It is this blog’s stated goal to “chronicle the urban development of downtown Chicago.” That necessitates a lot of stories about the redevelopment of the Cabrini Green neighborhood. But what makes a neighborhood aren’t the developers and architects and engineers and construction workers. It’s the people.
Recently a demolition permit was issued for the unremarkable one-story brick building at 1012 North Larrabee Street. You’ve probably never seen the building, even if you live or work near it. And you’ve probably never heard of the man who once owned it. And that’s an oversight we hope to correct here.
The building was the home to Munchie’s, one of a duo of convenience stores owned by a man named Ollie. An immigrant from Jordan, he was best described in a pair of Chicago Tribune articles:
When I went into the hospital, he offered to take me.
He didn’t care what color you was… Green, purple, polka dot. You were a human being to him.
I always asked him why he had so much cash and he said, “Because if people asked for cash, I have to give (it).”
He wasn’t a Pritzker. Didn’t get his name carved in stone at Millennium Park. He doesn’t have a hospital named after him. But he was easily among the most generous people in Chicago.
One night, just about five years ago, Ollie was gunned down inside one of his Cabrini Green convenience stores. A search of newspaper records doesn’t show that anyone was ever caught for the crime.
The day Ollie died is considered by a number of former residents to be the day that Cabrini Green died. The politicians, the real estate developers, the bulldozers didn’t destroy the neighborhood. A thug with a gun did. People with little hope in their lives gave up what little hope they had.
The fact that Ollie died is sad. But the way people remembered him is absolutely uplifting. I encourage you to read one or both of these Tribune articles to understand how one person can shape an urban community:
Because the internet is the new archive of modern history the way newspapers once were, and books before that, we’re leaving this digital footprint in the snow, hoping that whatever gets built at 1008-1012 North Larrabee, in the distant future when someone searches for that address they will find out about Ollie and be inspired to follow his example.