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Businesses, neighbors learn to live with the changing face of Wrigleyville

Bartender Kevin Stevenson is hopeful that new attractions — like the Park at Wrigley and the Zachary Hotel —will bring new energy to the historic neighborhood. | Alex Nitkin / Sun-Times

The night the Cubs clinched a spot in the 2016 playoffs, Kevin Stevenson learned what he had gotten into when he decided to move to Wrigleyville.

“I would be coming home from work, and, with all the craziness and the crowds, every night I had to prove to the cops that I lived there before they would let me through,” Stevenson says. “It got to the point that my license wasn’t enough — they started asking for copies of my gas bill.”

And the crowds only keep growing.

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Stevenson, then a bartender at Full Shilling Public House, 3724 N. Clark St., moved in to a brick three-flat near Wilton and Waveland avenues at the peak of a six-year transformation of the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field.

He says he has learned to embrace the row of glassy megastructures cropping up along Clark Street. He’s even excited about the growth.

“The problem with this area has always been that during the offseason, it turns into a total ghost town,” he says from behind the bar at Yak-Zies, 3710 N. Clark St., where he now tends bar. “I mean, look around you. Middle of the afternoon, six days before opening day, and we’re the only place that’s even open right now. So with all this stuff coming up, it could become a real year-round place.”

Stevenson is hopeful that new attractions — like the Park at Wrigley and the Hotel Zachary — will bring new energy to the historic neighborhood.

Michael Zink, president of the group East Lakeview Neighbors, feels the same way. Members of the neighborhood group think they’ll “all benefit substantially by the time this is over,” Zink says.

“Sure, we’ve lost some longterm traditions, and we’re sad to see them go,” he says.

The 2016 demolition of the Salt & Pepper Diner hit neighbors especially hard, says Zink.

“At the same time, we all recognize that change is necessary and unstoppable.”

People around Wrigley especially like the new park, where movie screenings and a wintertime skating rink have established “a kind of center of Lake View for families,” Zink says.

Business operators have also accepted the rash of development, according to Ari Strauss, general manager of Sluggers World Class Sports Bar, 3540 N. Clark St. The bar has been catching construction dust from the block-sized Addison & Clark mega-development across the street, which promises to lease hundreds of new apartments above a cineplex and bowling alley by next year’s Opening Day.

Ari Strauss, general manager of Sluggers World Class Sports Bar, 3540 N. Clark St.

Ari Strauss, general manager of Sluggers World Class Sports Bar, 3540 N. Clark St., says new business in Wrigleyville might bring competition but also “create a more vibrant neighborhood year-round.” | Alex Nitkin / Sun-Times

“Granted, it’ll be some more competition from a business standpoint, but, if that’s the price you pay to create a more vibrant neighborhood year-round, we’ll take it,” Strauss says. “Maybe we take a hit during the summer and gain it back in the winter months. Ask me again in a year.”

But plenty of Strauss’s customers, some who have been regulars since the bar opened in 1985, aren’t happy to have seen beloved local businesses flattened, replaced by national brands, Strauss says.

“I can understand how they feel about it,” he says. “There’s a lot of money going into the neighborhood, which, in turn, will make it a little more corporate. But that goes with the territory.”

For Ryan Smith, 25, the shifting landscape was unwelcome news with his move last month to a garden apartment in the 700 block of West Briar Place.

Smith, who took a marketing job in Chicago after deciding his life in Brooklyn had been “too expensive and overwhelming,” says he was drawn to East Lake View because of its energy and neighborhood identity.

“Personally, I really like all those small businesses,” Smith says. “And maybe I have a little bit of anti-corporate bias. So if it’s all going to be these giant family places, I just don’t see myself going up there as much.”

Stevenson, now coming up on two years in the neighborhood, says, “Are you kidding me? It’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to go to Smoke Daddy” — in the lobby of the Hotel Zachary — “or go see movies on weekends. I’m not a driver, so, if you put something within walking distance, I’ll go.”

Stevenson says he hears some nostalgic gripes from bar patrons. But he says, “Honestly, a lot of the grumblings come from the out-of-towners who come in a couple times a year — they’re the ones saying ‘This isn’t the Wrigley I remember.’ For people who live in the neighborhood, the change is more gradual. So we tend not to have as much of a problem with it.”