The bicycles and garden boxes that sit in the Columbia-owned lot at the corner of South Wabash Avenue and East Eighth Street have a new roommate, and his name is Bob.
Bob’s Christmas Trees has set up shop in Columbia Papermakers’ Garden and bike lot and will be open until Dec. 24. After being forced to relocate from the lot on the corner of Dearborn and Polk streets, co-owner Bob Levy was desperate to find a new home in the South Loop. When he noticed the Papermakers’ Garden while scouting for a new location, Levy approached the college’s Operations Coordinator Joanne Harding about moving his business there.
“Columbia had made the decision to have the Christmas tree lot because the garden has literally been put to bed with bulbs for the end of the season,” said Melissa Potter, an assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary Arts Department and adviser to Pulp Ink & Thread, Columbia’s interdisciplinary book and paper arts organization.
Bob’s was displaced when the owner of its former lot was foreclosed on earlier this year, and the bank refused to let them stay another season, said James Miranda, a Bob’s salesclerk. Levy liked the Wabash and Eighth Street site because it is already fenced in, Miranda said.
Harding said she eventually agreed to let Bob’s have space on the lot but only after consulting with students involved with the garden.
“The only request students had was they didn’t want Bob’s using the actual flowerbeds to place trees,” Harding said.
However, Potter said the Center for Book & Paper Arts was not directly consulted about Levy’s use of the space and is concerned the garden won’t be as visible. She said she learned about the new occupant when her husband called her as he passed Bob’s operation.
Harding said that Gethsemane Garden Center on the North Side, which Levy co-founded, has offered assistance with maintaining the garden plants in the spring as a way to strengthen the relationship between the college and Bob’s.
Miranda said he was aware of the lot’s primary purpose and that Bob’s is being careful not to bother the planters.
“We’re trying to go ahead and put our best foot forward and meet the college’s expectations as well as those of the neighborhood,” said Gary Fidanzia, a co-owner of Bob’s.
Potter said she does not believe there are plans to use revenue from Levy’s lease on the lot for the garden or the college’s green initiative. The college has not commented on where that revenue will go.
“I realize that the space is very valuable property and that the school needs and wants to create revenues,” Potter said. “We just need to be smart about how we do that so that in the end the garden is most prominent and not the business.”
While Bob’s continues adjusting to its new location, the Center for Book & Paper Arts will meet with Campus Environment Dec. 14 to talk about related concerns and new ideas, Potter said. She said she wants to maintain the garden’s visibility and expressed interest in keeping Bob’s enclosure on the lot for classes that use the Papermakers’ Garden.
“We [could’ve] partnered earlier with Bob’s Christmas Trees to create signage in the front that spoke about their corporate investment in the project,” Potter said. “As we’re moving faster, we’re just getting smarter and better at discussions with other shareholders and investors.”