Cermak Road – Berwyn’s Main Street

Once known as the “Bohemian Wall Street” due to the large number of savings and loans located here, Berwyn’s Cermak Road is now an eclectic mix of retail and restaurants including Frank Thomas’s Big Hurt Brewhouse and green energy powerhouse Cermak Plaza.

Berwyn’s Bohemian History

ccaccOn June 6, 1908, Berwyn became a city, receiving its official charter from the State of Illinois. The first two decades of the twentieth century saw Berwyn develop in much the same way as other Chicago suburbs. It was a place in which, as “The WPA Guide to Illinois” states, “harried commuters relaxed in the evening, weeded gardens, set hens, and mowed their lawns.” In 1921, the central portion of the city began its rapid development. Large numbers of Czechs moved from the Pilsen area on Chicago’s near West Side to Berwyn and its neighbor on the east, Cicero. Literally thousands of new homes were built each year. Berwyn was known as the center of Czech life and culture in the Chicago area. At one time, Berwyn’s population was approximately 60% Czech.

Through the decades, the heart of town, from a retail standpoint, has been 22nd Street, more commonly known as Cermak Road. The road honors the legacy of Anton J. Cermak, famous Czech statesman and former mayor of Chicago, whose life was cut short in 1933 during a public appearance in Miami when he was hit by a bullet intended for President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. For a period Cermak Road earned the nickname “The Bohemian Wall Street” due to the large number of savings and loans that served the famously-frugal Czech residents of the area. In 1991, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that “Berwyn has the highest concentration of financial institutions in the world – a tribute to the frugality of its forebears.”

Families with Czech and Bohemian roots, together with many Italian-Americans, Greeks, Lithuanians, Poles, Yugoslavians and Ukrainians, have been joined in recent years by Latinos, African and Asian Americans who now call Berwyn home. As Berwyn grows in the 21st century, its traditionally hard-working, middle-class, mostly blue collar families, who were admittedly conservative in their outlook, are joined by young, professional families and a growing population of gay and lesbian residents.

Today, Berwyn keeps its proud Czech history alive through the Chicagoland Czech American Cultural Center.

Green Energy on Main Street

Berwyn’s business community supports green initiatives. Notably, World’s Largest Laundromat and Cermak Plaza have taken great strides in protecting the environment.

laundrysolarThe World’s Largest Laundromat is the flagship store of the laundry industry, known worldwide for its state-of-the-art technology. With more than 300 machines spread over 13,500 sf, the laundromat does indeed fit the profile as the “world’s largest,” and has been honored as such by the Guinness Book of World Records!

This father-sons business has been featured in newspapers and newscasts on every continent except Antarctica, and the operation has even become a tourist destination. The 36-panel solar thermal system – one of the largest installations in Illinois – sustains the hot water for its washers. The emissions it saves is the equivalent to planting 56 acres of trees each year. Other green features: “express” washers that cut dry time in half, retrofitted efficiency lighting, and recycle bins for everything from laundry detergent bottles to old clothes. The Sundance Channel featured them on their “EcoBiz” segment. Their recycling initiative recently landed them the Green Rookie of the Year award through USAgain’s Green-T Awards.

Beyond the green initiatives, the store offers a host of amenities including a kids’ play area, big screen TVs, a bird sanctuary, and free pizza on Wednesday nights. Visit their website to learn more, watch videos and plan a visit!

 

cermak plazaOnce famous for the now-defunct Spindle, known affectionately as the “car-kabob” featured in the Wayne’s World movie, the shopping center on the southeast corner of Cermak Road & Harlem Avenue has undergone significant façade and parking lot upgrades and added green elements including LED lighting and wind turbines for clean energy.

Cermak Plaza has a long legacy of celebrating public art starting with its iconic bent arrow sign to its controversial modern pieces erected in the 1980s. Today, Cermak Plaza still has 20 pieces of public art on display. In 2010, the plaza installed twelve wind turbines in the parking lot. Part art form and part function, the 35-foot tall installations generate up to 2,500 kilowatt hours of power to Cermak Plaza’s tenants which include: Meijer Marketplace, K&G Fashion Superstore, Marshalls, Office Depot, McDonald’s & Walgreens among others. These turbines generate enough power to light the space and pass excess power back to the grid. The LED lights are programmed to change colors and can display over 100 different light shows.