In a city known for being segregated, Devon Avenue is a remarkably diverse strip of stores and restaurants on the North Side.
It is well-known for its blend of cultures, something every Chicagoan should experience (though you must be patient if driving from the lakefront because of construction, also vintage Chicago).
There are businesses run by Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Georgians, Indians and Pakistanis, to name some of the ethnic groups represented on Devon. You can park in front of the Croatian Cultural Center at 2845 W. Devon and walk across the street to shop at New York Kosher or visit the Sahara Smoke Shop.
I have heard people talk about Devon and express surprise that immigrants, especially Pakistanis and Indians, get along well although tension between their countries is high.
I talked to an Indian customer outside Adelphi Liquors, popular for selling Indian beer and wine, about this.
We came to the conclusion that animosity exists mostly between the Indian and Pakistani governments but not for scores of their citizens.
Immigrants from both countries share a common goal in the U.S.: to be successful. It makes sense then that some restaurants advertise Pakistani and Indian cuisine. Why not appeal to both demographics?
Still, there is always a possibility that an international incident abroad could create a strain on Devon.
That’s not lost on a man who owns a Jewish deli. “God forbid something happens in the Middle East. You never know,” he said in response to a question about the easiness among neighboring Jewish and Muslim businesses.
Many Jewish businesses have moved away from Devon. “The young people moved to the suburbs, like Skokie,” said the man, who declined to give his name. Still, many old-timers return for kosher goods.
The Islamic equivalent to kosher is zabiha halal, a customer at an Arabic meat market told me. Muslims require their meat to be slaughtered in accordance with Islamic teachings.
“They don’t eat just any meat,” said Mariam Ali, who works at Ammo Baba Market at 3102 W. Devon. It’s an Iraqi store, and Ali said they get orders from customers in Detroit. Handmade Iraqi bread caught my eye, and it’s made at the bakery next door.
That would be Taza Bakery, owned by a Lebanese couple. Marc Younan and his wife sell meat, chicken and vegetable pastries and offer fresh-squeezed orange and carrot juice. A popular item is shawarma — carefully arranged beef and chicken on spits.
“Everything is homemade,” Younan said while showing off his spotless kitchen. “The stuff we have, nobody has it.”
His wife returned to Lebanon for additional training on how to prepare their dishes, Younan said.
You can’t be more authentic than that.
Further west, just outside the city limits along Devon in Lincolnwood, is the Midwest headquarters for the Korea Times newspaper. As a longtime newspaperwoman, I had to stop there.
Simon Yang, general affairs coordinator, said the Korea Times is printed on Devon Monday through Saturday for Chicagoans and other Midwesterners, who receive the publication by mail. The newspaper has had a Chicago office for more than 40 years.
From a peak circulation of 70,000 six or seven years ago, that number has fallen to 50,000 now, Yang said. No matter the language, newspapers and magazines are struggling.
“The young generation is searching the Internet for news from Korea,” he said.
Oh, brother, can I relate to that.