Englewood has long had an outsize reputation. The corner of 63rd and Halsted was once one of the busiest commercial districts in the city, second only to the Loop. There were magnificent buildings and a Sears department store. In 1930 the neighborhood was home to 90,000 people.
The story of Englewood’s economic decline is a familiar one across the South Side. But when redlining and white flight hit there, they did so on Englewood’s grand scale. The Dan Ryan was built through the neighborhood, slashing property values. The Southtown Theater, once a rococo performance center and a neighborhood icon, with a swan pool and chandeliers, has been replaced by an Aldi grocery store.
In 2010 there were just 30,000 people in Englewood. From 2000 to 2010, the population of the Englewood community area fell by 23.8 percent; among Chicago’s seventy-seven community areas, that was the second-largest decline. The population of West Englewood fell by 21.6 percent over that same time, the fifth largest in the city. Still, if you were to put Englewood and West Englewood together, it would be the most populous community area on the South Side.
Today, Englewood, which sits at the geographical heart of the South Side, is often used as a metonym for the violence and poverty that pervade huge swathes of the city. As you might expect, many residents find that unfair. And many are also frustrated by the extent to which the current lack of resources lies beyond their control, and at the scarcity of help from City Hall. Activist and community groups have taken up the task of empowerment and improvement for themselves (interviews with which will appear in forthcoming issues, when the Weekly can give them more space).
The intersection at 63rd and Halsted is still a center of attention in Englewood. Its four corners include the Kennedy-King bookstore, the restaurant run by the campus culinary school, a demolition zone, and a fenced off lot, where two months ago ground was broken for a Whole Foods. Outside the fence, dandelions poke through the untamed grass. Just behind it, barely visible, is a “Building a New Chicago” sign.
BEST PLACE TO FIX ANYTHING
John’s Hardware & Bicycle Shop
The yellow sign above John’s Hardware & Bicycle Shop, next to a picture of John Stallworth with a smile on his face, says “No job too big or small.” On a recent afternoon, the job was a screw. A customer strode in, slapped a single screw on the counter, and asked for copies of the same. “About a half dozen is all I need, but you’d better add one more just in case.” John’s is the kind of place you can actually feel comfortable bringing in a part you don’t know what to do with or a repair job that has you stumped. The wide checkout counter is at the center of the store, but you see it immediately upon walking in. There are three or four chairs against the opposite wall, just close enough for conversation, but too far away to read the all the prices that are listed above and around the counter. Wheel frames hang from the ceilings, and hardware stock seems to spill from the shelves. There’s a feeling of controlled chaos. “We basically do anything from taking a piece of dirt to building a home,” says Stallworth’s son and partner, Johnny. In the spring and summer there are a lot of bike repairs; in the fall a lot of plumbing; in the winter, snow removal. “Then its back to spring and bikes again,” Johnny says. John Stallworth opened the store in 1969. He got into the bike business in 1970. He got into the contracting business in 1977, originally to recover from a fire that had gutted the shop that year. Since then, the store has been joined by a nearby Home Depot, at 87th Street, which Johnny says is one of the busiest in the country. But John’s has ways of getting by: personable service, customers who come back, knowing the market. John’s carries parts that are now hard to find, built to fit Englewood’s older homes, while Home Depot often forces its customers to get a wholesale upgrade. “For the most part that’s true,” Johnny says of the “fix anything” claim, leaning over from behind the counter. “For the most part, yeah.” John’s Hardware & Bicycle Shop, 7350 S. Halsted St. Monday-Saturday, 9am-6pm. (773)483-7444. johnshardwareandbicycleshop.com (John Gamino)
BEST GOOD WORD
Rashanah Baldwin is perhaps the busiest person in Englewood. She is the co-founder of the Residents Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.), a group of residents who work to further civic engagement, development, and education in the neighborhood,. She also runs Shop Talk, a monthly speaker and town-hall series based out of an Englewood barbershop, and What’s Good in Englewood, a brief weekly radio show that highlights positive happenings in the community. All this work has recently culminated in a flurry of citywide and national media attention for both Baldwin, who goes by Shanah B, and her neighborhood—a place with more positive stories to tell than what, in most places, gets heard. See feature-length story. (John Gamino)