Armadillos, marshmallows and artists: an afternoon in Rogers Park


Maia Spoto/The Daily Northwestern

Photos from Rogers Park. The area boasts a wide variety of restaurants, shops and art displays.

Maia Spoto, Assistant City Editor

For $2.50 and 18 minutes on the ‘L,’ Evanston residents can spend an afternoon wandering the tree-lined streets of Rogers Park, Northwestern’s closest Chicago neighborhood and the home of Loyola University Chicago.

A few blocks north of the Loyola CTA station is a used bookstore called The Armadillo’s Pillow. Hand-painted signs and neon lettering beckon from the storefront, and a shelf of novels that boasts “one book one buck” deals nestles beneath an alcove.

Inside, stars and cozy lights dangle from a sloping roof. Where books don’t stack from the floor to the ceiling, a medley of art, plants and vintage items hug the walls. Betsey Boemmel co-owns the over-25-year-old shop with her partner Matt Ebert.

The bookstore takes its name from the John Irving novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” In the story, a group of children trade a stuffed armadillo back and forth between each other.

“It’s a symbol of friendship and reciprocity,” Boemmel said. “I like the idea that (in The Armadillo’s Pillow) these are books somebody has already loved.”

She said The Armadillo’s Pillow draws a diverse audience, attracting Rogers Park residents as well as students from both Loyola and Northwestern. She added that local bookstores garner enthusiasm and loyalty, and The Armadillo’s Pillow carries on a beloved tradition of “Chicago bookishness.”

Maia Spoto/The Daily Northwestern
The Armadillo’s Pillow Storefront. In addition to used books, the store also sells art and other vintage items.

If reading makes you hungry, Boemmel praised Rogers Park’s restaurant scene, which she said spans the globe. The nearby Devon Avenue hosts businesses that serve dishes from India, Pakistan, Iraq and Russia. In addition, dishes like tapas, kebabs, bubble tea and sushi all can be found at the intersection of Sheridan Road and Pratt Boulevard.

Fewer than three blocks north of that intersection lies XO Marshmallow. Lindzi Shanks and Kat Connor founded and co-own the shop, which transitioned from an online store into a brick-and-mortar in 2017 and is Chicago’s first-ever marshmallow cafe.

Bloggers frequent the dreamlike store, whose bubble-gum and mint tones pop against an instagrammable pillowy interior. “I love you s’more,” proclaims the neon cursive sign above the register.

Maia Spoto/The Daily Northwestern
XO Marshmallow’s display. Lindzi Shanks and Kat Connor founded and co-own the shop.

“We say XO Marshmallow is about living your sweet life,” Shanks said. “That’s not just about the sugary treats we provide. That’s also about the feeling you get when you come through the door, that you are smiling and happy.”

Alongside 13 flavors of the classic marshmallow, the shop sells rose gold rosé marshmallows (with an edible gold coating), CBD marshmallows, toasted marshmallow lattes, cookie dough cups and pints of marshmallow fluff called “Ooey Marshmallow Goodness.” All of its products are homemade and hand-packaged, and its peanut-free kitchen a few doors down uses exclusively kosher gelatin to craft the marshmallows.

However, Shanks said her typical customer comes to XO Marshmallow with more than tasty treats in mind.

“She wants to come in to have an experience,” Shanks said. “To feel the mission behind the brand, know that she’s supporting women-owned (businesses), know that she’s supporting small (businesses). She cares more about where her dollar goes … when you support a small business, your dollars impact the community at a much larger rate than another kind of company.”

After boosting your blood sugar, turn left on Sheridan Road, right on Morse Avenue and left on Glenwood Avenue to reach the Rogers Park Art Gallery, 6902 N. Glenwood Ave.

Eileen Burns, an artist who specializes in wreaths, nature paintings and hand-painted greeting cards, has run the gallery for the past five years.

“I opened it, intentionally, to give artists an opportunity,” she said. “Because I was an artist, even in high school, so I know what it’s like. I never even thought I could be in a gallery.”

From July to December, the gallery exhibits a show featuring 15 to 20 artists. For the rest of the year, Burns rents out studio space weekly, giving each artist free rein over the gallery. She said the rotating artists hold their own shows, conduct open houses and teach art classes in her space.

Burns has a background in business management, and she said her approach to running Rogers Park Art Gallery is decidedly “not corporate.” She said the gallery does not charge its participant artists a lot of money to show their work. Instead, she asks her artists to come work in the gallery for six hours each month.

“It’s good for them to be around the customers and interact,” she said. “People love to buy from the artists.”

Maia Spoto/The Daily Northwestern
The Glenwood Sculpture Garden, 6900 N. Glenwood Ave. Eileen Burns, the owner of Rogers Park Art Gallery, maintains the garden.

Burns also maintains the Glenwood Sculpture Garden, 6900 N. Glenwood Ave, just outside of her gallery. Repurposed construction materials comprise its “found art” sculptures, which the late Andy DeLaRosa built.

As the sun sets, take a stroll down the neighborhood’s vibrant and surreal “Mile of Murals” on your way to the Morse CTA station. While the train carries you north, watch the modernist architecture shrink away and observe the intricate patterns chiseled into the neighborhood’s facades.

In Rogers Park, art is everywhere.

Maia Spoto/The Daily Northwestern
A few yards of the Mile of Murals. The public art project stretches along the CTA Red Line track.

Julia Richardson contributed reporting.

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