Best of Avalon Park & Calumet Heights 2021. Photo by Chima Ikoro

Best of Avalon Park & Calumet Heights 2021

I grew up in Avalon Park and loved it. My family and I lived on a quiet, tree-lined street where neighbors were polite but largely kept to themselves. I remember being able to walk to the corner store on 83rd and Stony Island that was owned by a man named “Doc,” a retired police officer, with my sisters when I was eight or nine years old. This was a big deal because at that age, we weren’t allowed to go many places without our parents—not because our neighborhood was violent, but because it was the 80s, and parents (at least those I knew) were very concerned with kidnapping. This was around the time six-year-old Adam Walsh was kidnapped and murdered, leading his father, John Walsh, to create the true-crime television series America’s Most Wanted.

During my adolescence, the Stony Island Food Mart was still in business, and I remember walking there with my dad to pick up staple food items. During the summer as preteens, my sisters and I would ride our bikes around the neighborhood, sometimes crossing into Calumet Heights so that we could ride around Jesse Owens Park. To this day, the park holds a special place in my memories. One summer, I took tennis lessons there at the prompting of my eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Tate. A group of us spent our summer with our teacher learning how to serve and volley. You can never forget moments like that.

There was always a pride I had growing up in this neighborhood, with the well-kept homes and lawns. At schools like McDowell, the teachers were really invested in your success and the care for your general wellbeing was visceral.

After middle school, I didn’t spend as much time in the neighborhood. I went to high school, eventually went off to college, and things just got kind of busy. After I graduated, I moved to Philadelphia and would visit from time to time.

I recently returned to Chicago, and to my old neighborhood. And while we still have the well-cared-for lawns and homes, there have been some changes. Always a very quiet pocket of the city, it’s still relatively quiet—but since the pandemic, there have been some incidents of violence, and like the city in general, the area has been affected by the surge in carjacking incidents. While there have been some new investments, we could definitely benefit from more new businesses. But despite all of that, the people who live here make this neighborhood a treasure. Hard-working people, retired people, interesting people, people who care.

I’ve always believed that neighbors make the neighborhood. Avalon Park is made up of amazing people who love their neighborhood and work to make this community a slice of solace in a big city. It is that mindset that makes Avalon Park a great place to call home. (Rovetta McKinney)

Neighborhood captain Rovetta McKinney works in procurement in the interior design industry. Prior to that, she worked as a merchant/designer in the jewelry industry for over a decade. She has a masters of science in international marketing and a passion for travel, history, arts, and culture.

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Best Place to Find Nemo

Aquatic Oasis

Photo by Marc Monaghan

Looking to add fish to your family? Look no further than Aquatic Oasis on 87th and East End. At Aquatic Oasis you can custom design your aquarium, receive maintenance, and purchase a wide variety of fish and plant life, as well as aquarium supplies. 

Brandon Holmes opened Aquatic Oasis in 2021 to fill the void of aquatic stores on the South Side of Chicago, but his path to small-business ownership was long and winding. A native of Beverly, Holmes went to Howard University in Washington, D.C., an HBCU, and graduated with a marketing degree. He then worked as a marketing specialist in D.C. and for a newspaper in Minnesota, but was still restless. After receiving news about his father’s declining health as a result of cancer, Holmes decided to change course and returned to Chicago.

Shortly after he came home, his father passed. This traumatic experience, coupled with his own first-time fatherhood, caused Holmes to search his soul. He started “trying to become a good man” and “trying to build a legacy.” He tried various occupations, but nothing really worked out and, over time, he got discouraged. Looking back, Holmes admits he was “kind of lost.”

Holmes credits God, his strong sense of spirituality, and support from his mother with helping him walk in his purpose. He realized that he wanted to open a business—but he wanted to do something different, something he’d truly enjoy. 

At Aquatic Oasis, you can find options for varying budgets. The store sells $0.16 goldfish that are sometimes given away, as well as more expensive saltwater options. Holmes had the community in mind as he built out his store, and was intentional in making his offerings accessible to varying budgets.

As for the future, Holmes envisions having a national presence. His store in Avalon Park, he said, is just the beginning. (Rovetta McKinney)

Aquatic Oasis, 1700 E. 87th St., aquaticoasischi.com.

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Best at Keeping South Side Smiles Bright

Watson and Watson Dental Associates

Founded in 1962 by Dr. Charles E. Watson, the practice now colloquially known as Watson and Watson Dental has been providing exemplary dental service to Avalon Park for nearly sixty years.

Born in a small town in Tennessee, Watson did not initially plan to become a dentist; as an undergrad at Tennessee State University, he majored in agriculture. It wasn’t until a cousin suggested dentistry that Watson considered it as a career, and completed his doctorate in dental surgery at Nashville’s Meharry Medical School, an HBCU and the first African American medical school in the South. Upon completion of his degree, Watson relocated to Chicago and started his practice.

In 1987, Dr. Cheryl Watson-Lowry, his daughter, took over the practice, now named Watson and Watson Dental. Watson-Lowry started working with her dad at the age of eleven, pulling charts and addressing envelopes. When she got older, she was trained to develop x-rays and sterilize instruments as well as pour up models.

Initially, Watson-Lowry wanted to become a pediatrician, following in the footsteps of one of her aunts. However, hoping to one day also become a wife and mother, and after observing her aunt’s twenty-four-hour on-call life as a pediatrician, Watson-Lowry decided to pursue dentistry at UIC.

That decision was aided by fond memories of her father as a family man—which was made possible due to the autonomy of his schedule. As a dentist, he was able to largely control his hours, spend more time with his family, and be active within his community. Watson-Lowry also chose to pursue dentistry because of, surprisingly, her love of art. She enjoys drawing and painting and making things, and said that when you combine art and craft with a love of science, you get dentistry. As a good dentist, one needs a certain eye in order to mimic a patient’s natural tooth shape, color, and contours to ensure the restoration looks natural. 

When asked what’s most rewarding about practicing dentistry, Watson-Lowry said, “Being able to help people. Being able to explain to people how to keep their mouth healthy, being able to talk to them about the cause of their problems. And helping them understand preventative measures to stop further decay by asking questions like what their habits are, what their diets are. Being able to take that time out really has a positive impact on the oral health of the patient.” Dr. Watson-Lowry proudly boasts that the practice has patients in their 80s and 90s that have most of, if not all, of their teeth. 

In 2019, Dr. Watson-Lowry was president of the Chicago Dental Society—the third female, and fourth African American president in its 156-year history. While she’s stepped down from that position, Watson-Lowry still foresees many more years of service. She jokingly said her husband, Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry, says she’ll be practicing until she is 104. (Rovetta McKinney)

Watson and Watson Dental Associates, 8325 S. Stony Island Ave. (773) 768-3100.

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Best Space Cultivating the Social Side of Avalon Park

The Woodlawn

Serial entrepreneur Donnell Digby has been bringing cultural space back to the Avalon Park area since 2018 with his multipurpose event space/internet cafe/restaurant, The Woodlawn. After frequently seeing delicious-looking food popping up on social media, and having people come into his hair salon (another of his business ventures) with cases of freshly cooked dishes, he realized there were a lot of talented neighborhood chefs who didn’t have the capital to invest in a proper storefront. Enter The Woodlawn: a space providing aspiring restaurateurs access to their turn-key restaurant and an outlet to serve their existing patrons while attracting new ones. The venue has a restaurant retail license that allows the facility to rent out the kitchen to caterers, chefs, and restaurateurs. Chefs can try out the concept for as little as one day or up to three months.

In addition to the restaurant, the Woodlawn is home to yoga classes, pop-up markets, and a tech incubator. On weekends, the venue hosts live music and a DJ on its rooftop, and the facility also has been used for tea parties, bridal showers, birthday parties, and more.

Digby decided to open The Woodlawn in Avalon Park because he noticed there were few recreational venues or places that offered interesting food options. He made it his mission to “breed purpose and re-create his community.” As with many other businesses, the pandemic was a challenge for The Woodlawn. Digby realized that people still wanted to go out, but in small groups, so he outfitted the Woodlawn with small pods that seat four or five people and are ventilated and heated, with televisions. He procured indoor/outdoor igloos that seat up to six people on the rooftop deck in winter. And over the summer, the space has hosted elaborate outdoor events, like a Juneteenth block party and more. Donnell Digby’s vision for The Woodlawn continues to unfold. (Rovetta McKinney)

The Woodlawn, 1200 E. 79th St. Hours vary. thewoodlawn1200.com, @thewoodlawn1200.

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Best Music Store

House of Music

Photo by Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney

It could be argued that music is in Tearched Scott II’s blood. His father, Tearched Scott Sr., opened his first music store in 1974 in downtown Chicago. Prior to that, he was the president of Mid America Records and Downtown Records, both chain music stores downtown. 

The 70s were a very lucrative time for the Scotts. At the height of the business, the family owned five stores: two downtown and two in the former Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, IL, along with a novelty store in the mall.  At one point, their most profitable store in the mall brought in $5,000 daily and showcased local DJs. Unfortunately, the mall closed in 1979 and they were forced to shutter the three stores, leaving only the two Chicago stores remaining.

Presently, the younger Scott owns one store, which has been at the Avalon Park location for seven years, after moving from its former home at 95th and Jeffery. 

Scott prides himself on selling old school music that crosses genres, from soul and R&B to rock to hip hop. While he can obtain pretty much anything, Scott tries to only promote music that “puts out a positive message.” He has loyal customers who have always patronized his stores, but since the killing of George Floyd and after things started opening up during the pandemic, he has noticed an uptick in business. He attributes this to the Buy Black movement, which encourages Black people to spend their money in their own community. 

Photo by Chima Ikoro.

House of Music’s average customer skews mature, but with the recent rebirth of interest in vinyl, the store has experienced an increase in foot traffic from younger generations keen to learn about the classics. According to Scott, “The interesting part is when these young people come in and start asking for Nina Simone. These days it is a beautiful thing.  Those are the types of young people that I want to see in the store.” (Rovetta McKinney)

House of Music, 1637 E. 87th St. Monday-Saturday, 10am-7pm. (773) 734-9100. facebook.com/HouseofMusic1637

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Best Haircare Drive 

Love & Nappyness by Matt Muse 

Photo courtesy of Love & Nappyness

Chicago’s artistic scene is deeply entwined with its community of humanitarians and activists. After all, the genesis of many creations made by Black and brown folks stems from being marginalized or unaccounted for. As a result, many members of the creative community here in Chicago share the same beliefs and desires to serve one another. In 2019, Matt Muse founded Love & Nappyness, a haircare drive. Named after his musical project, Love & Nappyness, the drive collects hair care products and other cosmetic items to donate to organizations that care for underserved communities. 

Black, natural hair is the most tedious to care for at times, and it can also be the most expensive. To be able to properly take care of your hair or your skin is a genuine, and often overlooked, privilege. Love & Nappyness seeks to provide those who cannot afford them the products to care for themselves in a way they otherwise may not be able to access. In a recent interview with the Weekly, Matt recalled not having certain products for hair and skin care in his house because they were too expensive. 

“Hair descrimination for Black people specifically is a real thing,” he said. “How can I empower people to embrace themselves and love their most natural selves despite societal impact?” 

What makes Love & Nappyness different from other mutual aid initiatives is its specificity. The need for food and baby products is ongoing. We hear about coat drives in the cold months, toy drives around Christmas, and back-to-school drives during the late summer. While it is important to provide for people with dire needs, it’s also imperative we dont forget that members of the community also deserve things that might not be seen as a “need.” Focusing on items specifically for Black hair speaks to a facet of disenfranchisement that’s greatly appreciated by the drive’s beneficiaries, which include Ignite, which provides assistance to young people facing housing insecurity, and Saint Leonard’s, which provides housing and assistance to formerly incarcerated men and women. 

Muse is originally from Avalon Park, although he’s often cited as being from Hyde Park. As a Chicago native, and a true South Sider, Matt’s hair care initiative has taken the core of his artwork, which focuses on love of self and the people around you, and turned it into a way to give his community more than just music. (Chima Ikoro)

Love & Nappyness is @loveandnappyness on Instagram; information on future haircare drives to come. Find Matt Muse at mattmuse.live.

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