Sunlight graces storefront buildings on Milwaukee Avenue in the Avondale neighborhood in February. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

AVONDALE — A neighborhood group is playing matchmaker this weekend to connect would-be business owners with realtors and property owners who manage vacant storefronts along Milwaukee Avenue

Milwaukee Avenue Alliance is hosting an open house called Take a Walk on Milwaukee noon-4 p.m. Saturday, focusing on the stretch between Kimball and Central Park avenues.

The event is for “home bakers that popped up during COVID, vendors who have outgrown farmers markets, restaurants working out of ghost kitchens and others who need to get a feel for what kind of space is out there but don’t feel like they’re ready to sign with a real estate agent yet,” said Lynn Basa, the group’s executive director.

Entrepreneurs and budding small business owners will get the chance to tour more than a dozen vacant storefronts and check out longtime and new businesses along the stretch to get a sense of the blossoming creative community on Milwaukee Avenue. Maps will be provided at Woodard Plaza, 2819 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The goal is to continue revitalizing the corridor, which is seeing a comeback after struggling with vacancies for years, thanks in large part to Basa’s group.

“Like most of ‘real Chicago,’ this stretch of Milwaukee was built by and for the working-class immigrants who built Chicago,” Basa said. “The scale and character of our 100-plus-year-old buildings were designed for mom-and-pop businesses in a time before cars ruled the earth. With Take a Walk on Milwaukee, people will experience what it’s like to walk from shop to shop, to get a feel for what it would be like to become part of our cultural and economic ecosystem.”

Basa, who lives and works on the stretch, has long been on a mission to revive the small business community in the 2800 and 2900 blocks of North Milwaukee Avenue. Over the years, she’s organized public art, events and cleanups along the corridor.

The stretch is home to many empty storefronts, some unoccupied for years and others vacated more recently.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) has said developers and property owners are sitting on properties “that could otherwise be used productively” and waiting for the right person to come along to build tall, dense development — forms of land-banking and real estate speculation.

Last year, Ramirez-Rosa slashed zoning on 14 properties along the corridor in an effort to promote responsible development in the area, a move that sparked criticism among some residents who were worried the “downzoning” measure would lead to more economic stagnation.

But the stretch is starting to see a resurgence with several businesses and developments in the works.

Early this year, a developer received approval to rehab and redevelop a vacant six-unit apartment building at 2901 N. Milwaukee Ave. The vacant Kay Shoes building at 2839 N. Milwaukee Ave. is getting an overhaul with apartments and ground-floor retail.

Bric a Brac record shop is moving to 2843 N. Milwaukee Ave.; the owners are also opening an adjoining coffee shop. Uprising Theater is coming to 2905 N. Milwaukee Ave., also with a coffee shop component. Cocktail bar Mother’s Ruin is taking over 2943 N. Milwaukee Ave. And Monarch Thrift recently moved to a larger storefront at 2875 N. Milwaukee Ave. 

With this weekend’s open house, Basa and her group are hoping to build on that momentum and lure even more small businesses to the thoroughfare. Basa said the event has been in the works since before the pandemic hit.

At the same time, the Milwaukee Avenue Alliance and the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce are working with Allies for Community Business to help first-time business owners with things like writing a business plan, deciphering a lease and establishing good credit.

“We want to be part of a new generation of mom-and-pop businesses building generational wealth, just like the first people who built these buildings were able to come to this country and stake a claim and start building legacy businesses,” Basa said.

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Logan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.orgnnLogan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale Twitter @mina_bloom_