The Ravenswood Community Council has worked with local business owners to secure and manage a grant to improve the retail experience on Damen Avenue between Montrose and Foster. This corridor has been identified as perpetually “on the cusp” or “in transition” in terms of identity and economic momentum. Lying between Lincoln Square and Ravenswood, it receives consistent vehicular, bicycle and public transit traffic. Persevering through a down-turned economy, the corridor experienced slow but steady new business growth over the last 5 years. Coupled with recent investment in adjacent corridors, this retail trend has created an environment sizzling with momentum and ripe with potential. Only 12 of the roughly 72 storefronts are currently vacant, with 4 of those being new construction. While several challenges have kept Damen from becoming a truly vibrant corridor, it is positioned as the key connective tissue for greater Ravenswood and its neighboring communities. This strategic Business Corridor Makeover aims to serve as the key to larger neighborhood flourishing.

We have assembled a team of skilled local players who are passionate about growing the Damen corridor. Led by a group of neighborhood business owners, the Ravenswood Community Council will manage this makeover. The RCC has also retained two local design consultants – internationally recognized graphic and merchandising talent Emily Martin of Orange Beautiful and Melanie Kahl of The League of Awesome Possibilities, a design collaborative that conducts placemaking workshops, pop-ups, and interactive community installations. Our process is local, strategic, engaging and exportable.

Challenges to the Corridor’s Growth

The Damen corridor has faced several challenges to its growth, including suffering from a lack of coherent identity, challenges to storefront improvement and persistent vacancies next to otherwise successful businesses. Though the area has benefited from a trickle of pedestrian traffic via its proximity to Lincoln Square, that relationship also creates a muddled perception about which neighborhood Damen “belongs to.” This lack of an independent identity makes it difficult for businesses to engage visitors as a unique destination neighborhood. Older businesses often haven’t made aesthetic/functional changes to their storefront due to financial or implementation limitations. Newer businesses, while eager to upgrade, struggle with where to begin and how to procure services and assistance. Also detracting from the area are several empty or  “revolving door” storefronts, a few of which sit next to some of the corridor’s significant assets. We aim to remediate these areas and attract complimentary businesses.

Going Forward

As a part of an ongoing effort to foster the area’s development, the RCC will be launching, a website that will feature information about retail and dining locations, as well as special events. The website is currently under construction and will launch before the end of 2014. SSA #31’s Façade Rebate Program will also be involved in helping businesses new to Damen to adopt its feel and identity. This ongoing effort to further the corridor’s current momentum and establish a consistent aesthetic throughout Damen Avenue is central to the work that both the RCC and SSA #31 are engaged in throughout Ravenswood.

Confirmed Participants

Dolce Casa Café: An artist-friendly café serving breakfast, lunch and dinner

The Perfect Cup: A neighborhood coffee shop serving breakfast and lunch

Brew Camp: A brewing supply store/educational center

Noktivo: A non-toxic spa and beauty boutique