Heartland Cafe, Target, and the Future of Rogers Park

Heartland Cafe
Heartland Cafe, likely the 1970s. Photo by David Libman.

The Heartland Cafe was opened in Rogers Park in 1978 by three 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!

7 thoughts on “Heartland Cafe, Target, and the Future of Rogers Park

  1. I ran into Katie Hogan last week and she made an elliptical comment about being concerned regarding the Heartland. I just assumed that meant the “new” owner still owed Hogan & James money, but now I know. Thanks for the news. The No Exit is history now and if the neighborhood lost the Heartland, that would make Rogers Park a very different place, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of something about as good. Hogan was pretty upbeat about the business replacing No Exit.

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    1. I do think we are seeing a lot of changes that are making the neighborhood less distinctive and less affordable. I lived in Logan Square twelve years ago when you used to be able to buy a cup of good Cuban coffee, great Puerto Rican food, and homemade huitlacoche tamales right on Milwaukee Avenue and now? Those places have been replaced by expensive glass-fronted condos. I’m not saying that we will end up like Logan Square, but I have noticed that rents have been going up and up.

      Tomorrow at 11 Network 49 Housing/Community Development Committee is holding a meeting at South of the Border, and apparently the idea of turning the Heartland into a cooperative is an item open for discussion.

      Thank you for reading and giving a spot of good news about what is replacing No Exit.

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  2. The photo used in your article is by me, David Libman. It is available in the Heartland Gallery on Michaelgaylordjames.com.
    The restaurant was founded by three people, not two. Stormy Libman, Michael James and Katy Hogan. Stormy moved on in 1978, two years after it opened.
    Harold Washington was another well known politician who had a rally at the Heartland. FYI, A photo history of the Heartland is I’m the works.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. David, thank you so much for responding and letting me know about my errors in attribution and information! I can’t wait to see the photo history. Out of curiosity, what is your involvement with the restaurant?

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