Monday, January 29, 2007

Bubble...or just leaking hot air?

I'm going on the record once again to say that I look at Chicago property on a daily basis, be it in the car with clients or simply scouring the listings of each 'windy city' neighborhood (yes, its windy here today...very) for whatever is new and exciting on the market. I commit what I can to memory and download the rest into my follow-up system for pending and future appointments. Just this past week I brought my '3 Bedroom Clients' to everything worth showing in the 475-525K range in Lincoln Park; I exhausted the 'Under 300K 2 Bedroom Market' in Lakeview and Buena Park with another gentleman; and personally viewed every 'New Construction Single Family House' in the 1.5-2.5 Mil Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhoods with 10 days or less on the market.

For my second showings I pulled the Property History on each and the Tax Records (previous recorded sales price) for the two places my clients and I plan on taking a run at. It was while doing this exercise that I noticed what I had been suspecting for some time but hadn't bothered to examine closely--Single Family Home and Condominium List prices have moved very little in the past 24 months. And while Market Time has been lingering across the board during this same period, price reductions have been minimal and price slashing has been almost nonexistent. And my Conclusion: No Real Estate Bubble here....just some overpriced listings taken by some well intentioned but 'hot air' listing agents.

I am of the opinion that most overpriced listings have less to do with the actual market than the experience and savvy of the listing agent filling out the paperwork. Thousands of newly licensed agents have hit the streets in and around Chicagoland these past few years and many have taken listings that more experienced agents would pass on. And its not just the newbys. In a crowded industry such as this its very difficult to pass up any opportunity to work for a client. But it does not do the seller justice at all to list a property two pricepoints above correct market value. I've done it. It's painful. Nobody gets happy. (I define correct market value as a price that generates 10 showings a month minimum/3 months on the market maximum for an offer) This applies almost exclusively to the Residential Resale inventory. New Construction has its own set of parameters to examine and will be written about at another sitting.

The new (or just plain unsavvy) agent doesn't realize what happens when a property is listed at the wrong pricepoint. To begin with, the property is consistently the worse example of any showing line-up, market time accumulates like interest on a juice loan, and expectations of a timely sale with premium profits diminish with each passing week/month/quarter. And when the inevitable price reduction finally does come, (often times on the clock of the newly hired listing agent) everyone is screaming 'Bubble!' when in fact, it was just a little 'hot air' correction.

image by metablake

Geno Petro

Monday, January 22, 2007

Urban Legend, The Top 10,000

Now that the holiday dinner party circuit has finally subsided and there's nary an occasion left to celebrate --- NEWS FLASH---
"we interrupt this editorial to bring you a special bulletin...
CHICAGO BEARS ADVANCE TO SUPER BOWL XLI" Alright, besides where was I? Oh yes, social functions.

With just one more big party to attend (until the Spring birthday season of my beloved nieces) I can finally stay home on a weekend night and not have to talk to my friends' friends' friends (in other words, virtual strangers) about this thing I do for a living; i.e. Chicago Real Estate Sales. Everyone seems to know more about it than me anyway at these functions so whenever possible I try and stay close by my wife who's usually conducting her own Q & A session in her own field of expertise, American Express. Yes, my wife works for American Express and has for most of her adult life (or more specifically, for the past 15 years... since she was age 7, I am told).

We will sometimes compare notes at the end of the night. "What were you discussing at such length with so and so's boyfriend that made that vein in his head turn blue?" she might ask me.

"I was just telling him that a) there is no such thing as the Mafia, and b) this whole 'real estate bubble thing' is a personal state of mind---some simply believe in it while the better informed 'others' don't.....And you? What was your question of choice for the night, or need I ask?"

"The Black Card,.." is her most common reply. "The usual."

The American Express Black Card, formally titled the "Centurion" is the number one topic of cocktail party discussion when the subject of my wife's personal livlihood comes up. Even the most avid amateur investor whose ear I might be bending will often times excuse himself from my Real Estate diatribe to get the skinny on the Centurion, whose reputation is one of Urban Legend proportions.

Let me pass on to you some interesting 'scoop' I've gathered on the subject. My wife has apparently taken a corporate oath of silence on the real juicy details but I've managed to get wind of the following kernels of info:

According to my blogging friends at Condo Domain, The Atelier Condominiums in NYC will now accept the entire down payment on a unit via AMEX. (any color)

There is rumored to be less than 10,000 personally invited Black Card Holders worldwide although neither American Express nor my wife will go on record to verify this.

Companions of Centurion cardholders fly complimentary on Trans Atlantic flights.

The spending limit (yes, there is one...kind of) is twice the previous highest month's balance..i.e spend $40,000 in November and you're good to go for $80,000 in December. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and shame on you if you're not Merry and Happy
Everything all the time.

There's a minimum of $250,000 annually that must pass through the Card.

That's most of the well known, publicly accepted scoop. The following bits are things I scraped off the internet that may or may not be true but certainly add to the mystique:

The Card arrives at your residence accompanied by a security guard who passes on to you a big black, velvet lined box with two Black Cards and a mini-computer. One Black Card is the actual Card while the other is an exclusive 'entrance pass ' to some of the most prestigious clubs in the world. The mini-computer is yours to keep to track and record all of your purchases.

American Express once arranged (upon special request) a private audition on a popular soap opera for an unknown but extremely wealthy client and self-proclaimed 'aspiring actress'.

When a Centurion member wished to own the actual horse that Kevin Costner rode in 'Dances With Wolves,' American Express tracked down the animal and delivered it I guess, directly to his doorstep.

The actual Card is made of Titanium2---not plastic.

And in case you were wondering... no, the Petros aren't members although we've been known to take the good old Gold about as far as it was designed to go on occasion. I do know of someone, however, who once told me he had a Black Card. This man was a friend of a friend (aren't they all) who requested my services to assist him in purchasing a 10 million dollar house in Chicago a few years back. He also had intentions of marrying one of my wife's closest friends and was apparently--according to him at least-- one of a handful of secret, overnight trading, CIA protected, currency geniuses in the world. It was my opinion that he drank a little too much to be very successful at anything but then again, I'm judgmental.

At the conclusion of dinner one evening at a pricey Chicago steakhouse--after bearing witness to hours of self-aggrandization and conversational hostage taking he finally, finally motioned for the check.--a couple hundred, easy. Three hundred with a tip, to be sure. As he reached into the breast jacket of his blazer I was watching with a keen eye and my wife was, too. We'd been waiting for this very moment all evening. We knew where his mouth was. Now could he put his money there as well. We came to see Black.

Ironic as it may seem, she had never seen The Card in person either. Now was our chance to witness first hand, the look on the waiter's face when he plunked the Black Titanium2 onto the silver check tray. I was wondering what it would sound like, that Titanium onto Silver, when his hand appeared from within his jacket holding a fist full of rumpled bills.

"We ordered dessert so here's $20 more for our half." he said laying his end of the loot on the tray.

Ten hours of silence. My wife finally kicked me under the table. I still couldn't grasp what was happening to me. My 10 million dollar client was a fraud. The other signs I previously ignored were now becoming crystal clear. A few days earlier when I attempted to secure his initial earnest money for escrow he instead tried to get me to buy $10,000 of unleaded gasoline futures. He sported a very bad haircut, scuffed up shoes and his watch was a piece of crap. He told me later that evening that his 'advisors' wanted him to go in a different direction as far as the 10 million dollar house went but that we should definitely play golf at his club sometime. The story gets much worse but I'm getting a bad feeling just thinking about it again.

Now I suppose there really is a handful of 10 million dollar house buyers in Chicago just as there is an elite group of Centurion Card members flashing black titanium on Oak Street--in fact, they are more than likely one in the same collective creature. And while only two Chicago single family homes closed for over 10 million dollars in 2006 (recorded in the MLS) I do know of at least a half dozen more being built for private clients--although none of course, are mine. I don't know how many black, velvet lined boxes were delivered during this same period but if someone tells you they got one then invites you to dinner, just make sure you have enough dough on you to cover your half of the bill. I should probably be quoting Trump but I think I'll go with Gump to end this cocktail party..."and that's all I have to say about that."

image and gossip by

Geno Petro

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

2 Be 2 Ba Too Blah, blah, blah

My Broker and I are in complete agreement on the following bold (literal and figurative) statement: People don't buy '2 Bedroom 2 Bath Condominiums' on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. They do, but not for the reasons you or most Realtors might think. And I'm judging this by the comments I've read on a daily basis for the past six years in the Remarks section of most downtown Chicago condo listings.

Consumers don't require a balcony for the balcony's sake any more than they require a Doorman to assist them with the actual ingress and egress of the building. And they definitely don't ponder the mechanical or engineering advantages of Grohe over Kohler or Toto over American Standard. What they do require my Broker and I believe, is what they desire...Lifestyle and Self Image.

Consumers wish to buy into the dream that helps define their domestic existence in a global city such as Chicago. They want 'Neighborhood' first---the cafes, the boutiques, the galleries, taxis in less than a minute. They don't care about the actual balcony. They care about raising a champagne glass into the air with a loved one outside their living room, 40 stories in the sky overlooking Lake Michigan on that first mild evening in April---which in case you haven't figured out, is another way of saying the unit has a balcony.

The types of people who move to, or stay in downtown Chicago do so because the neighborhood in which they choose to live is an extension of themselves; the Gold Coast Chic, West Loop Trader, and yes...even Lincoln Park Trixie are but a few local examples of these 'types.' Now, if someone would just let their Realtors in on the secret.

Consider the following two descriptions: (I lifted one from the 'Remarks' section of another agent's current listing while the second example is from the 'Remarks' section of a recently closed listing of mine in a different building on the same street.)

example #1:

2br/2bth, w/great city views, balcony, tastefully decorated, open kitchen w/ge profile ss appliances, granite counters, newer cabinetry; marble baths w/ double sinks. Side-by-side washer/ dryer. Parking space for sale $50k.

example #2:

Majestic Lake and City views pop from three exposures in the heart of Chicago's finest neighborhood--two king-sized bedrooms w/professionally organized closets, wetbar, frnch drs, hardwoods, marble spa, Chefs kit and tree-top terrace complete this perfect Astor Place home. Martinis at Gibsons, fireworks at home!

Example #1 above has been on the market for 171 days, listed at $759,000 and is really superior in almost every way to mine but that's not the point. Mine sold in 19 days at full price, $400,000 to another Broker. The phone rang off the hook for MLS showings the entire 19 days I had it. The only reason it didn't sell earlier was it really wasn't that great of a specimen.

My unit clearly sounded better than it actually showed as the appliances were a little dated and the cabinets a little worn but I only needed one buyer with a dream or at the very least, an open mind. And anyway,beauty is subjective...right? And who isn't a 'Chef' these days. He fell in love with it the second he walked through the door. When I turned around to speak I noticed he wasn't even looking at the kitchen...he was staring out at the sailboats on the lake.

photo by gb.inmage

Geno Petro

Saturday, January 13, 2007

My Most Visited Posts Of 2006

The following is a short list of my 10 most visited posts in 2006 according to my year-end Statcounter report. So as not to promote jealously between me and myself (hey, no one else put me on their 'Best Of List') I've chosen to list these randomly although I am going on record-- in spite of myself--to say that my personal favorite was Queens, Baby! (sorry, Chicago). Ironically, it was a guest post on someone elses Blog. So now, in no particular order... (but be sure to check out Did I Really Say That?** ):

1) Two Big Bloggers Battle And Divide The Country (an observation of a blogging spat between the Bloodhound's Greg Swann and a 'Housing Bubble' babbler.

2) Chinese Math (if you sell one nickle pencil to just 1% of the Chinese you can extrapolate the world)

3) The $800,000 House (revisted) (but does it include the actual house?)

4) On The Seventh Day A House Got Sold (open house religion)

5) Rank Your Income (a lesson learned early in life)

6) Did I Really Say That? (oops...) **

7) The Hybrid Realtor (what I am and am not)

8) Google Your Mom (the title says it all)

9) Yo...K 'an A! (an El ride back to 1976 Philly)

10) Queens, Baby! (a guest post on Christine Forgione's NY Blog and by far, the best received and most commented on article of 2006)

( You Silly Rabbit...Trixies are in Chicago was Ms Forgione's tandem effort here and likewise, was the best received posting on this Blog for the year)

This post marks my 76th entry on this blog. and just so you know I also contribute occasionally on The Chicago Real Estate Blog, regularly on A Career in Chicago Real Estate, Chicago Neighborhoods, My House Key, The Agent's Perspective, and fairly often on Active Rain.

About a year or so ago I kept meaning to Google the word 'Blog' because I was hearing the term a lot but had no earthly idea what it meant. A few years before that I kept meaning to ask someone what 'Google" meant and why all the buzz--AOL was my internet provider of choice at the time and my dial-up connection was used mostly for late night Texas Hold 'Em games with people I hoped I'd never meet in person.

And not too terribly long before that (like my mother) I thought Hotmail was an adult website. We were all a little taken back that one Easter weekend when my youngest sister informed us of her new e-mail address. And in typical Petro fashion, we all kept our mouths shut and continued eating. The eye contact though, was deafening.

Blogging is an important---no, vital part of both my real estate business and social life these days. It allows me to transmit my thoughts and ideas to my clients, friends and family on a regular basis while satisfying a need to express myself through the 'written word'--a desire that instantly struck me after I read my first real novel, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, at age ten. Forty years later I publish regularly on one of the most facinating mediums ever to have emerged in modern society. I guess that's why Time Magazine named me..."Person Of The Year."

Geno Petro

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Love At Second Sight (in the housing market)

Regardless of what my wife may tell you, she didn't fall in love with me the second our eyes first met. I'm sure of this for a couple of reasons. To begin with, she couldn't have possibly ignored me any more than she did on that first summer evening even though we were seated an arms length away from each other in a fairly empty ice cream parlor. I mean really, who doesn't notice someone sitting at the next table in an ice cream parlor?

Secondly, and this I definitely know for sure, I'm the type of person that has to grow on you. I'm one of those guys that gets smarter, funnier and better looking the longer you know me. I'm not a 'love at first sight' candidate--pretty sure I never have been. And knowing this has given me an advantage in Sales, I believe. And in many ways, some of my Listings reflect these same personality traits.

I learned to ignore the 'first objection' very early in life and to just keep showing up even as others around me fell by their respective waysides. I'm all about taking a second look at things be it a troubling situation, a prospective property with a few flaws, or anything in between. I guess I've come to expect the same in return and try to promote this behavior on a daily basis to all who will listen or at the very least, to those who happen to sit next to me at work. As I've mentioned before, our office environment is as much think tank as it is Sales.

As a Listing Agent, few things frustrate me more these days than observing a Buyers Agent on a whirlwind tour of one of my properties, pressed for time, and with twenty more places to see that afternoon. Sometimes I just stand there taking it all in, looking for even a glimmer of interest from anyone in the room as they fly right by me on that proverbial be-back bus that only returns 10% of the time. There are very few characteristics of any Listing that, if can't be fixed with a hammer and nails, can certainly be fixed by $$$...i.e negotiation. My Broker calls it the 'What If Game' and will be a subject of a future writing. But to quote an uncle from the old neighborhood, 'Hey..., what are you gonna do?"

I'm telling you, its all in the second showing anyway. Love at first sight isn't a common occurrence in today's Real Estate market. There is simply too much to see. Just fly into any major city at night and as your jet makes its final descent toward the airport runway, look out the porthole window at the billions of microchip lights laid out like a circuit board, stretching to the horizon. You just have to know that they ain't all pretty. They all did however, close at a Title Company and somebody somewhere, holds their deeds. The American Dream is not the 'Center Entry Colonial' for the great majority of us but rather, the best housing we can find on the market for our money at the time we're looking, all other things equal.

I suppose it comes down to the fact that I don't believe any of us live in the 'perfect' dwelling and while my wife and I do enjoy our city condo, wouldn't it be even nicer overlooking the Amalfi Coast of Italy? No need to answer as the question is rhetorical, to be sure. For now we settle for the North Side of Chicago.

I often times encourage my Clients to take second look at a house that at first sight may not seem to perfectly fit the bill, especially when we've exhausted a glutted market place. I generally encourage Buyers Agents from other companies to do likewise when viewing one of my listings (if I can grab their attention for a few private seconds in the whirlwind) although, I'd like to think I'm more about attraction than promotion.

I just don't believe its possible to uncover the inherent beauty in anything with a single look see--especially when it comes to showing property, and I've shown quite a bit. But then again, I'm the guy that ignores the first objection and positions himself for the second take, the one who keeps showing up until someone finally takes notice. My wife still ignores me on occasion but I have a legal document laying around here somewhere that says that deal has already closed.


Geno Petro

Monday, January 08, 2007

One Zero Makes All The Difference

Look up. No really, look up at these two very similar blue houses. They both are blue for starters; in fact they both are 'starters.' One is on a tract of land that is 33x50 (feet that is), the other is on a half acre. Both have basements. Both are described as 'Peaceful' and both are located in Midwest states --the heartland of America, if you will.

Maybe you can already see where this is headed. One of these blue beauties was a recent listing of mine offered for $624,900 and placed under contract after 120 days on the Chicago market. The other is an E-Flyer offering I just received in my Inbox from an agent in Beloit, Wisconsin (less than 2 hours north). List Price: $71,900. Oh... and we both dangled the ubiquitous $900 at the end of our real asking price in typical Realtor fashion.

I had to look twice when I saw the 'pop-up' photo as they do appear similar at first glance. And on paper they are only separated by a single seemingly meaningless decimal to the right. A lone, hollow zero.

So, what's in a zero?

Answer: In this case, over a half million dollars ($553,000 to be exact)! Paradoxical, huh? An extra zero on a spreadheet is worth a cool half mil. Or to be more specific, $5,475 for each mile between Beloit and Chicago, all 101 of them. And with all due respect, you have to look pretty closely to see the beauty in either of these two examples. Perhaps the real beauty is in fact, on the inside (as in equity).

There's really not much more of a point to be made here except that while a picture might indeed be worth a thousand words, a picture in the right location is worth that plus a half million dollars to boot! Now, look up again and tell me...which is which?

Geno Petro

Thursday, January 04, 2007

8 New Ways To Kick An Old Dog (habit...I meant habit)

First off, I'm a dog lover and would never kick a real one unless it was chewing off a limb. The metaphoric hound I speak of though, is Starbucks---the coffee people. I've mentioned them before and often. They've clearly got me... and as my 'mug shot' (an Ardell DellaLoggia-ism) in the sidebar clearly shows, it is one of the few remaining vices I'm not ready to let go of. Keep this in mind for a moment as I'm actually writing this article in response to a comment I received on another Blog I post on.

I was making mention of the fact that it seems that every available residential corner 'ripe' for Development on the North Side of Chicago either has, or is slated to have, a Starbucks on the sidewalk level. For those of you not in the 'know,' the neighborhood of Lincoln Park I live and work in is a densely populated section of the city, jammed shoulder to shoulder (this is the City with Big Shoulders, by the way) with new construction projects--retail below with condos and lofts above. This is unique to the busier main street annexes of most new neighborhoods, with single family homes and four level townhouses generally situated on the quieter side streets--luxury single family homes. The land they're perched on sells for a half-million minimum these days and that's even with a relative down tick in new construction housing starts. Let's just call it upscale, for Real Estate purposes.

Anyway, the commentor posed the question, it a "prerequisite for gentrification to have a Starbucks on every available corner" these days? The commentor is a Realtor from Knoxville where I'm pretty sure whiskey is the beverage of choice (not to imply he isn't a God fearing gentleman or didn't take the 'pledge' as a youth) so I decided to do a little snooping around using the patented Starbucks Locator before I responded to my new southern friend. This is what I found:

* There are 112 Starbucks within 5 miles of my home, that's 40 blocks in city terms. I'm not even sure what a mile exactly is these days but my last car didn't even get 80 blocks to the gallon if that means anything.

* Knoxville has a total of 5 Starbucks--one is on campus and another is apparently in the Hilton.
* All of China has 165 as of this writing but many, many, many more are expected, I hear.

So if the presence of a Starbucks is indeed an indicator, the question really should be "Is Chicago more like Knoxville or Mainland China as far as Development goes?" I don't know. I sort of like Chinese Food and although I've never actually eaten Knoxville Food I have made mention in a previous post about my in-laws from Tennessee and, as much as I love them personally, how I'm not a big fan of any dish that has the word casserole in its title.

I also discovered that the annual income of the average Chinese citizen is around $3,800 so it goes without saying that most stores there do not have condominiums above them. There might not even be condominiums there, period. And at that amount of income, the stores they do have may very well not even serve coffee. Lest I digress much more, I will share with you my initial response to the comment(or) and how I came up with 7 more since the original posting. All of these should prove reasons enough for me to consider moving to a less 'happening' neighborhood or at the very least, try and kick the coffee habit for good--but with a Grande Costa Rican Blend in the cup next to my keyboard I write:

The new requirement, I propose, is that there must be a new Starbucks inside any existing Starbucks-thus creating a Starbucks 'squared' as it were--a Starbucks to the 2nd Power for all you budding String Theorists.

2) No more than three Starbucks on any 4 corner intersection. The sole remaining corner must be reserved as a stroller parking area for the toddling Starbuckonians of the future.

3) A FICO score of at least 620 is required for pre-approval of any Starbucks Coffee Card.(except of course, in China)

4) No predatory lending allowed for any single beverage (coffee, not whiskey) costing more than $7.00 not including tip and tax.

5) The open bottom rack below the glassed-in scone and pastry display of every Starbucks store must be checked three times daily for the E-Coli virus or at the very least Mumps, as all those juice bottles and food items are constantly being handled, touched and licked by the owner/occupants of previously mentioned strollers and perambulators parked on corner 4.

6) At least one Starbucks Manager per 8 hour shift must not be a Vegan.

7) A printed psychological Disclosure, clearly written and posted in a prominent place by the register, is to explain why I should leave a tip for a beverage I had to use an American Express Gold Card to buy and exactly why it is that I feel guilty if I don't. This Disclosure should also direct any interested party to one of the various 'Self-Help' groups already situated in the sofa area of the store at any given time of day.

8) Any neighborhood Starbucks location may not be used as a valid business address for IRS purposes no matter how many hours a day an individual works on a laptop there.

You see, it's a demographic thing. And its really not about Starbucks per se but its customers--myself included. This is who we build for and who I sell to and represent. They are of child bearing age for the most part and although it wasn't the way I was raised, the trend today is to include all family members no matter how young, in day to day events. (They didn't tell us nothin' when I was growing up.) My Broker calls it the 'Suburbanization of Chicago.' Anyway, my kid will be 29 on her next birthday so I wonder why I even care...

And if I have to get in my car and drive to get a cup of coffee then I don't want to live there, either. If I need to access a WiFi signal in the middle of my day then I have 112 choices in the 40 block area that I work in. And what the heck, I use American Express for just about every other thing I buy anyway. And to quote Steve Martin in My Blue Heaven, "...Hey, I'm Italian. I tip everybody." So the answer to the comment is this writer's opinion it is a prerequisite to have a Starbucks in, or at least close to, any new neighborhood Development. I just won't eat anything off that bottom shelf.

image by martin.netwg

Geno Petro

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

An Insider's 'Sidewalk' Guide To Chicago's Lincoln Park--Part 1

This is the first in a continuing series of blog essays focusing on the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. I happen to reside in this historic lakefront community and while a good portion of my real estate business is also conducted here, the purpose of this project is to simply provide an insider's 'sidewalk' perspective of this ever evolving Chicago 'North Side' demographic. Each essay will focus on a specific neighborhood theme. For instance, Lincoln Park has several 'mini-neighborhoods' within its boundries including Lincoln Park West, DePaul and Wrightwood Neighbors to name a few--each unique in its own way and with its own personal story.

The spotlight may shine one week on a particular Theatre district (there are over 200 live venues nightly throughout the city) or perhaps even on this insider's choice of favorite Chicago Blues clubs, cafes and eateries (of which Lincoln Park has dozens!). On your next visit you may find yourself strolling along one of the many neighborhood Garden Walks or even peeking into the closets of a Louis Sullivan Open House or the archives of the DePaul University library. There's an almost endless array of material germane to this historic and hip Chicago neighborhood but economy of time and space dictates that I focus on one small corner at a time. So let me begin with a 'pie slice' area I refer to as...

'North of North'

North Avenue is the southern most boundry of Lincoln Park and contrary to its name, actually runs from east to west away from the lakefront. I define 'North of North' as the several block shopping district originating on North Avenue between Halsted Street and Sheffield Avenue with Clybourn Avenue slicing through both streets on the diagonal, blanketing the adjoining neighborhood areas in a northwest direction to Southport Avenue. It is here you will find the busiest retail shopping district in Near North Chicago outside of Michigan Avenue's renowned Magnificent Mile and just steps to some of the most beautiful and desirable residential streets in the city.

With the likes of Borders Books, Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn as retail 'anchors,' this once industrial annex of the city is now home to over 100 national and local stores--from 'medium box' (Best Buy and Circuit City to name a few), to boutique (Citizen K-9, Kozy's Cycle Shop and Chicago Fly Fishing {believe it or not!} ). Twenty years ago this 'corridor' was home to only scrap yards and steel fabricators. Today, thanks to prudent community efforts and wise Chicago city planning, 'North of North' is, in this writers opinion, an archetype of urban landscape architecture for the millennium.

The housing stock of choice along the actual Clybourn Corridor is a mixture of live/work loft and condominiums above sidewalk level businesses. However, a quick jog down any side street will quickly reveal a blend of turn of the century (1890's) Victorian rowhomes, mulit-million dollar new construction city mansions and renovated single family homes nestled in postcard fashion amongst the hundred year oak trees and gas lamp styled street lights.

Weaving through and along this brick contemporary urban fabric are both the Brown Line and Red Line El tracks, iron bound reminders of a previous Chicago era but a cultural transportation mainstay to this day. Be it a CEO or Administrative Assistant, these Elevated platforms are the early morning destination of choice for speedy downtown commuters after a quick local cafe stop for the prerequisite coffee and bagel 'to go.'

Every eight blocks is a mile in Chicago, a city laid out on a virtual grid by its original planners. Landlocked to the east by Lake Michigan and due to the topography of the shoreline, there are only north, south and west addresses in Lincoln Park. Any dwelling too far eastward would definitely fall into the category of 'House Boat' but if this is where one chooses to hang his hat then 'North of North' is but a few blocks to the west--and as you may have already surmised, we Chicagoans are a very direction-minded lot!

So this concludes our first early winter walk-about of one particular 'corner' of Lincoln Park. The sidewalks are clear and the climate is fair this first week of January, 2007--at least as of this writing. But there is a saying that comes to mind with any discusion of Chicago weather...just wait 10 minutes!

photo by hawthornterrace

posted by geno petro