Wicker Park Station Rehab Experience Shows Power of Transit to Boost Sales

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Stan’s Donuts is one of several nearby businesses looking forward to a sales boost when the Damen stop reopens. Image: Google Streetview

The old saying goes, “You don’t miss your water ‘til your well runs dry.” That’s been the case with Wicker Park merchants during the two month closure of the O’Hare Branch’s Damen station for renovations.

They’ve learned the hard way how important proximity to transit is to their bottom line. DNAinfo reports that several independent businesses near the Blue Line stop are so relieved that the station will reopen next Monday, December 22, they’re offering customers freebies and specials to celebrate.

“We did not realize how much we depend on the traffic, being so close to the station,” Ulysses Salamanca, owner of Flash Taco at 1570 North Damen, told DNA. The tacqueria, located just north of the transit hub, will be handing out free tamales during rush hours on the first three days after the station reopens. “There is a great community of Blue Liners, and we want to show gratitude to the commuters,” Salamanca said.

Ridership on the O’Hare Branch has risen by 30 percent over the last five years, and the Damen stop handles about 12 million rides a year. It closed on October 20 for renovations as part of the CTA’s $432 million Your New Blue initiative, which includes rehabs to 13 stations.

The $13.6 million Damen facelift includes the removal of the stop’s concession space, which will increase space for customers within the small, crowded station house by 36 percent. The rehab also includes new platforms, lighting, signs, and bike racks, although the stop won’t become wheelchair accessible. An installation by LA-based artist Gaston Noques will be added sometime in 2015.

“Our sales have been down 20 percent since the station closed,” Ken Lubinsky of Lubinsky Furniture, located around the corner at 1550 North Milwaukee, told DNA. He said CTA commuters often browse his store after work. If 63 ‘L’ riders – the station closure is lasting 63 days – drop off business cards between December 22 and January 10, the shop will hold a drawing for a free recliner chair.

Scott Starbuck, owner of City Soles shoe store, located north of the station at 1560 North Damen, told DNA he estimates the station shutdown has cost Wicker Park businesses in lost sales during the two months preceding Christmas. The shop is offering a 20 percent discount on footwear between December 22 and 31 for customers who present their Ventra card, and then post a snapshot of themselves wearing their new kicks on social media.

Other nearby businesses offering giveaways to customers who flash a fare card after the station reopens include Stan’s DonutsGlazed and Infused doughnut shop, and La Colombe café.

CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinsky told DNA that the agency doesn’t plan to compensate merchants for lost revenue. “We have seen that the short-term inconvenience of station rehabilitation projects has been more than offset by the long-term economic benefits that modernized stations bring to Chicago’s neighborhoods,” she said.

The drop in sales for Wicker Park businesses during the rehab underscores the huge potential of rapid transit stops to bring customers to retail districts. Merchants along Ashland Avenue who have been on the fence about whether to support the city’s plans for a bus rapid transit line on that street would be wise to take note.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Impossible. For in Chicago it is a known fact that only cars shop at local businesses. In contract pedestrian and transit users are poor street urchins devilishly interfering with said cars’ ability to park.

  • Fred

    I know, right? Think of the boost all those businesses would receive if the el was torn down and replaced by a 6 deck super highway with free parking underneath!

  • Does anybody Streetsblog-ish have any idea why in these Blue Line renovations and the last batch of Red Line ones (some of which involve removing concrete platforms and pouring new ones, completely reconfiguring station houses, etc) aren’t adding elevators to the stations that aren’t already ADA-compliant. Isn’t that a federal requirement? Does the CTA have a blanket exception from that or something?

    It’s damned insulting to see a shiny brand-new station and realize that if you can’t hike up 30 vertical feet of stairs you still don’t deserve to use it.

  • Fundamental constant of North America, in cities of any size, with any transit usage will underestimate the number of people arriving by transit, walking, and biking.

  • From an earlier post, here’s the CTA’s explanation:

    The CTA staffers responded that electrical upgrades that will take place during the rehab, which will allow for the installation of an elevator once more funding becomes available. In the meantime, riders with disabilities can use the ADA-complaint 56-Milwaukee bus or Western Blue Line stop.

  • Cameron Puetz

    The impact on the furniture store was somewhat surprising, but is anyone genuinely surprised that being next to an El station is good for a donut shop?

  • duppie

    “Lawrence Ave streetscape rehab experience shows power of roads to boost sales”

    “Children’s memorial redevelopment experience shows power of foot traffic to boost sales”

    I could go on..

  • Yep, I noticed that recently Edzo’s hamburger joint, near the old Children’s memorial site, went out of business. Hopefully the local NIMBYs won’t be able to further delay the redevelopment of the site, so that more small businesses won’t die off due to the reduced foot traffic in the wake of the hospital closure.

  • Because it’s totally cool that they can rehab 80% of the fabric of a station and make all kinds of purely cosmetic upgrades (because who wants to scare the tourists? Or the gentrifying population?) but not bother to raise the money to put in an elevator until ten years later.

    I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

  • Cameron Puetz

    I believe that CTA got Damen exempted from many ADA requirements because it’s classified as a historic structure.

  • JacobEPeters

    in most of these cases it has nothing to do with the amount of money raised, it has to do with the amount of coordination and land acquisition needed to make the stations ADA compliant. It’s not as simple as adding an elevator, an elevator begets wider platforms, wider platforms beget demolishing parts of adjacent buildings. The entire timeframe of the rebuild could be delayed, which leaves us back where we are now, only without the needed improvements to bring the station back to a baseline of service. Building the electrical capacity for the elevators is important, because now we just need to petition Aldermen, the CTA, and other stakeholders (including adjacent landowners) in order to fast track the planning of ADA improvements so that we can figure out how to fund these more comprehensive station expansion projects that will be needed as ridership continues to grow.

  • I think “being able to get to the train” is a very basic baseline of service. Several of the stations in question have plenty of room to put elevators in.

  • JacobEPeters

    Neither Damen nor California have enough space to build elevators and wheelchair accessible platforms and concourses without property acquisition. Baseline service just refers to the existing service, kind of like a no build alternative. Larger station rebuilds involve longer timelines, and that is what we have to look for in terms of addressing how to make the Damen & California stops ADA accessible.

  • GrayofWolf

    Ya, shame about that, Edzo’s was delicious. But I guess one in the suburbs is better than none anywhere. And at least you can take the el to it!

  • duppie

    Great comeback, but my point was that you could have written this article about almost any kind of development, whether transit, road, or pedestrian.
    If construction makes it hard for your customers to reach your business, businesses will suffer. That is not limited to transit.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Every business type has an environment that it does best in and business owners seek out that environment. Heavy transit and foot traffic has been the status quo around Damen for many years, so it’s no surprise that the area is full of businesses like tacquerias and donut shops that thrive on transit commuter traffic. When the status quo changes, whether temporarily as in the case of the Damen construction or long term as in the case of the Children’s Hospital relocation, it hurts businesses who chose that location for what it was.

  • Dennis McClendon

    Not the way CTA (or its advisor) interprets ADA requirements. For example, CTA insists that if an elevator comes up in the middle of a platform, there must be room for two wheelchairs to pass each other on both sides of the elevator, not just on opposite sides.

  • Alyssa

    Wouldn’t it be much more expensive to go through this remodel, then only a few years later go through another to add an elevator?

    Not only is it a disservice to disabled folks who need elevator access, but an elevator would be helpful to people with luggage riding to and from O’hare and to families with strollers. Though it is possible to carry both of these things up stairs, it is a challenge.

  • Or to seniors who can do a few steps with a good railing, but can’t manage 30 vertical feet.

  • Shlabotnik

    one of the worst culprits, in general, is the Illinois Medical District station. I was there recently. You get off the train and you have to walk at a good pace for 3-4 minutes up an incline just to get to street level. What a joke of a station to get to the hospital!!!

  • Fred

    So if there was enough money to do the station rehab, but not enough money to do the station rehab plus add an elevator, are you saying they shouldn’t have done the rehab at all? Elevator or bust?

    While ADA accommodations should certainly be made where reasonably feasible, should projects be fully scrapped if they can’t?

  • Yes.

  • The federal standard ground rules say, “If you do a massive rehab or build a new structure, it must be accessible afterwards.”

    This is not a new rule. This is a rule everyone has known about for going on 25 years. It is disgusting that construction firms and people designing plans try to squirm out from under it as if it were some horrible imposition.

  • No, the worst culprits are the Loop stations or other elevateds with 30-40 vertical feet of iron stairs.

    At least at Med Center, people who can’t do stairs can try it, and there are ‘landings’ where the slope flattens out, and a good railing to hang onto. That qualifies for “minimally accessible.” It could be much better, but it works.

    Staircases do not.

  • Fred

    Having to eminent domain a neighboring building to widen a platform so its fits an elevator isn’t a horrible imposition?

  • I am far from convinced that’s the only option. For Damen or anywhere else. But there’s really no reason for you to keep trying to bludgeon me off my position; we might as well let it lie here until the next top-post thread that brings up my buttons again. :->

  • Yes, it would be more expensive to do the same job twice. But the choice CTA had was to: 1) spend a little now to improve the station along with others because they have the money, 2) wait for more money (like 3-4x as much) to rebuild the station with the elevator, or 3) work some magic with the RTA and some legislators to earmark the additional money in option 2 and get that money MUCH sooner.

    I prefer option #1 but there was little evidence that CTA was trying option #3, even in the several years that passed between now and when they conducted a study with seniors and people with disabilities to determine which station most needed accessibility improvements (which Damen took the number one or two spot).

  • This is off topic a little…The Children’s Memorial redevelopment is the first time Lincoln Park is getting more than a handful of units in a single development. It’ll be getting several hundred new units on a block-wide group of parcels (on Lincoln and on Fullerton).

    This combats Lincoln Park’s population loss that is borne in part by deconversions, teardowns, and smaller household sizes. Thus, it’s not surprising to see businesses on Clark Street and Lincoln Avenue closing or storefronts staying vacant for a long time. There just haven’t been enough residents, locally, shopping there (or people coming to the neighborhood).

  • This station is being rebuilt and will become accessible at more than one entrance.

  • Sounds kind of ridiculous, just like it was to build a bridge at the Morgan Green/Pink station when there were elevators from the ground level for both platforms.

  • Good one. Can you draw a cartoon, @johnaustingreenfield:disqus, that shows a car at the cash register of Stan’s enjoying a donut?

  • Re: California. That alley could be closed (it doesn’t seem useful and the space could definitely be repurposed for a small pedestrian plaza, kind of like how Southport and Damen Brown Line stations have) and used for the space to install an elevator for the northbound platform.

    For the southbound platform there’s some unused part of a parking lot behind the bodega. This would require property acquisition as you say, but at least wouldn’t require much or demolishing a building.

    Map: http://goo.gl/maps/Dtm7o

  • BillD

    The project neither confirms nor denies the power of transit to influence the longer-term economic health of the city.

    The current project in the short-run negatively disrupts existing patterns of trade in the area. That’s all that can be said for sure.

    To the extent the project makes more customers available there are likely some mid-term positives for the businesses in the area.

    BUT there is no such thing as a free lunch. Those benefits come at the cost of investing in other projects (or no projects at all).

    This project might be good. But cannot be evaluated in isolation.

  • cjlane

    “the first time Lincoln Park is getting more than a handful of units in a single development.”

    The Lagrange monstrosity at 2520 would beg to disagree…

  • JacobEPeters

    Have I told you that plan before, because that is verbatim the plan I have mentioned at community meetings with the CTA. There is a lot of coordination that would need to be done with the neighbors, but it would be minimally disruptive to day to day operations for any of the surrounding businesses.

    Damen is where demolition would be necessary no matter what approach was taken for elevators. There is enough room to get an elevator for the outbound platform in the area that is the vacated alley off of Damen north of Stan’s Donuts, and there is enough room for an elevator on the triangle of land next to the Damen Tower for the inbound platform, along with enough clearance around the existing platforms for them to meet ADA width standards for the existing 8 car trains.

    The problem is the outbound Damen platform is constrained by the back corner of Estelle’s and Subterranean, meaning that in order to get ADA accessible platform widths parts of each building would need to be demolished, like the Armitage Brown Line Station. Alternately, the southern edge of the outbound platform cannot be extended because of the back of the Levi’s Store building, so even if you extended platforms south for ADA compliant widths demolition would be necessary.

    Additionally, access to these elevators would likely have to occur through the construction of a new entrance to the station off of North. Since the existing platform layout would not be possible unless the existing run of stairs up from the Damen entrance is maintained. This would be a major project, but could make the station ADA compliant, increase capacity, and provide another entrance for an increasingly busy station.

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