Harrison looks for retail, restaurants for diversification

Better mix will draw more to Arts District, locals hope

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By DREW CARTER

Change has come to Morava Studios on east Harrison Street: Once a studio space for Peter Morava's stained glass work, Karen Morava has transformed the space into a "high-end boutique," sweeping her husband's workspace out of the retail area.

He's still working at the space, she underlined, but the couple figured the shop could be better utilized with retail.

Karen Morava now offers?#34;in addition to some of her husband's works?#34;silk pillows, a line of "retro contemporary" handbags, and blank cards imported from Paris.

"I've really tried to pick out things I've never seen anywhere else?#34;not just in Oak Park," Karen Morava said.

There are botanical-themed pieces by Connecticut jeweler Michael Michaud that replicate nature, each leaf or petal having been cast in bronze, sterling silver or 14-karat gold.

A line of Moksha scarves are made of silk and cashmere. And if Oprah arrived after closing time, Morava would let her in.

"Oh god, yes," Morava said. "That's something I've done before for non-Oprahs."

The change at Morava mirrors a change happening throughout the Harrison Arts District, business owners say. Once revived by studios and galleries, the district is looking to diversify its retail and restaurant offerings to attract more shoppers to the area.

Addled by empty buildings and long stretches of residences, Arts District businesses have considered taking matters into their own hands by pooling money and becoming their own developer.

"It's going a little bit more retail," said Laura Maychruk, owner of the Buzz Cafe, 905 S. Lombard Ave.

New in the past year or so are Amy Rigg Clothing, 329B Harrison, and Majamas, where Oak Park designer Germain Caprio sells her designs for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, along with breastfeeding support and supplies for new moms.

The Sandra Ross Salon moved to 339 Harrison St. this spring.

The district also has two fairly new health/personal growth centers, in the Vajrayana Buddhist Center, 13 Harrison, and the One Point Center, where aikido and yoga are practiced.

Maychruk has added the Buzz Boutique, handbags, gifts and a line of pro-liberal T-shirts from a Wisconsin designer.

"We don't do too bad on it, and some of it's not cheap," Maychruk said, pointing to an $88 handbag.

The Buzz also has expanded its restaurant offerings, including Friday night burgers and BYOB.

Dave King, owner of House of Heat and Roaring Belly Glass Werks and president of the Harrison Arts District Business Assoc., is redeveloping his space at 334 Harrison St.

"We wanted to improve the space and create some features to make it a better gallery space," said King, who should not be confused with leasing agent David King of David King & Associates.

Harrison's King hopes to be able to build into the space a work area where patrons can watch artists blow glass. "It's quite mesmerizing," he said. "Seeing somebody who's good is really quite fascinating."

Two spaces, 237-39 Harrison St., will be available at the end of the month. Owner Bill Planek said he's looking for artsy stores. "We're looking for people who will complement the rest of the street."

"I think you have to go with your strength," Planek said, adding that clothing, jewelry, and home furnishing stores that offer unique items would be the best retail fits with the neighborhood. Neighborhood restaurants would also be good fits, business and building owners said.

With active business owners dedicated to improving the district, and a University of Illinois at Chicago-led character study that calls for greater density, Harrison is poised to tackle its problem with vacant buildings, Maychruk said.

"That's the one thing that's holding us back from flourishing," she said.

Chris Kleronomos, owner of buildings that have remained vacant for years, said complaints about vacancies aimed at him are misdirected.

"Frankly, I'm tired of the naysayers," Kleronomos said. "They talk and they talk, but there's only one family that's put consistent money into this neighborhood, and that's us."

Attracting retailers to Harrison Street would be like "pushing the string from the back end," he said. Development without village-supported infrastructure improvements would just delay problems.

Kleronomos said the village needs to address parking needs on Harrison, and to change zoning to allow for taller buildings, underneath which parking could be built.

But the village has helped with at least one redevelopment. The village-enforced departure of a Narcotics Anonymous group from 126 Harrison St. has prompted property owner Rick Filarski to plan a renovation of his building, which stretches west to 138 Harrison St.

The western two spaces (138 and 136 Harrison St.) are a barber shop (Roots to Wings) and a ladies' hair salon (Sister to Sister). Filarski said a women's apparel store (130) and women's exercise facility (132-134?#34;similar to, but not Curves) are expected for the middle spaces.

Filarski will be selective about what he puts in the eastern two spaces, as he expects the shops to be highly sought after once renovations begin. That corner is the first retail space on the north side of the street coming west from Austin Boulevard.

"I think you're going to find it's a marquee-looking building when we get done with it," Filarski said.

The renovation will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Filarski would not give an exact amount. It's being funded by Community Bank of Oak Park-River Forest through the Oak Park Development Corporation, he said.

Filarski expects the renovation to be completed by September. He's waiting on permits to begin.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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