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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Longtime Edgewater framing business owner contemplates what's next
by Jess Savage

This article shared 6776 times since Mon Nov 6, 2023
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The large spit stains were still crusty and dry on Wall to Wall Framing's window on Saturday. They're evidence that remains more than two weeks after the incident that brought attention to the custom-frame shop's years-long struggle.

Leif Forre locked himself in his Edgewater shop, 5554 N. Winthrop Ave., on Oct. 17, when a group of people harassed him and referred to him using an anti-gay slur. The situation escalated further when one man started threatening Forre. He banged on the windows, and blew a large glob of spit, which Forre had left for passersby to see.

The 52-year-old man was arrested and faces a misdemeanor charge for assault.

"It was a wonderful day," Forre said about the day leading up to the incident. "It was a nice, sunny day. I had my door open over there, and it was right after my birthday. I had a great birthday weekend and then that happened."

Forre started framing just after he graduated high school. He moved to Chicago about 30 years ago. He started his own business in 1999 in the West Loop, focusing on framing for hotels.

After the September 11th attacks in New York, the hotel industry was greatly suffering. In a panic, Forre decided to open a storefront of his own. He noticed, while on a walk one night, that a storefront in his neighborhood was for rent. He quickly applied for the space and was approved, and he's been in the area ever since.

He described the neighborhood as "awful" when he opened his business. He pointed to almost every shop within view, and explained that they were all totally boarded up.

It built up over time, slowly welcoming more and more people to the area.

"A lot of gay-owned businesses came in and opened up businesses, and the neighborhood really got kind of nice," Forre said. "There were people out on the street shopping and eating, and you know, it [was] great."

In recent years, the neighborhood has changed for the worse, according to Forre. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been less support for business owners and pedestrians who experience harassment.

He described observing a group of people who stick around the area, engaging in public drinking, urinating and fighting.

"And it's been a constant thing where they call me f***** on a very regular basis," Forre said. "If I go outside and I'm like, 'Don't do your stuff right in front of my door… take it somewhere else,' I get 'f*****,' I get called names constantly by these guys."

Forre pointed to changes in police presence in his neighborhood as one of the main reasons the group of people lingers, saying their beat cop kept the area safer for everyone. The beat cop is no longer patrolling the neighborhood.

"I'm done. I'm 55 years old. I've had my business here for 20 years. I'm so sick and tired of being called a f*****," Forre said.

When requested for comment, 48th ward Alderwoman Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth replied with an email statement.

"As a small business owner and queer woman of color, I feel for Leif, and have been working with my team to do everything we can to mitigate the issue," Manaa-Hoppenworth said in the email. "Safety is the top priority of our office. I opened our ward office on Bryn Mawr in order to focus closely on this corridor, and am forming a Bryn Mawr Revitalization Task Force… We have requested special attention from CPD on Bryn Mawr and Winthrop and have seen increased patrols in the area."

Senator Mike Simmons has since reached out to offer his support, as well as multiple police sergeants.

When asked about what he would like to see change in the neighborhood, he expressed worry for disadvantaged people who need more systemic support.

"I would really also like to see more emphasis put on helping those who are out on the street, every single day, all day long, with mental illness," Forre said.

Forre explained that some of his neighbors have been avoiding the area because they're worried for their safety, especially at night. He said that he's concerned that potential business owners and apartment hunters are passing over the neighborhood.

"There's a lot of gay-owned businesses in this neighborhood," Forre said. "I don't want anybody to be called f*****. There are a lot of gay and queer and trans people that live in this neighborhood, and I don't want to see them harassed and intimidated and get called those names."

Forre watched the neighborhood transform in so many ways. After feeling afraid for so long in his own shop, Forre still hopes that the area can change for the better.

"I love Andersonville, but I want to keep the business here," Forre said.

This article shared 6776 times since Mon Nov 6, 2023
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