Businesses taken to ‘El-evated’ heights

By Will Hager

With more than half a million rail-riders daily, the Chicago Transit Authority is seeking to attract businesses to set up shop in its station storefronts to entice

commuting customers.

As a part of an $86 million initiative to rehabilitate six Red Line stations, the CTA began marketing renovated retail spaces at the Argyle, Granville and Morse stops on Jan. 16. The three renovated stops account for 10 of the 20 available storefront spaces across all lines except the Yellow Line, according to

Jones Lang LaSalle, the CTA’s real estate management company, is accepting applications through Feb. 15 from businesses seeking to fill vacancies.

Lambrini Lukidis, a CTA media spokeswoman, said the transit authority is looking to diversify its storefronts in an effort to appeal to a wide variety of patrons.

“We do take into consideration the kind of business and the types of things they offer our customers because we do want to be able to

offer a variety of things,” Lukidis said. “We have a very diverse customer base, so we like to try to offer new and fresh items for

our customers.”

Lukidis said the CTA partnered with Jones Lang LaSalle in 2008 in hopes of filling all available storefronts and creating a thriving market for CTA customers. She said the CTA is excited about expanding the number of services customers can access during their commute.

Of the CTA’s 79 occupied storefronts, 44 of them are locally-owned businesses, according to Lukidis.

“Overall, we are really happy with the level of interest and growth that we’ve seen in the retail spaces,” Lukidis said. “We obviously welcome chains as well because they serve a large group of our customers, but it’s nice to see that we are spurring economic growth with locally-owned businesses.”

Butterfield Kitchen, an organic and gourmet foods cafe, is one of the most recent businesses to acquire CTA retail space. The Wilmette, Ill.-based company is opening two locations: one at the Roosevelt

station at 1167 State St., serving Orange, Green and Red lines, and the other at the Jefferson Park Blue Line station, 4963 N.

Milwaukee Ave.

Each Butterfield Kitchen

storefront has a full kitchen and uses electric cooking equipment in compliance with CTA regulations. Paul Turner, director of marketing for the restaurant, said he expects the cafe’s first retail locations will enhance the

CTA’s ambience.

“It’s going to create a nice atmosphere, not only viscerally with our color scheme and making the station a little nicer and brighter, but the smells will be overwhelming because we are making things right there,” Turner said.

Butterfield Kitchen will occupy two of more than 80 already occupied CTA retail spaces.

Brian Nadig, chairman of the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce, said the arrival of Butterfield Kitchen and other businesses is good for the well-being of the

Jefferson Park neighborhood.

“I think it will help bring more recognition to the terminal,” Nadig said. “I hope it can jump-start other revitalization. We have a lot of empty land and storefronts in the Jefferson Park business district, and any time we can get a nice new business, it is more than welcome.”

Running a business from a CTA terminal does present problems, according to Pam Jacob, manager of Chicago Kernel, which currently occupies a two-person stand underground at a Chicago Red Line station. Jacob said being isolated from other businesses and pedestrian foot traffic has led to

security issues.

“You can get some scary people down there bothering you,”

she said.

Jacob said she had to schedule multiple workers per shift to prevent employees from being


Chicago Kernel generates the majority of revenue from its primary location on State Street, Jacob said, adding that she could not imagine running her business solely out of the CTA.

“I would not open a business down there if that was my only location,” she said. “We’re lucky that we have another location that is a main hub, and this is sort of an offshoot location. As somebody’s main business, I don’t see how they would be able to survive.”

Dat Donut is another local business that recently acquired a CTA storefront, installing its third South Side location at the 95th Street Red Line station. The lease, which was approved in December, is estimated to generate $674,000 for the CTA during the 10-year contract, according to a Dec. 11 CTA

press release.

The influx of locally-owned businesses could be a result of the recovering economy, according to Kevin O’Neil, the blogger behind ChicagoNow’s CTA tattler.

“Maybe it is a sign that the economy is improving, and you don’t need the backing of a major national franchise or a national corporation for a business to survive,” O’Neil said. “So you could have a local guy with his shiny business plan and a few thousand dollars, maybe you can make it.”