News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Faces of 53rd Street: Eric Williams

When you meet Eric Williams, the dynamic, creative owner of The Silver Room at 1506 E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park, you might not realize he was originally a finance major and a stockbroker – but that’s exactly how the career of one of Chicago’s most recognized retail entrepreneurs began.

As a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the early 1990s, Williams started selling t-shirts and sunglasses on the street to put himself through school.

A brief stint as a stockbroker turned him off the corporate world, and he started selling his products full-time around town, at street festivals, and in the basement of a Wicker Park boutique, Lit-X. A chance meeting with two New York vendors at Jazz Fest in New Orleans got him started selling silver jewelry, and with no comparable stores in the area, he opened The Silver Room – a hybrid jewelry, art, and apparel shop, as well as art gallery and event space – in 1997 in Wicker Park.

The ever-evolving nature of the store – both in the original Wicker Park location and now in Hyde Park – keeps Williams interested and engaged. He has honed his skills in creating a true neighborhood gathering place, where local musicians play and people want to take classes and spend time – one of the hallmarks of The Silver Room, or “TSR” as fans call it.

We visited Williams in his store to learn more about his continuing involvement in the Hyde Park area:

Q: What led you to move the store to Hyde Park from Wicker Park in 2015?

Williams: My lease was ending, and I was reevaluating whether or not I wanted to commit to another 10 years in Wicker Park. I felt like the neighborhood was changing, and it actually seemed to be losing some of the creativity and excitement that I had been so drawn to years ago. Hyde Park has actually turned out to be a better “fit” for The Silver Room. I get people thanking me for being here, and that is a great feeling. Also, Hyde Park seems to have a less transitory nature than Wicker Park. Many of my customers were born in the Hyde Park area and they are still here today. They bring their families and friends, and The Silver Room has become an extension of their living rooms.

Q: Originally a “pop-up” retail location, you recently signed a five-year lease for The Silver Room on 53rd Street – what factors guided your decision to remain in the Hyde Park community on a more permanent basis?

Williams: I wanted to stay in Hyde Park because I was welcomed by the community and everyone was so happy and excited for me to be here – that’s number one. Our employees are happy, we’re busier here, and it just makes sense from a business perspective. There’s a new energy for me here – something that I really needed.  I like the level of collaboration here with the University, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the South East Chicago Commission, and other groups. I see Hyde Park continuing to grow and grow in the next few years, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Q: How many people does The Silver Room employ? Are any of the employees from Hyde Park or the South Side?

Williams: Right now we have six employees, and four of them are from the South Side. Two of them live in Hyde Park, and the other two live in Bronzeville and South Shore. Two of them worked with me at the Wicker Park location and are happy to have a shorter commute.

Q: What is your favorite thing about 53rd Street?

Williams: The authentic style of my customers in Hyde Park is so inspiring.  I also love the diversity. There's a wide range of ages here that I didn’t see in Wicker Park. Everyone is friendly and welcoming and they really seem to appreciate what the store adds to the community. 

Q: The Silver Room hosts French lessons, salsa dance classes, singles events, art shows, film screenings, spoken word nights, and more. How do you develop the programming for the community gathering aspect of the store?

Williams: I try to plan at least two of my own events each month -– usually an art opening and a spoken word event. Our upcoming art exhibit will launch during Black History Month and feature works by local artists inspired by the legacy of Muhammad Ali.

Many of the other events are dictated by the community. Probably 80 percent is community-driven, in response to what people in the area want to see. For example, right now we are collecting water for Flint, Michigan. We’ve already collected 50 cases of water – and this is all because of an idea from someone in the community. People see The Silver Room as a hub in the neighborhood, and we try to answer everyone’s needs as best as we can.

Q: Your collaboration with the University of Chicago on last year’s successful Harper Court Summer Music Series will be continuing this summer with four new events. What can the neighborhood expect in terms of performers, music styles, etc.?

Williams: Last year’s events included steppers, jazz, and Latin music, and the community really responded well to that mix. This year we’ll do more of the same, and probably add some blues.

Q: What are your favorite hangouts in Hyde Park? Where might people see you in the neighborhood?

Williams: When I’m not at The Silver Room, some of my favorite places are Rajun Cajun, The Promontory, and 57th Street Books.

Q: We’ve heard you even hosted a wedding at The Silver Room last year – how did that come about?

Williams: A long-time customer from the Wicker Park location got his wedding rings in Hyde Park and he really loves the concept of the store. He said he wanted to get married here, so we made it happen. It brought a tear to my eye that he would have one of the most important moments of his life at The Silver Room. It’s a retail store that’s more than just a retail store, and the wedding was one of the highlights of the year for me.

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"Faces of 53rd Street" is a twice-monthly series that profiles business owners, employees, and shoppers in the 53rd Street retail corridor in Hyde Park. To suggest someone for a future profile, send their name and place of business or contact details to us at 53rd@lists.uchicago.edu.

Eric Williams at his Hyde Park store, The Silver Room
Eric Williams at his Hyde Park store, The Silver Room (Photo by Rob Kozloff)

Hyde Park restaurants A10 and The Promontory participating in 9th annual Chicago Restaurant Week 2016

Just as many of us are getting over holiday treats and meal indulgences, Chicago’s annual Restaurant Week is back to tempt foodies with “…top fare at value pricing at restaurants throughout the city and surrounding suburbs,” according to the Choose Chicago tourism website.

For two weeks (Friday, January 22 to Thursday, February 4), over 350 Chicago restaurants are offering multiple-course, prix-fixe meals at $22 for lunch and $33 or $44 for dinner, with tax and gratuity not included.

Two noted Hyde Park restaurants are participating – A10 Hyde Park at 1462 E. 53rd Street and The Promontory at 5311 S. Lake Park Avenue. A10 is offering a special dinner menu and The Promontory is offering lunch as well as dinner menus.

The A10 dinner menu includes a first course of roasted beet salad or roasted Kabocha squash soup, a second course of brown butter parsnip cappelletti or braised venison leg, and a third course of sweet potato “dauphines.”

The Promontory lunch menu includes a first course of house green salad or clam chowder and a second course of a Slagel Farms lamb burger, Slagel Farms turkey roulade sandwich, or hand cut pappardelle. Their dinner menu includes a first course of warm beet salad, Wagyu beef tartare, or celery root agnolotti; a second course of Green Circle Farms chicken, P.E.I. mussels, or roasted squash risotto; and a third course of chocolate and hazelnut pave.

To view the complete list of participating restaurants, click here.

A10's Roasted Beet Salad
A10's Roasted Beet Salad - photo courtesy of A10
The Promontory's P.E.I. Mussels
The Promontory's P.E.I. Mussels - photo courtesy of The Promontory

Faces of 53rd Street: Matthias Merges

By Calmetta Coleman and Lilian Huang

After opening two new restaurants in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Matthias Merges faced a common restaurant industry challenge: securing and keeping high-quality employees.

The award-winning chef could have recruited workers from anywhere in the city for his French-Italian eatery A10 and Japanese-inspired Yusho, including from the original Yusho in the Avondale neighborhood. Instead, he instituted a policy that 70 percent of A10 and Yusho employees must live within walking distance of their workplace or have easy access by bus. While keeping a restaurant employee for 18 months is considered good in the industry, both A10 and Yusho, which opened in 2013 and 2014, respectively, have staff who have been with them since the beginning. Together, the restaurants employ 60 people.

“We could have brought employees from the North Side, but that doesn’t do any good for us or the community,” says Merges, who lives on the North Side. “We’re invested in the community.”

Indeed, while still running three other popular restaurants elsewhere in Chicago and Las Vegas, Merges spends about one-third of his time in Hyde Park and sits on the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce. Locals might spot him, sporting his signature beard, at museums and other cultural venues in the neighborhood—or even at other restaurants on 53rd Street.

A few months ago, Merges recalls, a customer came into A10, looked over the menu, and made it known that he did not want any of the dishes listed. What he really wanted, he said, was fried fish. Wired to please his customers, Merges headed across the street to Indian restaurant Rajun Cajun and borrowed a raw red snapper. He fried it up and served it with roasted potatoes and tartar sauce. After the meal, the customer told Merges, “That’s the best piece of fish I’ve ever had.”

One of Merges’ favorite things about 53rd Street is the community of restaurants and how they interact with and support one another. There is, naturally, a good deal of overlap between customers of A10, at 1462 E. 53rd Street, and Yusho, at 1301 E. 53rd, with some patrons frequently dining at both in the same day. The restaurants also welcome referrals from the likes of Rajun Cajun and Pizza Capri and return the favor by recommending neighboring restaurants for their customers who decide to go elsewhere. “The more community you create, the more successful everyone is going to be,” Merges says.

Merges’ definition of success goes beyond the profitability of his restaurants. He also has a mission of serving the community through his work. He partners with the Cook County Jail’s nonviolent felon release program to operate a vegetable garden where inmates cultivate and tend produce for Chicago restaurants. Merges and his employees help the inmates to develop these valuable skills and provide them with information on what it is like working in a restaurant. A number of inmates from the program have gone on to work at Merges’ restaurants. Merges describes his approach to this work in simple terms, “You search for people who never had the opportunity to do good, and give them an opportunity, and they do good.”

The 49-year-old is also one of the founders of Pilot Light, a nonprofit that partners with Chicago schools to educate children about food and nutrition and equip them to make healthy lifestyle choices. Its free curriculum is currently implemented in six schools, including Ray Elementary in Hyde Park and Anna R. Langford Community Academy in Englewood.

Even with five restaurants and nonprofit work on his plate, Merges still makes time for hobbies. He enjoys activities like camping, running, climbing and, of course, spending time with his family. His wife, a Chicago architect, had a hand in designing both of his Hyde Park restaurants, and at home, he teaches his three daughters how to cook. Merges also does photography, including promotional photography for his restaurants.

He is excited about the potential for his 53rd Street restaurants and for the neighborhood in general. “There has been an emergence of 53rd Street that has been great, but has not hit its peak,” he says.

At A10 and Yusho, he continually looks for ways to keep the offerings fresh. Both restaurants frequently offer unique menus for holidays and other special occasions, such as A10’s Sunday brunch menu and its “Tour the Garden” dinner series this past summer, which showcased a different item of produce from the Hyde Park farmer’s market every Wednesday. He also recently hired a new chef for A10.

“Creating a culture is very important for us, and it takes time to do that,” he notes. “We’ve made great strides, but I can’t wait to see the five-year mark!”

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Faces of 53rd Street is a twice-monthly series that profiles business owners, employees, and shoppers who contribute to the vibrancy of Hyde Park's 53rd Street retail corridor. If you would like to recommend a familiar face on 53rd Street for a profile, write to us at 53rd@lists.uchicago.edu.

Matthias Merges, owner of A10 and Yusho restaurants in Hyde Park
Inside Yusho Hyde Park

53rd Street and Harper Court restaurants offering New Year’s Eve events

Hyde Park will not be lacking in festive celebration options this New Year’s Eve, with special events planned by The Promontory, Porkchop, Ja’ Grill, and A10.

The Promontory, at 5311 S. Lake Park Avenue, is hosting musical guests Phli Life and Premo with a top shelf open bar from 8:30-11:30 p.m., passed hors d'oeuvres from 9-10 p.m., a complimentary Champagne toast, live entertainment, balloon drop, confetti cannon, well-known Chicago DJs, and other surprises. General admission tickets are $75, and VIP packages for groups of four and eight people are also available. Buy tickets here. For more information about VIP packages please email eldridge@promontorychicago.com.

Porkchop, at 1516 E. Harper Court, is hosting the Motown New Year’s Eve party with an all-star tribute to greats including the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and more. The ticket price includes passed BBQ appetizers, late night kitchen menu, live music, and midnight whiskey or Champagne toast, as well as an open bar with wine, beer and liquor for all ticketed guests. Buy tickets here.

Ja’ Grill, at 1510 E. Harper Court, is offering a complimentary bottle of Champagne or wine per couple, with entree order. A special guest DJ will be spinning the best of reggae, dance hall, hip-hop, R&B, house, and electronic dance music from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Click here for more information.

A10 Hyde Park, at 1462 E. 53rd Street, has planned a special three-course dinner for $65 per person with optional wine pairings at an additional charge of $25. First course options include Truffled Lyonnaise Salad with 60 Minute Egg or Burrata with Meyer Lemon, Fennel Cracker, and Caviar; main course options include Seafood Cioppino with Atlantic Cod, Littleneck Clams, and Lobster Sausage or Braised Lamb Goulash with Mustard Dumpling and Dill; and a dessert course with Spiced Black Walnut Cake with Roasted Heirloom Apple or Zabaglione Soft Serve with Cranberry. A pasta course at a supplemental charge of $15 is available, with options including Squid Ink Campanelle with Crab or Truffled Ricotta Pansotti With Brown Butter, Sage, and Shaved Squash. Click here for more information.

Porkchop Motown party graphic
Porkchop Motown party graphic
A10 Hyde Park NYE 2015 graphic
A10 Hyde Park NYE 2015 graphic

Faces of 53rd Street: Aldo Rojas and Steven Rife

By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

If you walk into Chant restaurant at any time of day, you will most likely witness scenes of hugging and kissing and customers being served without looking at the menu. That’s because Chant is more than a restaurant. For regular customers, it’s an extension of their home. “We have a strong relationship with our customers. They are like family,” explains general manager Aldo Rojas.

It’s this personal connection, as well as the carefully prepared Asian fusion cuisine, that has helped Chant become a popular and longstanding destination on 53rd Street. “We’re here to do business and create long-lasting relationships,” says executive chef Steven Rife, who is known to many Chant patrons as simply Chef Steven.

Chant, at 1509 E. 53rd Street, offers intriguing blends of influences, serving up dishes like braised short rib poutine and duck tacos for a global fusion of flavors. But aside from the artful creations, the restaurant is noted for fresh, mostly organic ingredients.

“So many restaurants think that it’s expensive to do wholesome, fresh ingredients but it’s not,” says Rife. “The most important thing in a restaurant is the customer’s enjoyment, and the food is a big part of that.”

The other part is ambiance and customer service, which Chant also supplies with a bright, Asian-themed decor and an ingratiating staff.  The restaurant attracts new customers from all over the city but regulars make up the core of its clientele. “We love Hyde Park and we love our customers,” says Rojas. “We have people who, if they don’t come every day, they come every other day.”

Rojas arrived at Chant in 2011 and Rife in 2013. Both men are 37 years old and started their restaurant careers at 15, and both recognized the importance of catering to customers’ needs. Rojas started at La Pasadita, a popular Wicker Park restaurant and went on to work at Phil Stefani’s Signature restaurants and Harborside International Golf Center, managing banquets and catering. Rife worked as executive sous chef at the Museum of Contemporary Art under Wolfgang Puck, and later as Executive Chef at Red Canary and Ristorante Al Teatro.

While Rojas lives in Portage Park and Rife lives in the South Loop, both are regular fixtures in Hyde Park. Rojas enjoys going to the Promontory and checking out new restaurants at Harper Court with his girlfriend. During the summer, Rife loves to relax at the close of his day in the nature preserve at the end of 53rd Street, and he also frequents the music fests in Nichols Park.

Both Rojas and Rife believe that their focus on connecting with residents and offering a welcoming spot for entertainment, years before there were other options, have helped spur Hyde Park’s revitalization.

“We really started the nightlife scene on 53rd,” Rojas said, referencing the live bands that the restaurant has hosted every weekend since 2011. “We don’t have a cover and customers don’t have to drive all the way downtown. We wanted to keep our customers in Hyde Park and not risk drinking and driving.” 

Featuring live jazz, blues and Latin jazz bands as well as a house music DJ every other Saturday (check the music schedule at www.chantchicago.com), Chant draws a packed house on weekends. “Sometimes our waitlist is up to an hour on Fridays and we’ll have 500 people in here on busy nights,” Rojas says.

As pioneers of the renewed energy on 53rd, Rojas and Rife are excited to see the expansion of the entire community. “When I started, we were the main local place,” recalls Rife. “When other places started popping up, people worried about what would happen to Chant.  Well, what happened was we increased our business as more people are coming to Hyde Park. We’re enjoying the growth and we’re thankful for our customers that are growing and expanding with us.”

Chant General Manager Aldo Rojas and Executive Chef Steven Rife
Chant restaurant, 1509 E. 53rd Street
Shrimp and Grits at Chant

Look-a-like characters inspired by the movie, “Frozen,” to visit local businesses for last week of Hyde Park Holiday Nights

For the last week of the Hyde Park Holiday Nights festivities, look-a-like characters inspired by the popular movie, “Frozen,” will be welcoming children at eight local stores on Thursday, Dec. 17, from 5-7 p.m.

Based on popular demand, there will be two Elsa-inspired characters coming to Hyde Park, with the first Elsa visiting Toys Etcetera at 1502 E. 55th Street in The Courtyard Shops at Hyde Park Shopping Center from 5-5:45 p.m., before stopping a few doors down at Wesley’s Shoe Corral at 1506 E. 55th Street from 6-7 p.m. For “Frozen” fans, Toys Etcetera has a wide selection of licensed “Frozen” merchandise including Elsa and Anna dolls, Ravensburger puzzles, story and sticker books, costumes, doll clothing, braids, and jewelry. Wesley’s Shoe Corral is offering free “Frozen” stickers and popcorn for all children.

The second Elsa look-a-like will be at Bellē Up Boutique at 1504 E. 53rd Street from 5-5:45 p.m., and then across the street at Lively Athletics, 1457 E. 53rd Street from 6-7 p.m. Bellē Up will offer a free $10 gift card for those who check in at the store’s Facebook or Yelp pages between 5-7 p.m., as well as a “Frozen”-themed craft for children to make as a keepsake.

The Anna look-a-like will start at Harper Court’s new Einstein Bros. Bagels at 5230 S. Harper Court from 5-5:45 p.m. and then move to Kilwins, 5226 S. Harper Avenue from 6-7 p.m. Kilwins will be offering free fudge and hot chocolate samples from 6-7 p.m. as well as 10% off all purchases during the hour with the secret password, “Downtown Hyde Park.”

Children can visit the Olaf look-a-like at Ancien, the new bicycle shop and café located at 1558 E. 53rd Street from 5-5:45 p.m. and then at Freehling Pot and Pan Co. at 1365 E. 53rd Street from 6-7 p.m. Freehling will be providing complimentary cookies and cider.

Harper Court is a great place for families to meet before visiting all the characters – Einstein Bros. Bagels is hosting the Hot Chocolate Welcome Station at Harper Court with complimentary hot chocolate and sweets, while supplies last. Native Foods, also at Harper Court, will be offering free “chaider” samples – a mixture of cider and chai tea. Chipotle will be offering first come, first served coupons for free children’s meals to the first 25 guests at the restaurant between 5-7 p.m.

For the full schedule, visit the event website. Be sure to tag your photos and videos with #HPHoliday to share in all the fun.

FROZEN and all related characters and elements (C) & ™ Walt Disney Pictures, Inc.

Hyde Park Holiday Nights Graphic
Hyde Park Holiday Nights Graphic

Families enjoy ice carving demonstrations for the second week of Hyde Park Holiday Nights

The windy weather at Harper Court last Thursday night on Dec. 10 did not deter Al Martinez, the ice artist from Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures in Forest Park, from crafting an impressive ice carving of a penguin standing on a block of ice.

Families and people walking down 53rd Street got a chance to see the artist at work between 4-5 p.m. as he started with a rectangular block of ice before sculpting it with different power tools into a detailed, three-dimensional penguin. As he cut away sections of ice, he delighted several children by etching miniature penguin designs into slabs of ice, which he gave away to a boy and a girl. People also enjoyed the pre-carved holiday tree sculpture lit from within with colored lights near the entrance to the Harper Court office building, as well as a holiday snow globe sculpture with a winter scene and snowflakes frozen inside near Native Foods.

The fun then moved on to The Courtyard Shops at Hyde Park Shopping Center from 6-7 p.m., where the ice artist carved a gingerbread cookie on top of a house; and displayed a pre-carved Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer sculpture; as well as a snowman.

The activities were part of Hyde Park Holiday Nights, the three-week holiday event on consecutive Thursdays – 12/3, 12/10, and 12/17. The event kicked off with holiday caroling on Dec. 3, and will end with characters inspired by the movie, “Frozen,” making appearances at eight local Hyde Park shops on Dec. 17 from 5-7 p.m.

For the full event schedule, visit the event website.

Al Martinez from Nadeau's Ice Sculptures carving a penguin
Al Martinez from Nadeau's Ice Sculptures carving a penguin - photo courtesy of K. Hull
A few lucky kids got their own hand-etched souvenirs
A few lucky kids got their own hand-etched souvenirs - photo courtesy of K. Hull
Snowglobe ice sculpture at Harper Court
Snowglobe ice sculpture at Harper Court - photo courtesy of K. Hull

NoteworthyNotes opens at Harper Court, with ribbon cutting scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 10

Harper Court’s latest retailer, NoteworthyNotes, will celebrate its grand opening on Thursday, Dec. 10, with an official ribbon cutting taking place from 6:00-6:15 p.m. The stationery and invitations store, at 5231 S. Harper Court, opened for business on Nov. 20.

Owned by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business alum Cindy Rudman, NoteworthyNotes launched in 2000 in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and moved to its storefront location in Lakeview in 2010. The retailer has become a trusted resource for custom wedding, mitzvah, and party invitations, as well as personalized stationery, self-inking stamps, holiday cards, and much more.

In addition to traditional stationery items, NoteworthyNotes is a source for personalized gifts with speedy turnaround times – including tote and cosmetic bags, key chains and luggage tags, clipboards and pens, water bottles and travel mugs, coasters and cutting boards, and many other items. The store offers unique gifts for everyone from babies, kids, and teens to business colleagues, teachers, family, and friends. Rudman and her team are happy to make suggestions for the perfect gift.

NoteworthyNotes also offers embroidery services to add a name, monogram, or initials to many of the store’s products. Customers may even bring in items purchased elsewhere for personalization.

“I am excited to bring NoteworthyNotes to Hyde Park, the first place I lived when I moved to the United States,” commented Rudman, a Montreal native. “I am eager to meet members of the community and tailor the offerings at the Hyde Park location to their needs.”

“NoteworthyNotes is a niche retailer with a history of success with personalized gifts and stationery,” commented James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “It fills an unmet need in Hyde Park and can become a specialty shopping destination for area residents, students, and visitors.”

NoteworthyNotes opening graphic - courtesy of NoteworthyNotes
NoteworthyNotes opening graphic - courtesy of NoteworthyNotes

Vue53 to host VIP Grand Opening on December 8 – rental applications now being accepted

Vue53, the new 13-story, mixed-use residential and retail building currently under construction at 1330 E. 53rd Street, recently opened a temporary leasing office at 1453 E. 53rd Street, and is hosting a VIP Grand Opening event for the community on Tuesday, December 8, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The event will take place at the leasing office, giving people an opportunity to see full-scale mock-ups of the apartment room sizes with furniture, meet the Vue53 staff, and learn additional information about the building and its leasing process.

Vue53 will feature 267 units, including furnished and unfurnished 1 bedroom/1 bath units, three different 2 bedroom/2 bath units, and two different studio apartment layouts. Amenities include a 24-hour front desk attendant, 24-hour fitness center, modern clubhouse with complimentary Wi-Fi, business center and study lounges, game room with pool tables and flat-screen television, multiple outdoor sundecks, secure bike storage, optional in-building parking, and more.

The best way to apply for housing is via the website. On the site, applicants will click on “Sign a Lease” at the top of the page. There is a $50.00 application fee and a $150 administration fee due at that time (if a lease is not signed within 72 hours, the administration fee will be refunded).

Vue53 also includes 28 affordable housing units, and interested applicants should contact the leasing office for more details.

Peak Campus thrilled to welcome this exciting project to our growing portfolio,” said Bob Clark, President at Peak Campus.  “We believe this is a great addition to the 53rd Street corridor and will soon be part of the neighborhood’s unique cultural fabric.  Our team looks forward to serving our new residents and the local community with an unmatched customer experience and a cutting-edge feature and amenity package.” 

 

Vue53 VIP Grand Opening graphic - courtesy of Vue53
Vue53 VIP Grand Opening graphic - courtesy of Vue53

Faces of 53rd Street: Fylynne “Lynne the Laundry Lady” Crawford

In 2007, after selling some South Side apartment buildings they co-owned, Fylynne Crawford and her husband Darryl were shopping for a new business venture. Through a laundromat broker, they learned that Kimbark Coin Laundry, located at 1218 E. 53rd Street since 1963, was for sale. The couple had close ties to Hyde Park, so they bought it. That’s when Fylynne Crawford, who goes by the name Lynne, became “Lynne the Laundry Lady.”

Crawford, 57, uses videos, photos, and posts on the laundromat’s Facebook page to pitch herself as an expert on tackling tough stains from items such as gravy and barbeque sauce. As owner operators, Crawford and her husband spend about 40 hours a week in the laundromat. She recently spoke to the 53rd Street Blog about her business and involvement in the community.

Q. How has the business grown or changed through the years?

Crawford: We bought Kimbark Laundry in 2007, but the store has been a staple in Hyde Park since 1963. Since we bought the business, we’ve added a drop-off laundry service, a dry-cleaning service and a pick-up and delivery service. We have 50 washers and 34 dryers, and we have two employees. As a neighborhood business, we have a couple of target markets.  First, we want to reach those residents that don’t have access to a washer and dryer in their house or apartment. Second, with our drop-off service we’d like to reach those people who don’t have the time or the inclination to do their laundry.

Q. What are your connections to Hyde Park?

Crawford: We have been very connected to Hyde Park in our business and personally over the years. My husband and business partner, Darryl Crawford, was a Hyde Park resident for 20 years. He lived in a building just across the street from Kimbark Laundry. He was also a member of the Local School Council and served as a coach for the American Youth Soccer Organization league.

Since our ownership of Kimbark Laundry, we have been involved with local community groups at various times, including the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the Hyde Park Kiwanis Club and the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Council. We have also volunteered on various political campaigns for local elected officials.

Q.   Why did you decide to start putting videos online?

Crawford:  The idea came from a customer who is a videographer, Marvin Evins. From his coming to the laundromat, we started talking and he offered to film a commercial and put it on YouTube. We filmed here at the store. We also promote the laundromat through our website, Facebook page, Google ads, flyers in the neighborhood, and signage in the windows.

 

Q. In the past Kimbark Laundry has had community-focused events inside the laundromat. Do you plan to continue or restart those efforts?

Crawford: We have used Kimbark Laundry to help encourage neighborhood children to read through a program we call Wash & Read. We had prominent Hyde Parkers, including Toni Preckwinckle and Barbara Flynn Currie, come in to read to the children of our customers. It was a rousing success. Also, during various elections, we did weekly voter registration drives to encourage civic involvement in the political process. We have not done these kinds of events recently, but we would like to do more in the future.

 

Q. What do you want customers and prospective customers to know about you and Kimbark Laundry?

Crawford: We want customers and prospective customers to know that Kimbark Laundry is here to serve the community. As a small business, we want and need the support of our neighbors. My goal is to get to know our neighbors.

 

Faces of 53rd Street is a twice-monthly series that profiles business owners, employees, and shoppers who contribute to the vibrancy of Hyde Park's 53rd Street retail corridor. If you would like to recommend a familiar face on 53rd Street for a profile, write to us as 53rd@lists.uchicago.edu.

"Lynne the Laundry Lady." Photo by Darryl Crawford
Inside Kimbark Laundry, 1218 E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park. Photo by Darryl Crawford