Highland Park’s Central Avenue reopens with busy shops, bustling traffic and remembrances of a week ago

Memorials, violin music and ‘HP strong’ signs greeted people returning to the scene of last week’s massacre.

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People gather in the shade and at a memorial for the victims of the July 4th shooting at the Port Clinton Square in downtown Highland Park on Sunday, July 10, 2022.

People gather in the shade and at a memorial for the victims of the July 4th shooting at the Port Clinton Square in downtown Highland Park on Sunday, July 10, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

People walked down Central Avenue in Highland Park enjoying the sunshine Sunday afternoon.

It could have been any other day, if it weren’t for the glaring signs that it wasn’t.

Signs reading “HP strong,” advertising vigils and counseling services dotted the streets. The words “stronger together” adorned the windows of a few businesses. A memorial grew into a mountain of flowers and signs in six days since a gunman opened fire on a crowd attending the town’s Independence Day parade last Monday, killing seven people and wounding numerous others.

Central Avenue, the heart of Highland Park’s downtown and the scene of the massacre, reopened to traffic Sunday. Businesses on the town’s main strip were also allowed to reopen, though some remained shuttered Sunday.

People walk on a street corner in downtown Highland Park, Illinois on Sunday, July 10, 2022.

People walk on a street corner in downtown Highland Park, Illinois on Sunday, July 10, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“It was hard to drive down the street,” said Pamela Lewis, who lives blocks from the scene. “But it’s amazing to see how it looks now.”

The six-day closure of restaurants and retail shops in the center of town during the investigation of last Monday’s mass killing comes after two years of pandemic restrictions that hurt locally owned small businesses.

Madame Zuzu’s, a plant-based tea shop and watering hole in downtown Highland Park, was one of the businesses that welcomed back customers Sunday.

“We just got out of a very difficult two years for any business,” co-owner Chloe Mendel told the Chicago Sun-Times. “This is what we were all looking forward to … having foot traffic, people inside and events. Then suddenly this happening, it’s very difficult.”

While tragedies are often described as a catalyst for tightening community bonds, Mendel said the town has long been tight-knit.

“I don’t think this one thing brings people together,” she said. “I think we were always together.”

A woman crouches down in prayer at a memorial for the victims of the July 4th shooting at the Port Clinton Square in downtown Highland Park, Illinois, on Sunday, July 10, 2022.

A woman crouches down in prayer at a memorial for the victims of the July 4th shooting at the Port Clinton Square in downtown Highland Park, Illinois, on Sunday, July 10, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

And while the long-term impacts of a days-long closure are still unclear, Mendel said she’s more concerned with the safety and well-being of her employees.

“Right now, being there with the people around us, that’s most important to me,” she said.

A giant chalk mural at the corner of Second Street and Central Avenue that cropped up Sunday read, “Healing is an art. It takes time. It takes practice. It takes love.”

Chalk art with the message, “Healing is an art, It takes time, It takes practice, It takes love” in downtown Highland Park, Illinois on Sunday.

Chalk art with the message, “Healing is an art, It takes time, It takes practice, It takes love” in downtown Highland Park, Illinois on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Highland Park social worker Caryn Platt and her 13-year-old family friend, Amelia Millner, drew the large letters on the street as passers-by expressed their support.

“I think people look for a message that they can use at a time like this,” Millner said.

Platt and her daughters had used chalk drawing as a way to cope with the loneliness and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and she said she thought it would be a way to be “impactful” following the shooting.

“It was really hard to figure out what to say,” she said, adding that returning downtown had been “sobering.”

Down the street from the chalk mural, two women hung up signs reading, “Things we love about Highland Park,” with a blank space for people to write whatever they wanted.

A poster for people to write down what they love about Highland Park is set up in downtown Highland Park.

A poster for people to write down what they love about Highland Park is set up in downtown Highland Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As businesses opened their doors once again, people from in and around Highland Park worked to honor the seven victims: Jacki Sundheim, Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, Stephen Straus, Eduardo Uvaldo, Katherine Goldstein, Irina McCarthy and Kevin McCarthy.

The sound of violins could be heard throughout Port Clinton Square in the center of town.

It was four teen sisters from Orland Park: Francesca, Gabriella, Scarlett and Penelope Sloane.

Their string versions of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Maroon 5’s “Memories” brought some spectators to tears.

“These people are somewhere over the rainbow, that’s why they chose that song,” the Sloanes’ mother, Karen, told the Sun-Times.

The sisters, who each started playing violin at five years old, were greeted by spectators after their songs, chatting and sharing stories.

“I never thought I’d be so grateful to be safe and secure with our families,” Gabriella said. “Going off to college, we feel like the whole world is in front of us, and to see this sorrow and to see the people and what they’re going through, it’s very real being here.”

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