Howard Street offers too little for the long trek

Annie Martin

I tried to keep an open mind when I visited the Howard Street area on Saturday afternoon. The neighborhood is reputed to be a high-crime area and a friend told me to be “really careful” when I told her where I was going. One of the store employees I talked to even warned me that the area could be seedy, and another told me that the neighborhood had little to offer college students.

I found both to be true, and despite the fact the buildings appear fairly new and there were plenty of motorists on the street, there weren’t many people walking around. For the most part, Howard Street doesn’t have much appeal for a student.

The street does offer many services and stores. I passed many nail salons, beauty parlors, realtors, video rentals, pawnshops and dollar stores. However, most of these places could be found without a ride on the El, and they probably wouldn’t be enough to draw many people to the area.

There were a couple of grocery stores, a Payless Shoe Source and a Marshall’s in one strip mall, but Jewel and Whole Foods are much more accessible to campus. As much as I enjoy bargain-shopping, I wouldn’t come out just to buy a pair of shoes or look at clothes.

There’s also an abundance of fast-food restaurants. Just about anything you can name is on Howard Street (and then some). I looked for some more upscale or unique dining options but I found mostly chains.

One interesting shop I found was Apple the Second, 745 Howard St., which carried slightly pricey but unique clothes and accessories. I liked the jeans with intricate stitching and a “worn” look but I thought $65 was a little too much. They also had some cute dresses, both formal and more casual. However, I found Apple the Second was definitely the exception rather than the rule on Howard Street as most of the rest of the offerings tended to be either chains or not likely to draw a Northwestern student all the way south.

When I talked with Ha Vuong, an employee at Amazing Nails and Spa, 335 Howard St., he pointed out that the area was in a “very convenient location.” There are lots of transportation options and it’s just west of the El stop. Plus, he added, the beach is just a 5-minute walk away from the stores. Unfortunately, he also said crime continued to be a problem.

Andralena Horton, an employee at Buffalo Joe’s, said the area hasn’t really changed much since she started working there a year ago. She said it had “nothing really” to attract college students except for the beach.

I was by myself when I visited, but it was the middle of the afternoon so I thought I’d be fine. I never felt threatened or in danger while I was walking.

But if I were to go there again, I probably wouldn’t go alone. That said, I don’t think I’d return to the area again unless I had a very specific reason to be there – Howard Street really doesn’t have much to offer a college student, and I didn’t find anything that couldn’t be found closer to campus.

However, a new 221-unit apartment complex planned by Bristol Chicago Development, LLC. is in the works, and that could help the crime problem and offer a convenient location for residents.

Reach Annie Martin at [email protected]