Welcome to our first Sunday edition of the newsletter! We hope to bring more sun to your day and keep it easy like … well, you get it.

Today's newsletter is 836 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Milwaukee Avenue's still got it

Milwaukee Avenue. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

👋 Hi, it's Justin!

Wicker Park has been a destination for tourists and Chicagoans alike for decades, but many of the businesses that defined the neighborhood's independent spirit have disappeared.

What's happening: After Walgreens vacated the iconic old bank building late last month, I decided to spend a Saturday strolling Milwaukee Avenue to see how much it's changed since the last time I walked it, in 2021.

Why it matters: This stretch, between North Avenue and Division Street, is considered Chicago's independent heartbeat, birthing alternative rock movements and serving as a respite for generations who hung out at coffee and vintage shops like they were second homes.

Flashback: As someone who remembers the early days at Double Door and the 2001 protests against "The Real World" (when castmates lived in the former Urbus Orbis building), I know very well what has been lost in Wicker Park.

  • I, too, bemoaned the chain stores moving into the neighborhood that had fought so hard to keep them out.

Yes, but: Revisiting my old haunts, I found that many longtime staples, like Myopic Books, Bongo Room and Ragstock, are still in business. Reckless Records, too.

  • After-hours clubs like Debonair and Nick's Beer Garden are thriving too, though the Double Door has been a Yeti store for a while now.
  • And while there are several empty storefronts in the area — many a reminder of the pandemic's impact — the spirit of this stretch is still alive.

For instance: Earwax Cafe may be gone, but Wormhole was bustling.

  • Silver Room is now in Hyde Park, but I enjoyed browsing at Una Mae's.
  • We all miss Busy Bee (technically off North Damen Avenue), but you can still find great food from small businesses, like Bru Chicago's breakfast rice crepes.
Photo of a storefront and a sign that says Wanna Socks.
Wanna Socks opened last year. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

There were also plenty of new spots I hadn't yet checked out.

  • The plant-based restaurant Bloom is, er, blooming. The stretch also features the Neighborly Pop Up and a new shop called Wanna Socks, which sells, what else, designer socks.
Photo of a display case full of socks.
Socks on display (up to $23 a pair) so you can feel them before purchasing. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Meanwhile, the traffic is still horrendous. Milwaukee Avenue is a parking lot on a Saturday afternoon, but most Chicagoans already have their workaround (ahem, Wabansia).

The bottom line: Milwaukee Avenue will never live up to its 1990s billing.

  • But it still stands out as a unique stretch of Chicago, perfect for playing tourist in your own city.

Share this story

📫 Tell us: What do you miss about Milwaukee Avenue? Hit reply, and we'll include your responses in a piece next week.

  • While you're at it, tell us which neighborhood street we should revisit next.

2. Popularity contest: Your favorite stories

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Our most-read offerings of the past week:

🗳️ Justin's voter guide to aldermanic races in all 50 wards. This concise, breezy list of contests across the city catches you up quick on the main candidates and top issues in each ward.

🩰 Our report on demonstrations held outside Joffrey Ballet's "Anna Karenina" to protest Russian culture.

👮🏽 Monica's explainer on what the new Police District Councils are and how to choose a candidate.

🥐 "Divergent" author Veronica Roth lovingly describing her perfect day in Chicago with lots of non-dystopian recommendations. Chocolate croissants make an appearance.

ğŸ¥ž Your flipping great responses to our question about where to find the best pancakes in the Chicago area. Hot off the presses.

👀 What we're watching: As we zero in on Election Day this Tuesday, we'll be following voter turnout, seeing what last-minute surprises campaigns will launch and, um, who's advancing to the runoffs.

3. Sunday drive: Slot car racing

GIF of a slot race track and two cars speeding by.
Slot car racing at Run Rabbit Run. Action footage by Monica Eng/Axios

Our new feature on where to go and what to do on Sundays.

If you miss the days of sitting in your pal's rec room racing toy cars on a track, head over to a quiet strip of Bryn Mawr Avenue in North Park to check out Run Rabbit Run.

What's happening: This little storefront shop hosts slot car racing, meaning you can rent a table, grab a remote, choose a cool ride and zoom around toy mountains and sharp turns like you're Speed Racer.

  • Each table can race up to six cars at a time.
  • You can even change lanes!

What they're saying: "My wife got me a slot car set about a year ago," owner Stefan Zajczenko tells Axios. "And it was kind of nostalgic because I had one when I was a kid."

  • Before long, he was hooked again.
Photo of a man holding a slot racer controller.
Stefan Zajczenko stands next to one of his slot car racing tables at Run Rabbit Run. Photo: Monica Eng/ Axios

Why open a business: "To offer something to the neighborhood, because there is nothing to do around here," says Zajczenko, describing the sleepy locale, best known for Northeastern Illinois University and WTTW.

Bonus: The store also sells and displays car toys and art.

If you go: Run Rabbit Run is open Wednesday through Sunday, afternoons to 9pm. It costs $10 to play for 30 minutes.

💭 Monica's thought bubble: As someone who lived in sleepy North Park for most of my life, I wanna know why this place didn't open sooner.

💭 Justin's thought bubble: This is so cool. Maybe adult Justin can best kid Justin and actually keep the cars on the track? 🤣

Edited by Alexa Mencia and Hadley Malcolm and copy edited by Rob Reinalda and Keely Bastow.

Our Sunday picks:

🥘 Monica is baking her favorite Danish rye bread and hoping to head to the Orchid Show at the Botanic Gardens.

🌸 Justin recommends heading over to the Garfield Park Conservatory today for the Spring Flower Show.