For rent: Vacant storefronts in Six Corners

For sale signs have become a familiar sight around the Six Corners intersection in Portage Park.

Only a few weeks ago, all six building storefronts occupying the busy intersection were filled. But with the merger of Chase and Washington Mutual banks, the WaMu branch at 4805 W. Irving Park has joined the growing list of vacancies in the area.

But even with large companies such as Payless Shoes and Washington Mutual leaving the area, Joe Angelastri, chairman of the Six Corners Business Committee, remains optimtistic. Angelastri owns the Newsstand at 4018 N. Cicero as well as another location in Evanston. He believes that businesses in the Portage Park area are faring better than those in Evanston.

“People in this area have a better cash situation than [in Evanston],” says Angelastri. “Probably because a lot of people in this area didn’t invest in stock. They’re old fashioned -- (they) put the money in the bank. They get their checks every month and they come out and spend it.”

Indeed many new stores have come to Six Corners, including The Vitamin Shoppe, 4001 N. Cicero, which opened recently filling the renovated Klee Plaza. GameStop, 3951 N. Cicero, has taken the place of Payless Shoe Store.

But while some new chain businesses have filled vacancies in the area, the economic environment has left many family-owned businesses with no option but to close their doors.

“We’re seeing an increased amount of closings going on, especially in the small ma and pa business sector,” says Bruce Heller, a Coldwell Banker commercial broker. “Small shops just don’t have the staying power when their inventory turnover doesn’t go as planned.”

Heller says many tenants are asking for concessions because business is down by as much as 23 percent. According to Heller, some landlords are approving such concessions, taking a little less money from tenants and avoiding vacancies. Still, other landlords are not in a position to take fewer funds.

“Some are being hard-nosed and saying, ‘My mortgage company isn’t giving me a break; the assessor is not giving me a reduction,'"" says Heller. “It’s a yin and a yang and when that really truly happens, you’re seeing businesses leave.”

Business owners throughout the area have noticed an increase of closures of locally owned business. They are confident, however, that the City’s streetscape plans, promised to the area for several years now, will continue to draw prospective business to the area.

“There are a lot of properties for rent, but we’re waiting for the streetscape to get fixed,” says Filimon Roman, of 6 corners bakery, 4030 N. Milwaukee Ave. “Once that happens, I think the neighborhood is going to turn around.”

Some businesses are moving into the area despite the poor economic times. Local owners such as Angelastri feel that the key is the community itself.

“[The Neighborhood] is making some progress even in the bad times,” says Angelastri. “Some of these retailers put money out in the cornfields and suburbs way too far out, but they’re starting to realize this is where the people are.”