A Hub of Eccentricity

The Wicker Park Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago is the trendy hotspot for art and culture amidst the concrete jungle that is the Windy City.

At the Heart of Chicago, Illinois, just a 33-minute bus ride north along Damen St., you’ll find yourself in a gritty and eclectic Chicago neighborhood lined with brick buildings, art installations, as well as retail and dining options galore. Wicker Park and its northern neighbor Bucktown—fondly referred to by their couple name, Wicker Park Bucktown—is a neighborhood off the beaten concrete path that celebrates the areas’ firmly rooted arts and culture scene.

From ample dining options along Division St., to the trendiest boutiques along Armitage Ave., Wicker Park Bucktown is a desirable locality, attracting locals and tourists alike. 

“Artistry is at the core of everything here,” says Luke Scaletta, the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce and Special Service Area 33.

Simple Origins

In the early 1900s, the Wicker Park Bucktown neighborhood was largely occupied by Ukrainian and Polish immigrants and families. The area was starkly different from its neighboring communities, sporting a more rural atmosphere than its urban neighbors. In fact, Bucktown got its name due to the excessive bleats heard from the goats—particularly male buck goats—Polish immigrants housed in the area.

In the ‘70s, Wicker Park Bucktown saw an influx of Latinx residents, making it a Chicago neighborhood with one of the largest Puerto Rican populations at the time. Immigrants were coming in at a rapid pace around this time, enriching the neighborhood with culture and liveliness despite systemic oppression. From this came organizations such as Young Lords, a Puerto Rican civil-rights activist group that advocated for equal access.

Then in the ‘80s, the neighborhood saw an increase in Bohemian artists. This is when Wicker Park Bucktown established its artistic infrastructure. Artists from all mediums saw the neighborhood as an affordable area in Chicago to kick start their careers. In subsequent years, the neighborhood continued to mold itself into an eccentric hub of art and culture with a number of studio spaces, galleries, and music venues.

Today, there are hundreds of businesses that operate out of Wicker Park Bucktown. Many of them have been there for ages. The Chamber recognizes long-standing businesses that have been operating for over 15 years through their Legacy Business Recognition Program. There are even some in the area that have been there for over 100 years, such as Rite Liquors, a liquor lounge which opened in 1920. This legacy business can be found tucked away near the corner of Division St. and Ashland Ave.

“There’s something about this neighborhood that keeps them here,” Scaletta says.

Behind the Scenes

The neighborhood is overseen by the nonprofit Chamber, as well as the Special Service Area (SSA) program that is unique to Chicago. The Department of Planning and Development manages all of the SSA’s throughout the city, allocating a budget specifically for these areas to operate under. Businesses in these areas also pay a small additional tax, which goes into their SSA budget to support their efforts. There are over 70 SSA’s throughout Chicago, determined by geographical divisions.

“[Wicker Park Bucktown’s SSA] is 14 miles of sidewalk,” Scaletta says. “The northernmost point being Fullerton [Avenue], and the southernmost point being Division [Street], the easternmost point being Ashland [Avenue], and the westernmost point being Western [Avenue].

The Chamber and the SSA work closely to bring the neighborhood together through a variety of programming efforts, such as business and Chamber member mixers and progressive dinner crawls. Each event is aimed to generate excitement for the area, while also supporting residents and businesses in any way they can. 

“Our role is to just facilitate those connections,” says Maricruz Sauer, the Events and Membership Coordinator for the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber. “And make sure that they have every single avenue possible to be able to make friendships and feel like they belong more in the neighborhood.”

The Chamber puts on mixers each month for members and businesses to connect and network with one another. The popularity and attendance of these mixers are high and continue to grow. Sauer recalls the March mixer having over 100 registrants. 

“When you’re a member, you go for free and you could bring people with you,” Sauer says. “So it’s a really great way to stay in touch with other business owners, but as well as bring people in, so there’s much more of a connection being made.”

Additionally, the Chamber holds other events for the general public, such as Patio Palooza, a patio crawl along Division St, which is widely known in the area for its abundant and diverse dining choices. But their biggest event of the year is Wicker Park Fest, an annual three-day music festival at the end of the summer. It takes an entire year to plan and organize, booking over 40 up-and-coming bands and performers from around the country and within Chicago, securing local vendors, and handling production logistics in-house. This year, the Chamber is celebrating the event’s 20th anniversary and are hoping to secure more musical acts for the occasion. 

“There’s been several times where I’ve been watching TV or looking at a lineup and heard a name at the Grammys or something, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, they were on stage. We know who they are!’” Sauer says.

The Value of Variety

Much of the appeal of this particular Chicago neighborhood is the sheer diversity found within it from the residents and visitors to types of services and opportunities offered. Wicker Park Bucktown is chalked full of retail and dining options, art, and unique services that cannot be found anywhere else.
Mojo Spa has been in the neighborhood for 20 years. It offers specialized spa services and products for customers. That means owner Amanda Kezios tailors the spa’s products to each customer in order to empower their sense of self and foster individuality.

“I just wanted people to feel comfortable regardless of anything and have a place where they can have a good experience,” Kezios says. “That’s been the biggest ethos…of the brand.”

It’s also what makes the unique spa and beauty experience a perfect fit for Wicker Park Bucktown. “There’s something for everybody where I think in other neighborhoods, you don’t see that kind of diversity,” Kezios says.

Similarly, Chris Jackson is the co-owner of Jackson Junge Gallery, which is celebrating their first official legacy year having been in Wicker Park Bucktown for 15 years. His wife Laura is a Chicago-based artist. Originally they sold Laura’s work on the street and at various art fairs around the country. Eventually, they decided to ground themselves. They fell in love with a space in Wicker Park and were drawn to the general appeal of the neighborhood. Together, they created the gallery to showcase her work and provide a platform for the work of other up-and-coming Chicago artists.

“Artists were definitely getting pushed out with the higher rents and as the gentrification was kind of taking a foothold,” Jackson says. “We thought we would kind of help keep the arts alive, so to speak, and just felt it was just a natural fit.” 

The energy of this neighborhood has resonated soundly with Jackson, which is why he and his wife have stuck around. There’s ample variety among the types of stores, restaurants, and visitors that get people excited and motivated to choose this neighborhood to live, shop, and play. 

“I feel blessed,” Jackson says. “It’s mostly small business owners up and down the streets and we all talk to each other. We help each other out.”

The internal relationships that exist between businesses—as well as the Chamber—has played a vital role in the success of this neighborhood. Businesses support one another, and the chamber supports the businesses. 

“The Chamber does so many different types of events to involve the community,” Kezios says. “They’re thinking of such great, creative ways that I feel we are very lucky to have as a neighborhood.”

The beauty of small businesses and shopping local is the humanity and interpersonality that comes with it, which is the essence of Wicker Park Bucktown. And adding that layer of assistance and care from the Chamber creates a true community in which businesses and residents are proud to be a part of. 

“The Chamber does so many different types of events to involve the community,” Kezios says. “They’re thinking of such great, creative ways that I feel we are very lucky to have as a neighborhood.”

“If people are willing to come in and give it a try,” Sauer says. “I think they fall in love and don’t go much further.”


  • Delaney Borja

    What an honor it is to be the Editor-in-Chief for Urban Plains. My background is in strategic communication through both written and visual content. Even from a young age, I’ve always had a knack for making meaningful connections with others and being a natural born leader. And my professional experiences through internships and coursework has allowed me to integrate these innate skills into my own practice. I am humbled to work alongside such incredible minds, and I am proud to be part of the robust and talented team that is Urban Plains.

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