As I See It . . . Fall/Winter 2002-03
By Mike Glasser, President, Rogers Park Builders Group

Mike Glasser Head Shot Anyone unfortunate enough to be on my e-mail list knows that I was a big fan of a certain Belizean joint that opened on Howard Street, between Ridge and Western, just over a year ago. (So good, that over time I became an even “bigger” fan – physically). The owner was gracious, the food incredible, but unfortunately, last month, the restaurant met the same fate as do many small businesses everywhere, particularly restaurants. San’s Belizean Soul closed its doors for the last time (possibly to re-open in time as a catering outfit.)

The discouraging closing of a good quality venue caused me to question the vibrancy of the Rogers Park community. Can it support quality establishments? Is this neighborhood really making a comeback? Where is this renewed spirit that so many of us hear about?
As happens in this community, events a couple of weeks later (October 5, 2002) quickly turned me around. Much like what a 300-point rally on the Dow does to a stock investor,October 5 fueled my optimism about the vibrancy of the Rogers Park community.

Glenwood Avenue, from Farwell to Lunt (with Morse Avenue in the middle), hasn’t exactly been on many people’s radar screens over the past few years. Besides community icons such as the Heartland Café (and all of Michael James other enterprises on the block, including the No Exit Café, which he re-opened a year ago), and the vibrant Lifeline Theatre, not much had been happening to garner attention. Many of us knew of Glenwood Avenue’s potential as a haven for artists, but no one was at the forefront trying to make something happen.
Perhaps things started turning around when RPBG executive committee member Al Goldberg completed his ArtSpace RP building on Glenwood and Morse, a high quality renovation offering affordable artist space. He dared to furnish Rogers Park with its own gallery, the Inclusions Gallery, which frequently exhibits local talent. Another RPBG director, Jake Weiss, who owns a mixed use building on Glenwood and Lunt, encouraged several artists and entrepreneurs, including the owners of a new coffee shop, Cocoabean Expressions, to open. Another quality coffee shop, Café Descartes, which roasts its own spectacular coffee, opened virtually opposite Heartland, while a burgeoning new theatre company, Ubique Theatre, started putting high quality productions into the “intimate” (yet not quite comfortable) Heartland Theatre. In short, a feeling – a mood (local psychic who offices in Jake’s building – Bobbie Jean Mike, calls it a spirit) of optimism began permeating the art scene in the neighborhood, leading up to the events of October 5.

Al Goldberg had the idea; exuberant and committed volunteers made it happen. He gave the event a funky name: The Glenwood Avenue Arts District’s “Outrageous and Open Studio Walk and Succulent Street Fair” and promoted the event with flyers and e-mails. Luckily, weather cooperated. On that memorable day, Glenwood Avenue, from Farwell to Lunt, filled with artists and pedestrians, walking between sound stages set up on both ends of the street, on both sides of the elevated tracks. Among many attractions, incredible jazz, led by vocalist Kathryn Gauthier and an inspiring performance by sax legend Rich Fudoli, filled the street outside Café Descartes. Day’s end saw performers from a local group, Chi & Cosmic Caravan, parading around on stilts, eating fireballs!

October 5 was not the only local happening of note. It seems as though every weekend another organization or group of neighbors offers their own Rogers Park event. A pig roast on a beach, the Rogers Park Community Parade, the Ennui Café Jazz Series, and, perhaps most significantly, a series of Farmer’s Markets (which should more appropriately be called festivals), the brainchild of Howard Street SSA Manager and DevCorp North employee, Kevin Richards, in the Gale School Street parking lot. High quality, upbeat events, adding to the local feel of community.

Through events like the ones described above, Rogers Park continues to rediscover its identity as a thriving lake front community like no other.