Category Archives: Chicago

Garratt’s Popcorn Opens Store On Chicago’s South Side in the Shadow of Popcorn From Mars Closing.

Are you ready to hear about popcorn in a big way? Ok I’m gonna tell you way too much about popcorn in Chicago. See I love flavored popcorn. And I’m not fancy, I really only like 3 flavors; butter, cheese and caramel. And lucky for me here in the city they’re all pretty easy to come by. Ok let’s go back to January 2011, almost exactly a year ago. I go down to my clinic on 35th and Michigan Ave. and yeah it’s kind of the ghetto, but waddya gonna do? But I got kind of a surprise on that cold January day, I discovered a popcorn place.

 

It was pretty dark and pretty empty and only one guy working there; the proprietor. And man, did we have some kind of talk. His contention was that the main Chicago popcorn place, Garratt’s, had lost it’s taste quality and as a consequence the bulk of their customers. He felt they only catered to city tourist. And I had to agree that they did have a lot of tourist but they also still did pretty well with their biggest fan base; the black people of Chicago. Don’t get me wrong a lot of people like Garratt’s flavored popcorn, but South Side black people, like myself, are particular fond of a mix of the cheddar cheese and caramel. It’s Goddamn great!

 

So this guy had this popcorn shop on 35th and was very proud that people from the suburbs were willing to venture to his shop in the hood. He also felt his quality was pretty good and he had s special recipe that not only tasted better, but kept his popcorn fresh for FORTY FIVE DAYS! Well that was a hell of a boast. So I told him to give me about 30 dollars worth and I would judge for myself. However, the guy DID have some amazing bags. And when I got home I had a really good look at them, and I realized. THIS was the guy’s real business. If he marketed the bags to other food business he could have a great business. First of all he could go online and not have to pay for the storefront, the gas, the light, the insurance, the employees and on and on and on. Plus he could market worldwide and not be locked into JUST the neighborhood around 35th and Michigan. So I decided I would really push him when I went to visit him in 45 days.

 

vs old school Garratt’s bag

Privately, I had a few thoughts. First, Garratt’s was not about to loose any business to a guy with one shop. The shop was in a terrible location in my opinion. That close to the projects and a street that was only just starting to look busy and safe just wasn’t realistic. The neighborhood couldn’t support gourmet popcorn. I mean let’s say you’re living at the poverty level and you decide you’re gonna splurge and buy some junk food. For 5 dollars you can either get a pretty complete dinner at KFC or 6 of 7 ounces of Goddamned popcorn! I mean it’s crazy. Too many residents were not going to use their disposable income on gourmet popcorn.

 But guess what? I got there in March and the guy was GONE. “Closed For Business” sign in the window. Haahahahah. Now I’m not taking delight in his sad news, but he was so certain. And I even asked him if it wasn’t his first try at a business, and sure enough had tried before. I could tell he had done popcorn business research, but I also felt he hadn’t done his demographic research. And I was right. Brick and mortar is a tough, tough, tough way to go without being a franchise. Shit, even franchises don’t always make it.

 

Cut to November of 2011, about a 11 months after the initial visit to Popcorn From Mars (that’s what it was called by the way, he REALLY hadn’t done his demographic work. Now to be fair, I myself am releasing a product this week online and I did zero research to determine if there was a marketplace big and hungry enough and I’m using a product name and logo that is delightful to ME and not what’s customary for the industry. So I understand having faith in yourself and hoping it’ll do well just “because it’s good”). Anyway, around November I’m on a bus on Cottage Grove and 87th and low and behold I see construction for a Garratt’s. And I know, INSTANTLY, it’s going to be a hit.

In fact I can predict and project the next 12 months. They’re going to open JUST in time for Christmas  (they did), they’re going to get slammed with customers (they did), its going to go that way until it gets too cold (that’s what happening as we kick into the 3rd week of January). They’re going to do profitable business through Feb. Then it’ll really pick up around March with foot traffic an kids getting out of school. For the summer they’ll coast pretty well and become a “regular” place to go and people around the South Side will find out they don’t have to go downtown. They’ll peak around holidays and they’ll head right back into Nov/Dec making 2012 one of the most profitable for Garratt’s in years. Then they’ll make  a few more South Side openings and probably 1 on the North Side, now that the resistance to leaving downtown had been broken.

Until I edit and upload some pictures from the 87th street location, here’s photos of the outside and inside of a downtown Garratt’s.

First Snow of 2012 in Chicago

So it finally happened. We got our snow. And for that matter the cold is finally kicking in. But let’s be honest it’s MID-JANUARY and it’s just starting to get winterish. That’s pretty damn cool. I mean basically we’re  getting a half-winter. All we have to do is make it through the rest of the month and February and we’re home free. March will be chilly but nobody is going to confuse that for winter.

So is this the end of the world or what? I mean Chicago is  a place you could say produces “Professional Winters.” We are not amateurs at this, so what’s happening? Is it the global warming or just a matter of a “lucky break” this year? Either way it’s very ironic for me. Last year my furnace blew out and basically I had to wait until April 1st to get my new one. So the joke was on me; I froze my ass off and then this year I’ve got my brand new furnace only running occasionally. But hey, like I said it’s a gift horse, so I’m not gonna look TOO hard in its’ mouth.

 So as usual on this blog I guess I’ve got to include a few snap shops as “proof” or something. This year my neighbor passed away, so I’m shoveling the family’s snow along with another neighbor. He got out a little earlier than me and shoveled some, but there was still enough for me to get some nice pictures.

Chicago Blizzard 2011. The February Freeze.

About a week and half back we had a cold day and I thought, ok winter finally caught with us. Because it’s been a pretty odd winter. Not really terribly cold or snowy. It was tough on ME while I waited on a new furnace to be installed but for the most part not too bad. But yesterday a blizzard kicked in and it looks like we’re going to have a few days of constant heavy snow, super severe winds and then super cold. So it’s gonna be tough-and I’ve got a funeral to go to tomorrow in the middle of all this, my 12th since moving back here 5 years ago.
You can also see how far I had to dig just to get to the sidewalk-this was the FIFTH time I dug down to the ground, but that’s thing about a blizzard; the wind just creates drifts and any hole gets filled up within minutes. You can’t win. Shoveling is kind of futile until it’s done. I went for the exercise and to see what would happen. I got the exercise and the snow came right back.

Digging the same spot over and over

But let me tell you something; you cannot win against a blizzard. I had forgotten that. For 20 years I lived in places like Tokyo, NYC, LA, and had stays in Venezuela and Seoul.  We have blizzards in Chicago in

1967, 1979, 1999-80

This time for the 2011 blizzard it was pretty serious. Here are some of things that happened.

-We had white-out conditions

-Lake Share Drive was closed, and that stranded THOUSANDS of people

-Fire Department resorted to using snow machine (or as Sarah Palin calls them “snow machines”)

-The mail STOPPED

-Schools were closed for the first time in 12 years

-Planes canceled, trains canceled, University of Chicago classes canceled

-Part of the ROOF! of Wrigley Fields got blown OFF (I lost siding off my house, see photo below)

-A guy got BLOWN into the lake while walking on Lake Shore Drive

-In fact ELEVEN deaths reported so far

-20.2 inches of snow fell at Chicago-O’Hare International Airport, making this the third largest total snowfall in Chicago history

When I was a kid in the 1980 blizzard here in Chicago I was a paperboy-and yes, it was “old fashioned” even then to have that kind of job. But I left home that morning around 5AM before my mother woke up (otherwise she would have stopped me). So I got my papers and went out to deliver my 60-70 papers. We didn’t use bicycles, we used beat up shopping carts. And let me tell you, at 12 years old and not even 5 feet tall in snow that WAS 5 feet tall it became the worst 4 hours of my life up to that point. I cried and sweat and pushed and pulled and fell and got stuck and stopped and cried some more. It was brutal. I think the boss eventually showed up and “relieved” me for the day so I could get to school for that lat 10 or 15 papers.

An area before shoveling

And after shoveling

But I learned; you cannot win against a blizzard. Tonight was a refresher. I played around in the snow few times to see what I could do against it. Result? Nothing at all. But I had to try. I had one wall of the house where I hadn’t finished a siding job and the storm was ripping off paneling and I could hear my hard work and money being blown first on the ground then down the street. So I just wanted to dig a path to my panels and pink building insulation. Really at this point it’s just debris.

I wanted to get some good photos but the snow is so severe it can’t really be done with a flash. So I took a few shots without the flash. You can even see a city bus stuck in the street. Actually I took the first picture around 3AM and the driver still thought he could get out on his own. Around 10AM a bunch of city service people were talking and then finally got some VERY heavy duty stuff to move the truck. I didn’t take a picture of that part, but all traffic was blocked on that street.

And now it’s getting super cold for February

February 4th was the first day it got pretty cold.

And then Feb 10th (today as I’m editing this post) it’s been pretty brutal. I was supposed to do a bunch of errands but after a little while outside I decided to delay until tomorrow.