Skokie and Pullman | The Great Urban-Suburban Swap
We explore Skokie, a suburb that feels like a city, and then flip the equation for Pullman, a Chicago neighborhood that feels like ’burb.
Everybody knows the tropes about city versus suburban living. But sometimes, the exceptions to the “rules” are so numerous, the places in question seem to belong in the other category. After considering issues like demographic diversity, access to rapid transit, and the abundance (or lack) of restaurants, shopping and culture, we found a very citified suburb (beyond the obvious choices of Oak Park and Evanston), and a Chicago neighborhood that’s more like a sleepy ’burb. It’s almost as if Skokie and Pullman swapped identities, Freaky Friday–style.
Most urban ’burb: Skokie
Jackie Infante and her family moved from Andersonville to Skokie four years ago, spurred by the arrival of her second daughter. Initially, she admits, her husband, Alex, was reluctant; a native Chicagoan, he felt very attached to the city. “Alex was very big on staying in the city, specifically because of the [ethnic] diversity,” she says. Since their children are half Cuban and half Irish, neither parent wanted to raise the girls in a homogenous environment. But they both worked in the suburbs, and Skokie checked off a number of categories for them—including its diverse population and proximity to the city. So they took the plunge, and four years later, “it’s worked out as well as I thought it would—or better,” she says.
One of the things that’s improved is the slow but steady economic revival downtown. New businesses keep opening, partly spurred by the CTA’s new Oakton station along the Yellow Line, which serves Skokie. Now the once-neglected downtown district nurtures independent shops and eateries.
“You can see my sign from the El, which is great,” says Andrea Horyn, owner of Bughouse Studio (4845 Oakton St, 847-674-3774), a festive, all-ages artists’ haven that teaches skills from painting to sculpture to working with glass. Her clientele “really is so diverse,” she says. So Bughouse makes a point to celebrate a wide range of holidays, from Hanukkah to Easter to Day of the Dead. Meanwhile, that same racial and religious diversity also fosters a range of food choices. “You’re going to see restaurants here like you would in the city,” Horyn says. “On Oakton Street alone, there’s an Armenian grill, an Afghani restaurant and a Thai restaurant, all within two blocks.”
One of Skokie’s latest additions is Aw Yeah Comics (4933 Oakton St, 847-423-2916), a family-friendly shop co-owned by local comics creator Art Baltazar. His partner, Marc Hammond, moved from Florida for the venture, and they immediately scouted locations in Skokie and Evanston. “We had several criteria,” Hammond says. “I wanted to be near mass transit, and this Yellow Line stop just opened. It’s a five-minute walk, if that, from the station.”
They also wanted to be near schools, and Hammond counts six in the vicinity, plus Oakton Community College. “The more we talked to business owners in the area,” he says, “the more we realized Skokie’s demographic is changing: More families with young kids are moving here. So instead of being a store in Chicago, we figured we’d be the store in Skokie.”
“There’s just something attractive about the downtown Skokie area,” Infante says. That’s where the city hosts events like its Fourth of July parade and Festival of Cultures. Also, she loves spending time with the kids at Sweety Pies (8042 Lincoln Ave, 847-213-0900), a family-owned bakery/café.“They’ve got couches and books, so it’s great to take the kids,” she says. “You can actually drink espresso and your child can read an I Spy book.”
Skokie is also home to the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts (9501 Skokie Blvd, 847-673-6300), a massive, two-theater complex whose programming includes the Youtheatre educational program, as well as an acclaimed resident company, Northlight Theatre. And 2009 brought an impressive new home for the once-tiny Illinois Holocaust Museum (9603 Woods Dr, 847-967-4800). That these institutions thrive here explains why BJ Jones, Northlight’s artistic director, calls Skokie “the United Nations of suburbs.”
Infante, a New York state native, loves Skokie’s “central location,” since she and her husband still travel into the city at least once a month. “We’re right on the border of the city, and you can still take the El train. You don’t have to take the Metra. The city’s important to me; I would’ve stayed in Buffalo if I wanted to live in the suburbs.”