Building owner Marc Fishman, Logan Square’s most well-known real estate investor, recently gave Startwork Studios’ remaining tenants 30 days to vacate the building, effectively shutting down the low-budget Artist Center at 3323 W. Diversey Ave.
The lockdown has left some artists and makers scrambling to find workspace as the busy holiday season approaches. They said others moved out months ago after the property management failed to properly handle construction issues.
Current and former tenants said that Fishman’s company, The M. Fishman Company, did not give tenants enough time to move in and find new quarters. Startwork was one of the few artists’ studios left in the area, offering rents of $300 to $700 per month.
It was not immediately clear why the studios were closed. Fishman and his property manager did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“It’s sad that there aren’t a lot of affordable places for artists,” said Norse Beatriz, who was forced to leave Startwork at the end of November after six years. Beatriz makes jewelry and sells crystals under the Mojo Owl moniker.
“In the middle of Logan Square, this was a beautiful space, and it would have been really nice if they kept the space open, but the artists are being pushed and pushed more and more,” Beatriz said.
Fishman owns dozens of buildings in gentrified Logan Square and has faced widespread criticism over the years for rent increases and forcing tenants and business owners.
But Startwork, which opened sometime after Fishman purchased the building in 2010, was unlike his other real estate ventures in that it was geared toward emerging artists who couldn’t afford workspace.
Besides Mojo Owl, the studio has been home to a host of emerging makers, including paper goods brand Hello Paper, vintage clothing retailer Prèmos Chicago, and interior design firm Sarah Montgomery Design.
Loft spaces were small, with some tenants renting only 175 square feet of Diversey Avenue window frontage. Utilities are included in the rental prices.
Beatriz, who is also a reflexologist, rents two spaces for a total of $300 per month, and uses them as a workshop during the week. Her studio, filled with crystal and handmade jewelry, is open to shoppers on weekends.
Earlier this month, Beatrice received a phone call from property manager M. Fishman, who said she would be out in 30 days, Beatrice said. Beatriz’s lease won’t expire until March.
The real estate manager also said that Beatrice owed M. Fishman $1,300, but Beatrice said she paid her rent in full, not knowing where that figure came from.
“I was like, ‘You don’t give me much notice. You don’t give me 90 days notice,’” she said. “It’s basically the beginning of the holiday season and I’m booking shows. I was really looking forward to selling this space over the holidays. She’d say, “Sorry, we’ve closed this space.”
She said Francester Williams, who runs a photography studio and media company that specializes in taking pictures of the family, recently received a 30-day notice to move out after two years in the Logan Square building.
Williams said it was hard leaving her $300-a-month studio, which was affordable and served as a positive refuge in her life while navigating personal hardships.
Williams packed up her photography gear and moved in for Halloween weekend, just two days after receiving word from property manager M. Fishman that the studio was closing while she prepared for a busy holiday season for a photo shoot.
“I’m really going to miss my space. It’s really uncomfortable,” Williams said.
She said Williams is doing on-site photo shoots so she can find other workspace at similar prices.
“It’s already hard being a small business owner, but then it gets uprooted, it sucks,” said Williams. “If the building is bought, fine, life will happen. It would have been nice if they had given us more time. I moved my things out of there on the weekend but the others were not so lucky, and I feel bad for them.”
Ownership of the building has not changed since 2010, when the Fishman Corporation purchased the property, according to Cook County property records.
The Startwork is a small part of the huge building, which sits at the corner of Milwaukee, Kimball and Diversey Streets and is occupied by stores and businesses such as vintage furniture store Dial M For Modern, Boulevard Bikes and hair salon Good Beauty.
It’s unclear exactly how many artists Startwork has hired, but current and former tenants said studio occupancy has not lived up to expectations over the years and some spaces have been empty for over a year.
Some tenants said they moved out months ago because of problems with the building that management had not addressed.
Current and former tenants said that over the past two years, the building has been flooded twice and part of the roof collapsed, damaging the tenants’ furniture and personal belongings.
Beatrice said she spent hundreds of dollars fixing up her space after her desk and a classic cowhide rug were destroyed by falling debris. She said Fishman denied requests for compensation.
Sarah Montgomery, of interior design firm Sarah Montgomery Design, said two of her rugs were destroyed in a flood and the property owner refused to pay for the damages. Montgomery left shortly thereafter.
“I was ready to move on and up, so it all worked out. But when the roof collapsed, I felt like I had to get out of here,” Montgomery said.
Startwork’s “For Rent” banners have been popping up in recent months, an indication that new businesses could replace the artists’ studio. Fishman and M. officials did not respond. Fishman to questions about the next step for the Diversey Avenue building.
For current and former tenants, the closure is yet another symbol of gentrification in Logan Square, a force that has made it difficult for artists and creatives to thrive in the neighborhood.
“It’s the eviction of the little people who made the neighborhood what it was,” said Williams.
Resigned to her fate, Beatriz is hosting weekend sales through the end of the month to liquidate inventory and make the move easier. She said two people have offered her temporary work since she posted about the eviction on social media.
“I’m hopeful. You just kinda have to spin. I think that’s the pivot,” Beatriz said. “Maybe it’s a blessing to finally get away from Fishman. I didn’t think they were as horrible as people said, but when it comes to push, they really don’t give you much notice.”
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