a big meeting with the aldermen.”

Those discussions resulted in Metra offering their commuter lot for free parking after 6 p.m. at their Edgebrook station to allow customers to shop in the area.

“This was part of the neighborhood meeting that they had over the sewer line project that has taken away a lot of parking in the neighborhood,” Metra spokesperson Meg Reilly said.

Metra arranged the parking arrangement through the vendor who controls that lot because of the impact the ongoing construction has had on the business community.

“So we agreed they could use the lot on evenings and weekends as long as they were out of the the lot for the Monday through Friday commuter traffic,” she said.

During that meeting with city officials, Guenther said business owners also asked if there was a way to support a marketing initiative to promote the Edgebrook area.

“They said no, there is no money. So we’ve been trying all kinds of ideas. The block party is one of them,” Guenther said. “Let’s invite all our friends and neighbors and encourage people to shop local. Get the message across that we really need people to support us at this time.”

Flyer for the Save Our Shops Block Party. Credit: Submitted

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