Community Profile: Chicago
Galewood a convenient, close-knit Chicago neighborhood
Owner Richard Eberle shows off a finished cake at Reuter's Bakery, 7177 W. Grand. (Andrew A. Nelles for the Chicago Tribune / February 5, 2010)
Soon bakery owner Richard Eberle, whose family bought Reuter's in 1967 when the Galewood institution was 40 years old, pops in to shake hands with Sposato. Talk turns from the feast of Valentine's pastries to other things: the expansion of a store down the block, the long-awaited razing of old buildings across the street, and the steel-trap memories of the ladies bagging goodies for bakery patrons. "Workers here know all the regulars," Eberle says with a laugh.
"They know their orders before they even walk through the door."
This kind of scene, repeated umpteen times a day throughout Galewood, speaks volumes about the Chicago neighborhood that sprawls northeastward from the corner of North and Harlem Avenues. This is a place where old-fashioned values of hard work, thrift, loyalty and friendliness have never fallen from fashion.
Few know that better than Sposato, himself a fixture in the community. The 51-year-old Chicago firefighter grew up across Grand Avenue in the Mont Clare neighborhood, and purchased his frame bungalow here 27 summers ago. In the years since, the man some regard as "Mr. Galewood" has gotten acquainted with just about every resident and business in his neighborhood.
"I always loved the community," he said. "Everybody knew everybody. You played sports with them, hung around with them. It's always been just a good, solid, hard-working community. ... If you grew up around here and didn't have a job by the time you were 16, you were a loser."
Frank Sorrentino had no interest in that tag, so at age 13 he started shining shoes in the shoe repair shop his uncle founded in 1938. In 1975, he bought the shop, Mont Clare Shoe Repair & Cleaners on Grand Avenue in Galewood. He still holds court daily inside the narrow store whose air is thick with aromas of leather, shoe polish and glue. "I like the people," he said of Galewood. "They're all different. People know me; I feel like I'm home here."
Theresa Claps, owner with husband Vincenzo of Domino's Pastries on Harlem Avenue where wedding cakes are the specialty and the tagline is "Deliciously Yours," echoes that sentiment. "It's a friendly neighborhood, like old home week," she said, adding, "We're here since May 12, 1952."
If Galewood seems a bit unaltered you'll get no argument from John Scorza, or Joe and Vic Bomprezzi, who own Grand Avenue's International Meat Co., supplier of sausages, steaks and burgers to local restaurants. They have been around as long as Domino's has. "This is where we've been since 1952," Scorza said. "We all grew up here; we've had the same people for years."
Actually, Galewood has undergone something of a metamorphosis over the last couple decades. The community's Italian heritage is still evident in the surnames of many residents, and in such businesses such as Serrelli's Finer Foods on North Avenue and Amato's Pizzeria on Harlem. It continues to be heavily Italian, but today it is home to more African-Americans and Latinos than before.
"That started about 20 years ago," Sposato said, adding that the newcomers displayed the same time-honored traits Galewood residents have always shown. "The people who moved in were decent, hard-working people," he said.
Galewood is known for being a relatively low-crime neighborhood. "A lot of city workers, police and firemen and teachers, live in this community," Sposato said. "I feel it's a safe community. People know each other and look out for each other."
It's easy to understand anyone being attracted to the housing stock, which is noteworthy for its architectural variety. As Sposato drives down streets like Oak Park, Sayre and Rutherford Avenues, he ticks off the home styles: standard bungalows, octagonal bungalows, Tudors, ranches and Georgians, featuring different-colored brick facades. There are also a few two-story frames.
"Some of the architecture around here is unbelievable," he added.
That's a point oft cited by Gabe Caporale, owner of ERA Caporale Realty Inc. in adjacent Elmwood Park, who launched his career in 1971 at Galewood's long-shuttered DeMoon Realty. It's not just the homes, but the lots, many 175 rather than the usual 125 feet deep, that bring folks to Galewood, he said.
The lower taxes are also a lure. "A lot of people don't want to pay the higher real estate taxes, they don't want to live in Oak Park, so they buy in Galewood," he said. "You get a lot of house for the money in Galewood."
Some of the homes boast stained glass and other detailing seldom seen anymore, said Luiggy Zorzano, for 16 years the manager of Galewood florist Flowers of Paradise, whose boss is a long-time Galewood resident. "I love the wood, the carvings on the doors," he said.
In addition to the neat blocks of well-tended homes and yards, Galewood offers other enticements. Asked what she likes about her community, five-year resident Deborah Krzysczak, speaks for many in the neighborhood in trumpeting the convenient commuter train service to the Loop.
"The Metra," she exulted. "I love the Metra. I don't need a car anymore."
Then there are the distinctive eateries and stores in and near Galewood. Just steps west of its southwest corner is the legendary Italian beef stand, Johnnie's Beef.
Opening this month on a site formerly occupied by Circuit City across Galewood's Grand and Harlem Avenue border is a $7 million expansion of 52-year-old Angelo Caputo's Fresh Markets, a produce store best known simply as Caputo's. "You're like this going through there," Sposato says, scrunching his shoulders as if ferreting into a tunnel. "People come from all over to go there."
At Galewood's own favorite hangouts, everyone really does seem to know each others' names. They include Harlem Avenue eateries Maria's Mexican Restaurant and Amato's Pizza. Santo Gariti, partner with his brother Mario in Amato's, says, "Galewood has been good to us. The people are loyal."
Still, Sposato and Eberle would like to see a return to the old days when Grand, Harlem and North Avenues bustled with greater commercial vitality.
"The hope for revival is seen across the street in long-overdue demolition of blighted buildings," Eberle said, motioning across Grand at a newly-cleared lot. He added that this and the Caputo's expansion are "big positives for a retail store like ours, that a slow gentrification could be brought to the area."
Many, however, love Galewood just as it is. Said Randy Braglia, owner with wife Maria of Maria's Mexican Restaurant, "It's a great neighborhood."