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How Bucktown Got Boutiqued

From zero boutiques to Marc by Marc Jacobs in three short decades
by Rebecca Little

Back in the day, immigrants—German and Scandinavian homeowners and Polish day laborers—transformed Wicker Park from uninhabitable scrub to a vibrant working-class neighborhood anchored by heavy industry. Marketed by savvy real-estate interests as two distinct areas in the 1970s, Wicker Park and adjacent Bucktown became havens for artists fleeing high rents. Skyrocketing gentrification has given the area its current mix of million-dollar homes, destination shopping, and trendy bars. But the makeover hasn’t gone entirely unchallenged.


The Old Wicker Park Committee, a neighborhood preservation group, forms to lobby for national and local historic designation. The area starts its slow redevelopment as artists take residence, a trend that began in the 1960s.

bucktown sign illustration

Late 1970s
Real-estate marketers begin referring to the area north of North Avenue as Bucktown, a name of murky origin, although residents in the area always considered Armitage Avenue to be the northern boundary of Wicker Park. The redefined neighborhood monikers trickle into common parlance.

Wicker Park receives national historic designation, which qualifies homeowners for low-interest loans and grants. Reinvestment begins in many of the area’s historic mansions.
The art deco Northwest Tower Building at 1608 North Milwaukee Avenue sells for $110,000 and back taxes.


Four blocks of Evergreen Street are designated Nelson Algren Avenue, commemorating the stretch where the writer lived and worked from 1959 to 1975. The Rainbo Club at 1150 North Damen Avenue was one of his haunts.

glass of beer

The Artful Dodger, a legendary tavern, opens.

dollar bill

Two real-estate developers buy the historic Flat Iron Arts Building at 1579 North Milwaukee Avenue and offer long-term leases to artists and nonprofit organizations for $1 a square foot per month.

Around the Coyote forms under the direction of Frenchman Jim Happy-Delpech; five years later, opponents of gentrification target the festival, which is criticized for helping make the area more attractive to yuppies.

cup of coffee

The coffee house Urbus Orbis (1934 W. North Ave.) opens and soon becomes a hangout for artists and musicians. Real-estate companies market the neighborhood as “artist friendly.”




Residents begin rallying against gentrification, hoping to preserve the area’s ethnic diversity.
The HotHouse, a popular venue for world music, opens in the Flat Iron Arts Building.
Manchester Lofts, formerly occupied by artists, are converted to loft condominiums, widely seen as the first domino in a long series of upscale turnovers.
According to the census data for West Town (which includes Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Humboldt Park), the majority of the area’s 28,767 residents make less than $10,000 annually. Only about one percent earned more than $100,000 a year.
Northside Bar and Grill relocates from Lincoln Park and becomes the neighborhood’s first destination eatery.

Wicker Park is granted landmark status by the Chicago City Council, 12 years after it received national designation.

Liz Phair’s début album, Exile in Guyville, takes its title from her experiences in Wicker Park. Billboard magazine touts Phair, Smashing Pumpkins, and Urge Overkill in a cover story about Chicago’s music scene, with the headline “Cutting Edge’s New Capital.”
The Lumpen Times, an antigentrification newspaper out of Logan Square, begins publishing and pamphleteering the neighborhood.

The long-standing graffiti on the exposed wall of Abco Building Supply—which read “Yuppies Out—The Natives Are Hostile”—is erased.
The Double Door, a rock music venue at the intersection of Milwaukee and Damen avenues, opens.


City Soles

The Clock Tower Lofts, once a garment manufacturing center built in the early 1900s, is renovated into 113 condominiums, with an average price of $152,500.

The seminal Bucktown boutique Phoebe45 opens. It is later renamed P.45. Robin Richman and Pagoda Red also open stores.

The Busy Bee at 1546 North Damen Avenue, the neighborhood’s most beloved diner, closes after 33 years.

empty coffee cup

Urbus Orbis closes.

Police bust 21 men—including leaders of the Maniac Latin Disciples gang—and charge them with controlling drug traffic in Bucktown and Wicker Park since 1992.


vinyl record

High Fidelity
, the Hollywood romantic comedy starring John Cusack, is set in Wicker Park, showcasing exterior scenes of Championship Vinyl shot at the corner of Milwaukee and Honore.
Median value of single-family homes in Bucktown and Wicker Park rises 198 percent since 1990, to $382,895.

Starbucks opens in the former Café Caffeina spot at the corner of Milwaukee, North, and Damen.


During the summer, MTV’s The Real World begins filming in the former Urbus Orbis coffee shop space; rankled residents throw bricks through the windows.

Filter coffee shop opens at 1585 North Milwaukee Avenue, directly across the intersection from Starbucks. It is embraced by patrons as a rebuke to the growing corporate presence in the neighborhood.

empty beer glass

The Artful Dodger closes.

Scoop NYC, a New York–based apparel boutique reviled as a carpetbagger by some locals, opens a 10,000-square-foot store on Milwaukee Avenue, across the street from the new Bucktown branch library.
The Wicker Park/ Bucktown Chamber of Commerce records 255 members, up from 55 members ten years earlier.

Marc by Marc Jacobs boutique signs a lease for a 4,000-square-foot storefront space on Damen Avenue. 


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How Bucktown Got Boutiqued
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