Heartland Cafe, likely the 1970s. Photo from Tom S. on Yelp.
The Heartland Cafe was opened in Rogers Park in 1976 by two activists and has been a vital part of this community ever since. Politicians like Barack Obama spoke and held rallies here, and it is one of the places I know I can eat nourishing vegetarian food without resorting to grilled cheese and French fries. Tom, the owner, also owns Earth First farms in Michigan and supplies the cafe with fresh, wholesome ingredients. It’s a bastion of hippiedom, or what I understand hippie culture to be about.
When the news came through on the Rogers Park Facebook forum about the entire property going up for sale, I felt like the heart of the neighborhood was in jeopardy. It’s up for grabs by some developer — all three parts: the cafe, the Red Line Tap, and Heartland Studio Theatre. Given the recent developments, many of us are concerned about what this means for the neighborhood.
We have had signs of major changes in the neighborhood. A mini-Target is slated to open that, in all fairness, is supposed to be a part of the new development including a few affordable housing units, but required the destruction of CHA Caroline Hedger Apartments’ senior recreation area. In the meantime, senior citizens have had to walk down the street to enjoy a temporary recreation center — many suffer mobility issues and cannot do that. Supposedly a new recreation area is part of the development; however, records show that Caroline Hedger suffers from major, chronic neglect putting senior citizen residents at risk. Adding the recreation center is fine but will any of the money from this development return to the CHA development for major safety improvements?
In addition, the Target, parking garage, and housing were touted as a major coup for the financial health of Rogers Park, but some of us cannot forget that this was built on land owned by the Chicago Housing Authority: public land.
There’s talk on the forum of buying the Heartland Cafe property and turning the business into a co-op, but the property has been on the market for three days now, and given the neighborhood’s up and coming status, it likely won’t remain on the market for long. Without a serious financial backer to support the conversion of the businesses to a co-op, I see this as more of a pipe dream than anything else.
I don’t want to mourn the death of a Rogers Park institution before seeing who ends up purchasing the property and what they do with it, but I have my doubts that whoever buys it will see value in Heartland Cafe’s rich cultural history and its contribution to the artists’ corridor on Glenwood. All around me, rental properties are charging more for one- and two-room units, and I’m worried this once-affordable, beautiful, and diverse neighborhood is on its way out. Please, please prove my prediction to be incorrect!