Friday, March 24, 2017

Chicago's Albany Park and Irving Park business districts are a growing springboard for entrepreneurs( Illinois)

Albany ParkNRC_logo 300 pixels
Chicago's Albany Park and Irving Park business districts are a growing springboard for entrepreneurs

Chicago's Albany Park and Irving Park are where the quest for the American dream often begins. This vibrant, multi-ethnic area of Chicago is likely the most diverse community in the city. It is this diversity that gives the greater Albany Park and Irving Park district, often known as the North River District, its strength and vitality. It is a dynamic business hub experiencing a resurgence as an up and coming commercial powerhouse, being home to a growing number of retail and wholesale businesses.

Supporting the success of these businesses is the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce and Albany Park and Irving Park Special Service Area. The hub of the commercial strip includes the intersections of Kedzie and Lawrence Avenue and Kimball and Lawrence, and the bustling streets of West Montrose Avenue and Irving Park Road are key extensions.

Entrepreneurship is increasingly driving the growth of the area, as evidenced by the wide range of businesses that have successfully started up during the past few years and the more established businesses that have aggressively expanded their operations and conquered new market segments.
Dovetail Studios at 2853 W. Montrose Avenue (www.dovetail-studios.comDovetail Studios youth hip hop 2 300 pixels872-208-6169), is a great example of a business that has been built from the ground up and has grown steadily despite a competitive market. Founded by owners Joanna and Kit Read in 2015, Dovetail Studios is a modern fitness and dance studio that has successfully adapted to the needs of its market, all the while breathing new life into a neglected commercial space. What once was an old auto repair garage, is now a sleek and stylish studio that serves many needs. Dovetail offers dance classes for infants and toddlers; ballet, tap and hip hop dance classes for children; ballet, hip hop and musical theater dance classes for teenagers; and ballet hip hop, modern, and tap classes for adults. There also are ballet, modern, musical theater and hip hop classes for professional dancers. For adult fitness seekers, there are nine different classes, including yoga, strength, Pilates, cardio and boot camp-style classes, offered at various times during the day and evenings.
"We knew there were many families in our neighborhood, and so we set out to offer a family-centric program of exercise and dance classes for both children and adults," said Joanna. "We've discovered that it's also a good space for events. We host birthday parties incorporating dance and rent out the space for organizational events."

KMA Davis Theater 1 300 pixelsKennedy-Mann Architecture ( ; 773-564-9995), owned by principals Ben Kennedy and Matthew Mann, has experienced accelerating growth during the past six years and is about to move to new, expanded offices at 2822 W. Montrose. Starting as a small independent firm in 2008 that focused on small residential projects, the partners have built a strong base of commercial clients, enabling them to scale up their operation and take on even more exciting projects. Most notable among their more recent projects is the renovation of the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square and the new Carbon Arc Bar & Board restaurant adjacent to the theater.

Jaafer Sweets, located in the Albany Park Shopping Center at 4825 N. Kedzie Jaafer Sweets 1 300 pixels( ; 773-463-3933), was a 17-year old highly regarded Middle Eastern bakery when Hannah Moses and her husband, Nabil Saaydeh, took it over in 2008. The couple could have continued to run the business as it was-successful with an excellent reputation. But their entrepreneurial spirit was a driving force as Jaafer Sweets has grown into a major wholesaler as well as a retailer. Never resting on their laurels, the couple continued to improve the quality of the products while they introduced new product lines including vegan and gluten-free selections. Jaafer Sweets now distributes baked goods, under their own brand name, to Whole Foods stores in the US and Canada. Chicagoans can also find the products in Mariano's supermarkets.

IPELC 1 300 pixelsThe Irving Park Early Learning Center, located at 3000 and 3023 W. Montrose in the Irving Park neighborhood ( ; 773-539-7422), is another excellent example of a business that started from the ground up and has grown into a two-location business, earning a strong reputation along the way. Founded in 1999 by Rose Ocasio, what was once a simple child care center has evolved into a licensed, multicultural infant, toddler, and pre-school program. With programs for children from six weeks of age through age five, the center's mission is to nurture "the whole child" in the areas of physical, intellectual, emotional and social development, preparing them to succeed once they reach school age by helping them develop a wide range of individual and interpersonal skills they will need to thrive. The Early Learning Center has adopted the highly-respected Teaching Strategies Creative Curriculum® as the basis for its programs and activities.

"The Irving Park neighborhood has become much more family oriented over the years, giving us the opportunity to serve more people by upgrading our facilities and expanding our programs," said Bardha Kazazi, the Center's director for the past nine years. "We added a new brick exterior, large, energy-efficient windows, and placed a big logo on the fa├žade so people could see us. We built a big playground on the outside with new equipment and a safe play surface made from rubber tiles. We also enhanced the interior with features that were appropriate for babies and younger children."

Relationships are Crucial
While these businesses are quite different from each other, there are some common threads, too. All the entrepreneurs stress the importance of relationships and community involvement as key to their success. For architect Matthew Mann, building collaborative relationships with real estate developers has been very important to their success. "First, they like us," he said. "We approach each project as a unique opportunity to interpret our clients' vision while offering them cutting edge architecture. Our clients aren't looking for cookie-cutter architecture or one specific style. They want great design and functionality to meet their vision. We take the time to educate them as to what their options are and we answer all of their questions. This enables us to give them a forward-thinking design that is more exciting than what they originally envisioned, and it's something they can buy into. This kind of working relationship enables us to grow with them as they undertake new projects."

Joanna at Dovetail Studios takes the approach that her studio's relationship with the students is the basis for everything else, and her business must evolve with the needs of her students. "Our instructors and I try to get off on the right foot-no pun intended-with our students, by making them feel comfortable, provide structure, and listen to their needs." she said. "We have developed a full curriculum that lets them build their skills and transition to the next level. We are open to suggestions and feedback from our students and this helps us shape our classes to meet our students' needs over the long term."

Hannah at Jaafer Sweets is also an advocate of building great relationships. "It helps that people like us. We treat our retail customers very well so that they feel welcomed and appreciated," she said. "We offer free coffee so customers can sit in the shop, relax and enjoy their treats. They often linger in the shop and explore the many kinds of goodies. We also have created new products for people who have dietary restrictions, such as those who want a sugar-free, vegan or gluten-free option."

Jaafer also offers products, such as a variety of Knafeh, that are made to order from scratch to their customers' specifications.  The Jaafer team takes the time to make sure they understand what our customers want. "Our customers are pleased that we look out for their needs and are so committed to offering them top-quality products," said Hannah.

Jaafer's success in penetrating the wholesale market can also be attributed to their commitment to building strong and reliable business relationships. "Business relationships with major clients such as Whole Foods are based on good communication and trust," said Hannah. "They need to know they can count on us to provide the quality and consistency that their customers expect."

"The key to our success has been communication," said Bardha at the Early Childhood Center. "We work with both two-parent families and single parents, and we try very hard to be open, attentive and responsive to their needs. By doing this, the parents are much more willing to work with us to provide their child with the best possible experience."

Great Employees Make a Difference
These successful entrepreneurs also attribute their success to their excellent employees. Whether they have been on board for years or they are new employees, they all agree it is important to find employees who have a passion for what they are doing and to create an environment where they can perform at their best. Jaafer Sweets is proud that many of their employees have been with them since the original owners, back in 1991. "We are like family, everybody is equal and everyone pitches in," said Hannah. They are great bakers and they know how to be welcoming and helpful to our customers. Seventy percent of our retail customers are regulars because we give them a great experience-products made by experts and a service staff that makes them feel at home."

Kennedy Mann Architecture is at a different stage with employees. They are now growing rapidly and are hiring new architects. "We are looking for young architects who appreciate our philosophy, have a passion for architecture and want to work our way," said Matthew. "In return, we give them a well-rounded, immersive experience that gives them a chance to develop all of their skills and creative talents. Our goal is to take them to a higher level so that their next position, whether it is with us or with another firm, gets them closer to reaching their professional dreams."

Dovetail Studios seeks out well-rounded dance and fitness instructors who are skilled at what they do and have solid experience as teachers. "It is so important to our success that our staff are supportive, relatable and open to suggestions and constructive criticism," said Joanna. "We always strive to improve our classes and make the Dovetail experience as positive as possible. We provide a solid curriculum that gives our classes structure, but it is our great staff that make the classes come alive, build our reputation, and keep people coming back for more."

The staff is just as crucial for the Early Learning Center. They are certified, with degrees in early childhood education, and are chosen for their knowledge, reliability and communications skills. "We're fortunate that our staff members offer a very high level of care and are very communicative with the children and the parents," said Bardha. "We are committed to helping our staff continue to grow professionally so we always offer the highest quality of service."

Giving Back to the Community Pays Off
Successful entrepreneurship also means giving back, and these businesses stay involved in civic activities in the district. Matthew Mann devotes a lot of time to meeting with community groups and networking, and this is how many of the seeds are planted for new projects. "Once people get to know us, they are more likely to share their vision for upcoming projects or introduce us to potential clients. We do the same in return," he said. "It's important to understand that people in our community need our talent, just as we need theirs. We're in it together."

Hannah also agrees on the importance of the community. "We owe much of our success to the fact that we've been able to stay in this community for a long time. They know us, they know where we are and they are supportive of what we do." She makes a point of staying involved in the civic activities of the North River Commission and the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce and she is a strong advocate for the district. "This is a diverse community that will support a variety of creative businesses. It's a good potential area for women-owned businesses, and we need more of them."

The Early Learning Center has participated in many community activities, including Toys for Tots and food drives and actively participates in the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce. "We're better as a community when we work together and we build relationships by staying involved," said Bardha. "We think it's important to be a role model, not only to our staff, but also for other businesses in the area. We like to think we stay one step ahead, always looking forward, and that's good advice for any business."

The Albany Park Chamber of Commerce supports, advocates for and promotes our members and local businesses in the Albany Park, Irving Park, Mayfair, and North Park business districts. The Chamber provides resources that strengthen and physically improve area businesses. It attracts new businesses and investment to the community. It beautifies the commercial districts to further stimulate development and to enhance culture, dining, shopping and entertainment on Chicago's northwest side.

North River Commission is the nonprofit community and economic development corporation for the northwest side of Chicago, from the Chicago River to Cicero and Addison to Devon. Founded in 1962 by concerned residents and neighborhood institutions, NRC unites over 100 civic associations, businesses, schools, institutions and places of worship to improve the quality of life in our community by creating affordable housing, quality education, arts & cultural endeavors, open spaces, and thriving neighborhood businesses. North River Commission operates the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce as part of its economic development strategy.
North River Commission & Albany Park Chamber of Commerce Spring Happenings

Saturday, March 25, 5:30pm-11:30pm
Spring Parents Night Out at NBGC!
Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club Clubhouse
2501 W. Irving Park Rd

Parents, drop your kids off at the NBGC Clubhouse and enjoy a "Kid Free" evening! Open to kids ages 4-13. Pizza and snacks will be provided along with clubhouse activities, games and movies.
Cost: $25 for the 1st child and $10 per additional sibling. Space is limited for this amazing night of fun!
Contact to make your reservation.

Saturday, March 25 and Sunday, March 26, 10am-3pm
Maple Syrup Festival at North Park Village Nature Center
5801 N. Pulaski Rd

Come and see the entire maple syrup-making process from tapping the tree and collecting the sap, to boiling it down into syrup. Take a walk through the sugar bush, enjoy storytelling, listen to music, make a maple craft, warm yourself by the fire, and taste real maple syrup fresh off the fire. The Maple Syrup Festival is a sweet and warm tradition that is free and fun for all ages. No registration required.

April 1st at 8:30am-3pm
The People's Education Forum
Roosevelt High School
Northeastern Illinois University, in collaboration with the People's Education Movement, invite you to a day of solidarity, healing and organizing. All Students, Teachers, Parents, and Community Leaders are welcome to this free event. CPDU's will be available for CPS teachers. Event is free.

This year's theme signals an intentional decision to acknowledge the pain and trauma created by unjust laws and policies and work towards nurturing the health and well-being of our students, within ourselves and our communities, to sustain our organized efforts to challenge and resist policies that exploit us.

The forum intends to share curricular resources that help educators engage in healing praxes that foster sustainable, long-term movements for justice. The first part of the day will focus on merging healing, grounded in the histories and cultural knowledges of ancestral wisdom, with educational practices that help students process multiple forms of trauma. The afternoon will be dedicated to workshops that build upon healing and develop strategies to organize. Participants will receive resources from all the workshops to take with them. We believe it is critical to make these curricular resources accessible to all and assist survival strategies as social services continue to disappear. 

RSVP: Lunch will be available for purchase.

Tuesday, April 4
Albany Park Chamber of Commerce Take Out Tuesday
Celebrated on the first Tuesday of each month
Takeout Tuesday is a new marketing campaign to highlight take out and delivery from local restaurants by hungry residents. Takeout Tuesday is a recurring monthly event on the 1st Tuesday starting in April.

Friday, April 7, 12pm
Chamber of Commerce Luncheon
Real Estate Roundtable
Rozalado Commercial Cleaning
4520 W. Lawrence

Join the Albany Park Chamber and the Pulaski Elston Business Association at this joint chamber roundtable lunch covering real estate. Learn from experts on what's happening in real estate, how to save money, and add value to your property. Thank you to our host Rozalado Commercial Cleaning for providing lunch, and attendees will receive a free energy saving powerstrip courtesy of Elevate Energy!

Space is limited, please RSVP to Duka at

Speakers include:
•    Foluke Akanni, Elevate Energy
•    Colette Adams, @properties
•    Tom Laverso, Rany Management

Saturday, April 15, 10am
The Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club: Easter Egg Hunt
NBGC Clubhouse
2501 W. Irving Park Rd

Every child receives an Easter basket! The Easter Bunny will be available for photos, and over 2,000 eggs will be scattered throughout the fields, tennis court, and playground.
Registration from 9:00-9:30am
Egg Hunt at 10:00am

Friday, April 20, 6pm-9pm
Irving Park Road Pub Crawl
Begins at Pitchfork Food and Saloon, 2922 W. Irving Park Rd.
Albany Park Chamber of Commerce invites you to join us for a fun evening of networking along Irving Park Rd. We will start at Pitchfork Saloon at Irving Park Rd and Richmond, 2922 W Irving Park Rd. Then MOJO at Sacramento, 2958 W Irving Park Rd. Then across the street to Leader Bar at Sacramento, 3000 W Irving Park Rd. Tano's Pizzeria, 3038 W Irving Park Rd, offers a break for pizza before our last stop. Last stop is Lizard's Liquid Lounge at 3058 W Irving Park Rd. The event is free and you're on your own for drinks.

Tuesday, May 16, 6pm-9pm
Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club Annual Leaders of the Future
2017 Scholarship Award Dinner
Chicago Brauhaus
4732 N. Lincoln Ave.

Since 1984, the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club's (NBGC) Scholarship Program has offered Youth Leaders in our unique and innovative Leadership Program the opportunity to earn college tuition awards:
•    8th-11th Grade: $500 to $1,000
•    12th and Above: $3,000 to $5,000

In 2017, the NBGC Scholarship Committee will present approximately $40,000 in awards. Over the past three decades, 74 young adults have graduated from a school of their choice with support from the NBGC. This successful program supports the aspirations and goals of youth in the community, ensuring that they have the necessary resources to pursue their dreams. As our program continues to grow, we are always looking for new scholarship sponsors.

Wednesday, May 24, 6pm-9pm
Flavors of Albany Park
Flavors of Albany Park is Chicago's global cuisine crawl. Taking place on Wednesday, May 24, from 6-9pm, attendees sample food from 15+ local restaurants along and near Kedzie Avenue. Ticket sales will open in April and are limited. Adults are $30, and children 12 and under are $15.
The list of restaurants continues to grow, and we are happy to announce that as of today the following restaurants are participating:

•    Cafe Orient 33
•    Jaafer Sweets
•    Brazilian Bowl
•    Tortuga's
•    Kabobi
•    Noon-O-Kebab
•    LD Pho
•    Golden Crust Pizza & Tap
•    Fruityland Ice Cream
•    Starbucks
•    Wok Cuisine

Thank you to Swedish Covenant Hospital for their support as an event sponsor.



From Rian + Jam Collective>>Rumpl, Surf Photographer Jeremy Koreski, & 1% For The Planet Present: Old Growth in Vibrant Green

In anticipation of summer camping, musical festivals, road trips, cabin renovations and all things green and good, I wanted to share this new print with you. It will be available this weekend on
It's water, stain and odor resistant, packable for travel and warm when the sun dips low on the horizon. 
Please let me know if you have questions!
Additional images here: Rumpl Old Growth Images
Rian + Jam Collective 
More information:
The Old Growth Original Puffy Blanket was created in partnership with Canadian surf photographer Jeremy Koreski. This is the first Rumpl product that benefits 1% For The Planet, with proceeds going towards The Raincoast Conservation Foundation to benefit the land, water, and wildlife of coastal British Columbia. Koreski’s top-down image is sublimated into the Old Growth Puffy and showcases a swath of untouched old growth in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.
MSRP $129
• Synthetic Insulation
• Highly compressible (approx. 6.5”x14”)
• Weather-resistant 20D Ripstop Shell with DWR coating
• Weighs 2.1 lbs (953g) • Measures 50” x 70”
• Machine Washable

Rumpl, is an Active Homewear™ company, based in San Francisco. Rumpl incorporates decades of proven technologies developed for the outdoor industry into their products. The materials have been tested and proven in harsh environments, yet specifically selected for comfort and durability. Rumpl believes the blanket you use everyday deserves the same attention to detail as a sleeping bag you might use 10 times a year. The end result is a premium and versatile blanket that can be used anywhere you go... or when you don't go anywhere.

Instagram: @gorumpl
Twitter: @gorumpl


Chicago Underprivileged Girls Receive New " In Style" Designer Dresses for Spring

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Free, Free, Free! Chicago Arts + Events (Chicago,IL)