PORTAGE PARK — After three years in the neighborhood, an Italian ice shop is closing — but that doesn’t spell an end to its popular, all-natural treats.
Little Lulu’s Italian Ice, 5035 W. Montrose Ave., will serve its last customers Sunday, but folks will still be able to get their hands on the nearly 20 flavors of ice treats online and at local businesses.
Owner Autumn Bastyr, a lifelong Chicagoan who lived in Albany Park until recently, said closing the storefront comes after a difficult year for the brand. They dealt with financial obstacles from the pandemic, fruit shortages and rising prices for ingredients.
Bastyr is known to sell her products at block parties, corporate events and other community gatherings — which got canceled or rescheduled in 2020.
“We started to offer individual servings with disposable coolers at parties,” Bastyr said. “The amount of events drastically changed, so we tried our best to pivot, but that took a hard hit on us. This year has been harder than 2020.”
In March, Bastyr moved to Florida to expand the brand and try her hand at operating in a warmer climate. But managing businesses in different cities got to be too much, she said, especially because her friend who helped operate the Portage Park location could no longer do so.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of people in Chicago that are able to take on my dream, so that is what led to the decision of closing,” Bastyr said.
Folks can also visit the Chicago Taco Authority, Avondale Coffee Club, Reggie’s on the Beach and Reprise Coffee in Evanston to buy the brand’s Italian ice.
Bastyr is looking for more local businesses interested in selling her products or an entrepreneur willing to take over the storefront to further their own business.
“I am holding out hope that I will find a small business owner that wants to do something in the space so we can collaborate — they can do their thing and we can still sell the ice,” she said. “We are shutting down now but not giving up hope yet.”
Bastyr opened the store in 2018 after seeing success biking around the neighborhood and to the beach with her Italian ice mobile cart. When she expanded to the Portage Park storefront, the business grew and the community embraced her vision to make homemade products with no additives or chemicals, she said.
In 2019, Bastyr began offering sandwiches and soups that were in line with the season, though the Italian ice was always the most popular product, she said.
Bastyr said she’s grateful for the community’s support and hopes people will buy her products elsewhere to keep Little Lulu’s alive.
“I know we are loved in the community. I’ve heard so many people’s stories of what our shop meant to them. [Closing is] sad; it sucks,” she said. “I didn’t realize how powerful something like bringing Italian ice to a community was, but I have heard some amazing stories, and [the business] really has affected others.”
Alyssa Figueroa has worked at the shop since the summer and remembers business was busy. Now, when she tells customers the store is closing, people are sad and ask what they can do to support the business and Bastyr.
“When I tell people we are closing, people are heartbroken,” Figueroa said. “She made a pretty positive impact in the community.”
The Taft High school junior said she will miss commuting to work after school.
“It’s sad because [Autumn] worked so hard for this,” she said. “I am still trying to convince her to stay open … but I know it’s not goodbye forever.”
Little Lulu’s will be open 3-9 p.m. Thursday-Friday and noon-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday with rotating flavors.
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