What makes a neighborhood work? Is it the people? The history and culture? Diversity? Or perhaps its status as a destination?

Post the question to any number of proprietors who keep shop on the 5000 blocks of North Clark Street, and oddly, their answers are more or less identical: When a neighborhood feels like a small town, it's working.

They should know. They're speaking on behalf of Andersonville, the North Side neighborhood that started as a modest Scandinavian settlement after the Great Fire of 1871 and boomed in the early 20th century to boast the largest concentration of Swedes this side of Stockholm.

Like so many developments, the initial draw was location, location, location — in this case, a farming area far enough from downtown's post-fire regulations against building wooden houses. The Swedes knew how to work and live off the land, and the more who settled in that stretch a few miles north of downtown, the more attractive it was for others to immigrate.

These days, Andersonville draws in part for its residual Scandinavian heritage (there are little clues everywhere, from the decoratively painted wooden dala horse to a Swedish flag welded from neon), but mostly because of that small-town aura that it has managed to maintain.

For the folks who live and work there, such as Simon's Tavern owner Scott Martin, it's got the requisite perks.

"An old man a long time ago said, 'What makes a good neighborhood?'" Martin says. "He named all of these things: a church, a bakery, a butcher shop, a good bar. I think (Andersonville) has all of the old-fashioned neighborhood features in it. You don't have to drive anywhere; you can walk and find everything. I think there's a really big cooperation among everyone who works and lives there too."

Martin, like so many retail and service providers in the neighborhood, lives within spitting distance of his work. He resides six storefronts up the street from Simon's, above Svea, his parents' restaurant. He was raised a few miles away, in a house at Roscoe and Paulina streets, "the house my mom grew up in," he says.

So that's the bar.

There's a bakery, too, if we're following the old man's list. Aptly named Swedish Bakery, it opened in the late 1920s, predating Simon's by a few years while the prohibition of alcohol was sorting out a repeal.

Like Martin, Swedish Bakery operations officer Dennis Stanton is a proud member of a family-run business. His German mother, trained in Europe as a baker and decorator, has been running the show since she purchased the bakery from its original Swedish owners in the 1970s. Stanton's brother aids in decorating, his sister handles sales, and a staff of 45 supports the demand for all those sweets.

Stop in Swedish Bakery on any given morning, and there's a line so long you're required to take a number. And people wait. There's a Jewel grocery store up the street, but people wait.

"We change, the neighborhood changes," Stanton says, addressing how the bakery has survived Andersonville's fairly recent boom — and boomed with it. "We basically draw from the neighborhood, but also from all over the North Side of the city. Only about 20 percent (of our customers) come from our ZIP code. People travel here to shop here."

Sometimes it's just once a year, for the holidays. Bill Brown and Grete Kvelland make the annual trek from Forest Park to the bakery for its limpa (traditional Swedish rye bread) — even though Kvelland is Norwegian.

"There are less Scandinavian stores than there used to be," she laments, pausing outside Erickson's Delicatessen, the couple's other pit stop. Still, they make the trip: If you want Scandinavian goodies, this is the place.

Others continue to visit long after they've moved — sometimes to other states. Bobby Kokott, 47, hasn't lived in Andersonville since 2001, but returns seven or eight times a year to maintain clientele relationships via his massage therapy practice. "This is my neighborhood," he said earlier this week, window-shopping the new releases at Women and Children First bookstore. "I love that I can go in a shop and still see people I know. I love that I still run into people (I know) on the street. I don't know why I love it here so much. I just do."

Another Andersonville anomaly: Its residents buy art. Regularly, repeatedly, from the same artists.

Michelle Peterson-Albandoz has run Las Manos Gallery since 1994, before the neighborhood's emergence as a furniture and design destination.

She says the gallery is "off the grid," in terms of being out of reach from gallery-centric 'hoods like River North, West Loop, Pilsen and Bridgeport.