Page 2: H-F business activity defies the doldrums

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The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

Editor's note: This an updated version of a column that was first published in the Oct. 1 print edition.

  Eric Crump

The usual late summer doldrums were not all that languid in the Homewood-Flossmoor business scene, where a series of ribbon-cuttings, announcements and a couple of demolitions show a local economy with increasing energy.

There's more to come this week. 

Freddie's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers17601 Halsted St., will hold its ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6. 

Across Halsted Street from Freddie's, clothing store Old Navy will have a soft opening this week. It ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for 9 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10.

In Flossmoor, Dunning’s Market moved into the former home of Bakewell Bakery in time for Flossmoor Fest on Sept. 8, and a new business, Love, Noa, also took up residence nearby on Sterling Avenue. The boutique, according to its website, is “more than clothes. It’s more than nails. It’s an incubator for girl warriors.”

On the other side of town, the Meijer super store complex will soon add a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop, and the Dunkin’ Donuts on Vollmer Road has announced it will join the burgeoning retail center. 

In Homewood, a long-empty lot on the northwest corner of Holbrook Road and Halsted Street will soon host a new healthcare facility. The Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, formerly the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, will build a rehabilitation center at 19260 S. Halsted St.

The site plan was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in June, and Village Manager Jim Marino said construction could start soon.

Bookie’s New and Used Books owner Keith Lewis had predicted the store would open this summer, and he kept his word. He held a soft opening Sept. 8 at the store at 2015 Ridge Road. The shop then closed for two weeks to finish stocking the shelves and held a grand opening on Sept. 21, the last day of summer. 

Bookie’s is the first book store in Homewood in about two decades, a gap residents have long to see filled. Homewood is Bookie's second location. Lewis also owns a store in the Beverly neighborhood.

Five Below and Vice District held grand openings on Aug. 31, and the community welcomed back Homewood’s Dairy Queen on Aug. 31 that re-opened after the shop had extensive damage when a car slammed into the building.

Five Below store manager Diamond Jones welcomed village officials for the ribbon cutting ceremony and then greeted a line of customers to the new store. She said the family accessory store would include fun activities for kids every weekend, including things like basketball dribbling contests and the ever-popular slime-making activity.

Five Below is sharing space in the former Joann Fabrics store with the Old Navy outlet.

Vice District has since run into problems with building code requirements and was closed by the village in late October. Owner Curtis Tarver II has not yet set a timeline for reopening.

Construction on Homewood’s second Panera Bread Company began soon after demolition of the former bank building on the northwest corner of Halsted and 175th Streets. As soon as the final tenant left the bank building, the general contractor moved quickly to begin demolition. Village officials, eager to see progress at the busy intersection, held a demolition ceremony

Mayor Richard Hofeld picked up a sledge hammer on Sept. 17 and took the first chunks out of the building. He was followed by other village and project officials. Jeff Wise, senior project manager for Capitol Construction Solutions, said it was the first demolition ceremony he’d ever seen.

In addition to Panera, the site will feature a Chick-fil-A restaurant. Panera, on the west side of the site, will be built first, and Wise said he hopes to have construction done by the end of the year, if all goes well.

It isn’t evident to passersby, but there has been progress on redeveloping the site of the former Bogart’s Charhouse restaurant at 18225 Dixie Highway.

The village acquired the site after several years of working with a land bank to untangle complex ownership and tax obligations, and Hofeld has been eager to see the building demolished in order to aid in attracting a developer, but asbestos recently was found in the building.

Marino said the asbestos has been removed, but the demolition will have to wait for one more step in the process. The Board of Trustees approved a measure in August that enables work to begin on establishing a small tax increment financing (TIF) district that will include the site.

Once the TIF district is established, demolition is likely to proceed.

Another project that has more going on behind the scenes than in public is the Homewood train station renovation

The Amtrak portion of the project was slated to begin this summer. Amtrak will reconfigure parking lots on the west side of the tracks to make room for a new pedestrian ramp that will make the boarding platforms more accessible. The work will involve moving the locomotive and caboose on display in the village’s Rail Park.

However, the complex project not only involves three railroads (Amtrak, CN and Metra) but will affect power lines, so ComEd is involved in preparing for construction. Assistant Village Manager Napoleon Haney said talks with the utility on how to handle the power lines during construction have slowed progress.

Photo caption, from top: Freddie's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers building is finished and the grand opening is set for Tuesday. Betsy Sloan of Flossmoor looks over the selection at Bookie's New and Used Books in downtown Homewood during the grand opening on Sept. 21. Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld takes a crack at the old bank building on the corner of Halsted and 175th streets on Sept. 17 to get the demolition process started. Demolition continues Sept. 24 on the former bank building. Five Below Manager Diamond Jones at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new store in Washington Park Plaza. Vice District owners Jimmy Akintond and Curtis Tarver II toast the opening of the brewery and taproom on Aug. 31. Homewood resident Kathryn Kraynik talks with architect Ted Haug, right, about plans for renovating the Homewood train station at an informational meeting in the summer of 2017. (Chronicle file photos)

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