Chicago’s lost Polish Stores

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3067-69 N. Milwaukee Avenue – July 2008

POLSKI SKLEP, read the painted signs – red letters on white painted brick, surrounded by a riot of merchandise ads that covered every inch of the plain Chicago storefront building on Milwaukee Avenue, turning it into a giant undisciplined Polish flag. This stretch of road through the Avondale neighborhood was one of Chicago’s predominant Polish neighborhoods for many decades, nowhere more visibly than in the two storefronts of the Polish Store Chicago, “Little Poland’s Dollar Plus Store”.

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3331 N. Pulaski Avenue, a wood frame house with a brick storefront addition  – March 2008

A modern, local, low-rent version of a five-and-dime, the stores were crammed with all sorts of merchandise, from knickknacks and everyday needs to pots and pans,  housewares and bedding, as well as Polish-specific goods including CD and tapes, flags, stickers, and other patriotic goods. Cigarettes, lottery tickets, video rentals, power converters, phone cards, key cutting – all for sale in one stop!  Tucked in there somewhere was an employment agency as well. And a cookware sales point.

Advertising was equally unsubtle, spreading to sidewalk signs, vehicles, and the building’s party wall.

 

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September 2015 – closed.

Having been open since at least the 1980s, they’ve both closed recently, seemingly in 2012 – victims of the times as the Polish population has drifted westward into the suburbs. The larger store’s signage has been painted over as a more commonplace mattress outlet has taken over the space. A mile north, the smaller Polish Store yet remains, empty and waiting for a new tenant.

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