#121: The Vitamin Vault

February 4th, 2013

Wicker Park and Bucktown in the snow are a lot like the neighborhoods themselves: A bunch of flakes clumped together to create something cold, unwelcoming and predominantly white.

The white thing is just a cheap shot – there are hipsters and rebels of all colors in the neighborhood once known for crime and goats.

But the snowflake analogy rings true. It’s an area made homogenous and same-same by huge masses of things considered unique and individual. You have your pick of indie coffee shops with works from local artists on the wall. Want a quirky bar with a gimmick? There are hundreds of them, from ’80s video games to gourmet tacos.

I like the area. I’ve lived in and around Bucktown and Wicker going back a decade, but even I admit it’s a place to be hip. It’s a place to be 22 in a heap of same-dressed friends, sneering at things that aren’t unique like you are.

I like my little places I used to go — the Map Room when I can get in, Artemio’s Bakery, Myopic Books. But most of the bars always were too hip for me, even when I was that age.

And the snowstorm individuality that clumps all the flakes is so goddamn corporate.

We all know the story. It happens every day in cities around the world. A place is cheap and crappy. Broke-ass artists, musicians and outsiders move in. The poor working families who have been there for years watch their home become cool. Moneybags developers watch too. They know there’s money in cool.

There’s not money in poor working families. There’s not even money in broke-ass artists, musicians and outsiders. There’s just money in their cool.

Then, the cops start busting up your parties. Then, health inspectors who haven’t shown up in years become really concerned about your food. Then, aldermen start talking about new businesses and growth and welcoming in their new corporate partners.

And the artists, musicians and outsiders find themselves as homeless as they made the poor working families. The outsiders find a new neighborhood to make cool. The poor working families? I don’t know what happens to them. But there are $3 whisky shots and 50-cent wings at Cans tonight, so that’s pretty badass.

Gentrification is a bitch.

So it strikes me as sad, funny and sort of cool that the new hot spot in the area is a drug store right on the Wicker Park/Bucktown border.

The Walgreens in the old Noel State Bank at the six corners of Milwaukee, North and Damen is almost a practical joke it’s so big. Three stories of drug store, from the make-up department up top to the vitamin section down in what was the bank’s vault.

It really was the bank vault. The massive bank vault door is still there, just like how they look in a heist by The Riddler. One side of the vault is vitamins; multi- and otherwise. The other side is the little safe deposit box doors, cracked opened and soldered in position to make a textured wall.

Historical artifacts run all along the north wall of the basement, even beyond the vault. Old blueprints of the Noel Bank security locks. Architects’ original renderings of some of the ornaments and design quirks. Old medicine bottles and a few old mortars and pestles from when Walgreens pharmacists would grind their own.

I had come in to grind my teeth and curse the place in this story you’re reading now, but I found the history section a little touching. The hot new Walgreens flocked with looky-loos at least gave a nod to what this place once was, where the equally corporate hipness outside glowered.

It was funny and sad. I can’t say it better than that. So I bought some new earmuffs and a hat to bundle up for the snowstorm outside.

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