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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Business Owners Win Fight To Keep Milwaukee Avenue Open During Peak Holiday Season

"Winter is a hard enough time for retail in Chicago. Crippling us during Thanksgiving and Christmas should be unthinkable," their petition read.

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AVONDALE — After pushback from small business owners and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), the city has agreed to speed up a construction project that would’ve shut down a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue during peak holiday shopping days including Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

Business owners said the three-week-long shutdown would’ve been a “disaster” for business. And while they’re relieved the city listened to them and plans to expedite the job, they’re not ready to celebrate yet.

“I’m not confident that they can do a job that takes three weeks in one week,” Hassan Nijem, owner of furniture shop Layana Furniture at 2957 N. Milwaukee Ave., said.

“This is construction. Every time you do construction in your home or in a building it takes longer than expected. … [The city] felt the pressure and they want to calm us down. Like, ‘OK, you won.’ But that’s not the end.”

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
Hassan Nijem, owner of Layana Furniture at 2957 N. Milwaukee Ave., is one of the business owners who signed a petition in protest of the construction project.

Initially, the city’s Department of Water Management was looking to shut down Milwaukee Avenue between Wisner and Allen avenues for three weeks starting this week to replace the street’s 100-year-old sewer line.

On Friday, when Nijem and other business owners and property owners got word of the shutdown, they launched a petition in protest, demanding the city wait until after the holiday season to start the job.

“The many small businesses on this stretch of Milwaukee will be severely negatively impacted by closing this street,” the petition reads.

The petition, signed by roughly two dozen business owners and property owners, went on: “Winter is a hard enough time for retail in Chicago. Crippling us during Thanksgiving and Christmas should be unthinkable.”

The coalition of business owners and property owners initially thought the city was going to shut down Milwaukee Avenue between Central Park to Kimball avenues, but Ald. Ramirez-Rosa said that was never the plan. According to the alderman, whose ward includes the stretch, the city was always looking to do a partial shutdown between Wisner and Allen avenues.

Still, because of the shutdown, Milwaukee will be closed to through traffic. Signs stationed at Central Park and Kimball avenues warn drivers of such.

Ramirez-Rosa said he reached out to the city as soon as he received the petition to see if the construction project could be expedited to alleviate concerns of the business owners.

The move comes after months of construction headaches for Avondale business owners. Stretches of Belmont Avenue were shut down over the summer, rerouting buses and eliminating foot traffic for local businesses.

The alderman said while it’s important to raise questions about the city’s processes, he’s confident the city is working to improve the sequencing of construction projects.

“Some individuals are never going to be happy when there’s construction,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“What my office can do and has done is work to communicate these concerns,” he added.

Also in the petition, the business owners and property owners took issue with the fact that they didn’t receive enough advance warning, saying they found out about the project just a couple days before construction was supposed to begin.

“I was wondering why they didn’t tell us about it until three days beforehand. A project like this needs a little more planning rather than 72 hours,” Eric Kratz, co-owner of the record shop Record Breakers at 2935 N. Milwaukee Ave., said.

Both Kratz and Nijem questioned the city’s sudden change of course.

“If they can do it in a week, then why were they blocking off three weeks to do it in the first place? That’s really confusing,” Kratz said. 

Said Nijem: “It’s politics.” 

Ramirez-Rosa explained it this way: “What they’re doing is coordinating and putting in the extra effort so there’s no waiting period between” phases of the construction project.

According to the city’s Department of Water Management, the construction project calls for a week-long shutdown and another two weeks of limited parking. The#56 Milwaukee bus will also be rerouted.

The spokeswoman said the contractor was able to refine the work in order to get the new sewer up and running quickly at the request of the alderman and neighbors.

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Credit: Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa’s office
An infographic made by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa’s office, explaining the construction project’s impact.

Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.