In Roseland, once-bustling South Michigan Avenue has faded amid crime, disinvestment
The Far South Side community is one that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration has identified as priority areas for addressing crime and violence.
Walking in to Edwards Fashion along Michigan Avenue in Roseland feels like a different era as a chandelier lights a selection of men’s suits.
The Edwards family opened the men’s clothing store at 11363 S. Michigan Ave. in the 1970s and has watched the once-thriving neighborhood fall into decline amid rising crime and violence.
“I’ve seen when Roseland was Roseland, as they say, the heyday,” said Ledall Edwards, who runs the store with his brother. “A lot of businesses, a lot of variety of stores and services. It practically evaporated.”
After years of disinvestment, vacant storefronts and empty lots can be seen along the Far South Side neighborhood’s stretch of once-bustling South Michigan Avenue. Things have deteriorated to the point the area was listed by Preservation Chicago last year as one of the city’s “most endangered places.”
There have been discussions among city officials and civic and business groups for years about how to attract investment in the area. Business owners say they keep waiting but have seen no plans put forth.
Roseland is one of the community areas that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration has identified as priority areas for addressing crime and violence.
As of Aug. 6, there had been 15 killings in Roseland so far this year, up from 12 at the same point last year, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis.
But City Hall hasn’t provided any of the assistance yet to Roseland and other areas on the Far South Side that was promised to help fight violence, the Sun-Times recently reported.
One hoped-for boost is the CTA’s proposed Red Line L expansion to 130th Street. Business owners like Edwards hope that bringing the L south from its current terminus at 95th Street would help bring more pedestrian traffic to their businesses.
But the Red Line extension still needs funding and has stalled. The transit agency anticipates the earliest that construction could begin wouldn’t be till 2025.
“I don’t know if I’ll be here,” said Edwards, who has struggled to find money for renovations.
Less than half a mile south is Scott Enterprise, a tax-preparation business that Edmund Scott started after leaving a job in the 1970s to run his own business.
Scott grew up in nearby Altgeld Gardens. When he was young, he used to walk to Michigan Avenue to hang out with friends. He dreamed of one day owning a business on the strip.
“And God saw fit for me to eventually have those words come true,” he said. “I’ve been here since 1976 in the same spot.”
Now, as he nears retirement, Scott is helping his son William get ready to take over the business. They were able to secure $137,500 from the city of Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund — which offers grant to help commercial strips on the South Side, Southwest Side and West Side — to rehab their building. The work was halted in July as they tried to figure out why water was seeping into their basement.
They want to stay in their building even though most of their work can be done remotely.
“This area has been very good to us,” William Scott said. “A lot of people come in all the time saying, ‘We are so glad that you are here.’ Just to make simple copies — there’s no place to make simple copies.”
The Scotts remember when their business was surrounded by others including a restaurant and a hardware store.
“They tore down the mall and just left it vacant with nothing else coming,” said Edmund Scott, who is president of the Roseland Business Development Council. In 2011, “There was talk about an Aldi store that was going to come there to replace it, and there was a big poster saying that a grocery store is coming. But it never showed up to this day.”
Musa Tadros, the developer of the site across from the Scotts’ business that was being looked at for an Aldi store, still owns the property. He said the plans didn’t work out because the project wasn’t able to get tax-increment financing from City Hall, as a Walmart store a couple of miles away did.
Tadros said he doesn’t have any immediate plans for the property.
Ald. Anthony Beale, whose Ninth Ward includes this section of South Michigan Avenue, said he’s working to get a grocery store in that same location and is hopeful that Tadros will sell the land to another developer.
“There’s definitely a need for another grocer in the area such as Aldi, a Pete’s, maybe even a Save A Lot,” Beale said.
He said he’s pushed for the idea as part of discussions for Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative that targets investment in neighborhoods including Roseland. But Beale said other city officials have different priorities.
In the census tracts near that lot, 29% to 38% of households don’t have a car and live more than a mile from a supermarket, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Just north of that area, Judy and Victor Ware have been struggling to keep their sit-down restaurant, the Ware Ranch Steak House, open after spending their life savings to buy the property in 2018. They renovated the restaurant at 11147 S. Michigan Ave. but said a fire nearby and city work on water lines disrupted their business.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, causing them to close for months. When they reopened in May 2020, Ware said that lasted only about two weeks before their building was vandalized during the civil unrest that followed the police killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd.
Still, Judy Ware said she and her husband were determined to reopen because it was one of the few restaurants nearby to offer sit-down service. Customers had told them about their memories of eating there for graduation celebrations and family outings. But days after the building was vandalized, it was further damaged by a fire, Judy Ware said.
“We are really struggling to try to get the restaurant back open,” she said. “We have customers who call us. I live in the neighborhood. They see me working in my yard and stop and want to know when is it going to be open.”
City permit problems that led to a “stop work order” have delayed repairs. She said they’ve struggled to navigate the permit system even after seeking help from Beale’s office and the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce.
“We had a vision, and we put it into practice, and so many things have happened to deter us,” Judy Ware said. “We are not young people — I’m 68, and my husband is 62. It’s hard, and we are really committed to bringing our business back. All the city has to do is give us the permit, and the contractors are ready to go back.”
Andrea Reed, executive director of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce, sees getting the restaurant open again as one of the challenges the business group faces in trying to turn things around on South Michigan Avenue.
The chamber has tried to help potential business owners access capital and come up with ways to keep people shopping along Michigan Avenue rather than going to the south suburbs or nearby Indiana towns.
She said the chamber’s work includes addressing disparities in the community such as access to transportation and healthcare.
“It behooves all of us to care about how these disparities and inequities impact other lives,” Reed said. “And I look at the level of crime in our city, and all of us are at risk of the next violent act, whether it’s carjackings, armed robbery or someone beating you to take what you have. And I think crime is an outward cry to the world that ‘I’m tired of doing without.’ ”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.