Jewish Community Leaders Say Devon Avenue is 'Dormant', Not 'Dead'

“We’re committed to a beautiful West Rogers Park, meaning it doesn’t need to be a beautiful Jewish neighborhood,” said Scott "Shalom" Klein, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park. (Nicole Cardos/MEDILL)

By Nicole Cardos

Business owner Avrom Fox said his religious bookstore Rosenblums World of Judaica is a social gathering spot.

“We have everything that one needs to celebrate the entire Jewish life cycle, from birth to death and all the holidays in between,” Fox said, adding that there are also books for those interested in the religion from a historical and cultural point of view.

The making of a Jewish monument from Nicole Cardos on Vimeo.

Now in its sixth year of residence in Skokie, Illinois, Rosenblums was previously located on Devon Avenue in West Ridge in Chicago. Fox said he purchased the store from its previous owner in 1990 at its Devon Avenue location, when the Jewish community was reflected in the storefronts on the now-majority South Asian shopping street.

For years now, businesses, like Rosenblums, that catered to the surrounding West Ridge Jewish community have been moving out—so much so, that the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park has named “the rebirth of Devon Avenue between California and Kedzie as a unique urban destination serving Jews throughout the city and suburbs” as one of the organization’s goals on its website.

Fox said he moved Rosenblums to follow the Jewish community that was migrating toward the suburbs, and because he considers Devon Avenue “dead” as a shopping district.

“Devon is no longer commercially viable,” he said.

But it’s not only Jewish-owned businesses that are closing or relocating. The CVS store and pharmacy at 2825 W. Devon Ave. announced its springtime closing late February. The decision was made in part of the company’s plan to shut down dozens of its storefronts.

“Everybody is dormant—we’re dormant now too,” said Irv Loundy, senior vice president of Banking Services and Community Relations at Devon Bank.

Loundy, an employee at Devon Bank since 1958, said he has seen tremendous change in the area. Loundy remembers Devon Avenue as a home to high-end ladies fashion and kosher delicatessens and grocery stores in the 1970s and 1980s. But as the community changed to include an Indian-Pakistani population, and nearby young Jewish families started relocating to surrounding suburbs, Jewish businesses followed suit.

What also pushed storeowners to move away from the area was the lack of parking space, said Loundy, who’s active in the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

“We need to create the presence and make it attractive for people to want to come here,” he said.

One of the ways to revitalize the area is to work on collaboration among the existing community groups, said Scott "Shalom" Klein, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park.

The goal of JCCWRP is to advocate for and improve the lives of residents and businesses in West Ridge, commonly referred to as West Rogers Park.

Although the Jewish community has a longstanding history in the area, the organization isn’t only catering to that group of people, Klein said.

“We’re committed to a beautiful West Rogers Park, meaning it doesn’t need to be a beautiful Jewish neighborhood,” he said. “We want it to be a beautiful neighborhood which happens to be home to the Jewish community, and living and working together with many other cultures.”

After having conversations with West Ridge residents, Klein acknowledged that there was a need for an updated or new library in the area. The Northtown Branch of the Chicago Public Library located at 6435 N. California Ave. currently serves the community, but Klein said it’s outdated.

“The library is not equipped,” he said. “It doesn’t have the meeting space, the technology for kids to do their homework.”

So Klein and other JCCWRP organizers, along with members of other ethnic communities in West Ridge, recently launched a petition called LEARN—Library Enhancement And Renovation. After having earned thousands of signatures, LEARN has been approved to open a new library in West Ridge.

“So those are the types of things that by coming together, by organizing, we’re able to make a difference,” he said.