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The Story Behind Wicker Park's New Walgreens

Many many years ago what is the Nobel Bank Building located at 1601 N. Milwaukee Avenue was, in fact, a bank. And more recently the building was the home of Midwest Bank; a full-service library quiet bank filled with friendly staff.

Several years ago, the building was bought by an investor with plans to add retail to that corner. His plans, however, were also contingent upon adding a massive parking garage right at the corner of North/Damen/Milwaukee. You can only imagine what that would have done to the traffic and congestion already filling the area. The end result would have been gridlock. Alderman Waguespak, thankfully, would not approve of the garage. So the investor abandoned the project.

The building sat vacant bordering on foreclosure.

That is when I had a face to face meeting with Mayor Daley to discuss my personal ideas for the space which included creating a new venue: a movie theater similar to Music Box/Sundance, a professionally run performing arts center that could host everything from ballet to Green Day's American Idiot or a combination of the two.

The banners of the outside of the building would showcase the shows or movies.

The rationale:

1)Wicker Park & Bucktown are the best neighborhoods for entertainment. So creating a focal point/anchor for the neighborhood which involved entertainment would be a perfect fit.

2)Creating a unique entertainment space would attract more people into the community especially in the Winter.

3)Access to the corner is easy via public trans so people wouldn't need to drive to the venue.

4)The space wouldn't be competing with anything else. It would be the only business like it in our community. People attending the shows/movies could then go out into the neighborhood also enjoying our nightlife, restaurants and businesses.

5)During the day, the space could be used for matinees or other shows, events, classes etc.


Those were my own personal ideas (which I'm sure could be improved upon) but I have to say... Mayor Daley and his staff...loved them and thought they were perfect for the neighborhood. The city does, on occasion, invest in ideas but there wasn't any funding available for this project. My timing was bad and we met just after the collapse of the economy.

So now we have Walgreens.

I'm not sure if anyone else seriously considered investing in the building and I have no animosity towards Walgreens at all. I'm happy they've stepped in to fill the space. The restoration of the building has been beautiful and what has been a lackluster corner and vacant building is being filled again with activity and jobs. 

The only (obvious) concern I have at this point is whether or not the introduction of a Walgreens Fresh Market Flagship store fully equipped with: wine, sushi, salads, sandwiches, wraps and more will impact our local small business owners. Time will tell.


Walgreens is scheduled to open this week.

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