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Kennedy-King inspires 63rd St. retail dreams

When Kenneth Johnson learned that a strip mall was going up across the street from the new Kennedy-King College at 63rd Street and Halsted, he figured a Subway franchise would be just the ticket. Students have to eat, right?

Longtime Englewood retailers remember when 63rd Street was a bustling hub and foresee better times ahead with the opening of the new Kennedy-King campus.

PHOTO: JUAN FRANCISCO HERNANDEZ

So he contacted the Milford, Conn.-based submarine sandwich shop chain and convinced the corporate office that the location had plenty of potential.

“I wanted to follow the progress of Englewood,” said Johnson who opened his Subway shop in the Union Square strip mall in late December 2007. “I thought a Subway would be a good opportunity to provide a much needed service. Englewood is underserved.”

That wasn’t always the case. At one time the 63rd Street shopping district was the city’s largest retail district outside of the Loop and home to retailers such as Sears and Wieboldt’s, specialty shops, movie theatres and restaurants. 

“There was a small business in every storefront,” said Rod Pierce Sr., who owns Englewood Hardware & Paint, 1013 W. 63rd St., which he’s operated for 29 years with his wife Gloria and other family members. “Each business enhanced the other and brought customers to the strip.”

Pierce recalls an Englewood with thriving businesses – restaurants, drugstores, dry cleaners, dentist and doctor’s offices, television repair shops – all along 63rd Street. “Those were good years,” he said.

William Jones remembers those years, too. Jones, who currently operates his printing business at 2046 W. 63rd St., said the auto retailer Major Motors helped build Englewood’s shopping strip along 63rd Street even before the mall. “Major Motors was the flagship,” he said. “It always brought in customers.”

William Jones, who has operated Franz Printers for 26 years in Englewood, described the area around the Kennedy King campus as being like any small town with a college anchor. He believes the college can serve as the engine to build up the area's economic base.

PHOTO: JUAN FRANCISCO HERNANDEZ

Pierce said Major Motors and the other small businesses made 63rd Street what it was when the mall was opened. Once the mall was closed to traffic and became a pedestrian mall in 1969, it never came back. Sears and Wieboldt’s later closed their doors. Residents traveled to Ford City and Evergreen Plaza to shop.

College Creates Foot Traffic
But community leaders and merchants now see Kennedy-King as an investment in Englewood and a catalyst for more retail development in the area.

Relocated from its former home at 67th Street and Wentworth Avenue, the new campus opened for summer school in June 2007 with the first full semester starting in late August, said Clyde El-Amin, former president of Kennedy-King College who is now president of Olive Harvey College. 

El-Amin said the community college has an enrollment of 7,000 including online students. “We easily have 5,000 students come into this area on any given day,” he said, adding that the campus also offers a solid complement of classes on Saturday and some on Sunday. “[Kennedy-King] students buy food, groceries and clothes. They need services.”

El-Amin also noted that Kennedy-King has a significant number of people – faculty, staff, administration and engineers – working on campus at any given time. “Businesses like to locate where there is a lot of activity,” he said. “Improving [the] foot traffic improves the climate for retail business.”

Rod Pierce Sr., who has owned and operated Englewood Hardware & Paint at 1013 W. 63rd St. for 29 years, says it's too early to gauge the economic impact of Kennedy-King on his business but sees the campus as an asset to the neighborhood around 63rd Street and Halsted Parkway.

PHOTO: JUAN FRANCISCO HERNANDEZ

Kenneth Johnson’s restaurant is one of six retailers in the strip mall directly across the street from the college. The other businesses are Dunkin’ Donuts, Shark’s Fish & Chicken, 63rd Nail, Long Tung Chinese Restaurant and U.S. Cellular. “Business has been good,” he said. “We’ve done well, but we don‘t take anything for granted.”

From Monday to Saturday the restaurant sees an average of 2,200 customers per week. “It’s safe to say the when the school is open we do a lot more business,” he said. “As time goes on, people will become interested in the area. The fact that the school is here provides the framework for more things to come.”

Part of Larger Revitalization
Kennedy-King College was part of a multi-million dollar revitalization plan for Englewood that also included commercial facilities, residential housing, a new police station and infrastructure improvements.

The new campus has established Kennedy-King as the center of Englewood, says Doris Jones, NCP director for Teamwork Englewood. The campus, she said, has “added some prestige to Englewood. You see the new Kennedy-King where the shopping mall was and it is now an educational center.”

Pierce said the most noticeable impact of the new Kennedy-King is more traffic on 63rd Street. “Now it’s like an expressway,” he said. “Before people would go to and from the Dan Ryan. Now we have people with a lot more traffic. People are walking to and from Kennedy-King College.” William Jones, the print shop owner, describes the area around the college as being like any small town with a college anchor.

Kenneth Johnson wanted to follow the progress of Englewood when he decided to open his Subway franchise in the Union Square strip mall across the street from the new Kennedy-King campus.

PHOTO: JUAN FRANCISCO HERNANDEZ

Pierce said 99.99 percent of his customers are neighborhood residents who walk in. But he has noticed students and faculty (wearing their Kennedy-King identification) coming into his store purchasing items such as paint, paint brushes and sandpaper. The community college also has a petty cash account to purchase small items.

Pierce said it’s still too early to gauge the economic impact of the community college on his business. “With the economy the way it is, it’s hard to tell,” he added. “Business is bad in general. It’s a difficult time due to the fact that a lot of homeowners are dealing with the impact of foreclosures. People have lost their property and their jobs. New construction has halted."

Despite the current conditions, William Jones is not without hope for a vibrant future. “We can build up the economic base,” he said. “Kennedy-King is the engine for the whole community. We need more restaurants, cleaners, drugstores – the amenities that make up a neighborhood.”

This story first appeared on the New Communities Program website.

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