Industrial revolution: See how small-biz owners are giving factories new life

Crain’s Chicago Business, July 12, 2014 — They’re tucked away in desolate corners all over the city: looming brick and concrete buildings that once held factories that supported entire neighborhoods. These behemoths helped earn Chicago its brawny reputation and, once they were vacated, became hulking icons of its blight. But now a crop of savvy small-business owners and creative rehabbers are dusting some of these buildings off and finding new uses for them.

“Repurposing old structures is fun,” says Craig Golden, principal of Chicago-based Blue Star Properties, which buys and rehabs industrial buildings. “Reusing old infrastructure-so that we’re not running highways out in the middle of nowhere and electrical lines-makes me feel better.”

“You can do good business in buildings like this,” says Steve DeBretto, executive director of the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, which operates a business incubator inside a former West Side plumbing factory that was built in 1887. Not only are the rates cheap for tons of square footage, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi that appeals to some business owners. “It’s got a charm that a new building doesn’t necessarily have.”

Turn the page to take a walking tour of four industrial sites that are getting a new lease on life, then read how-and why-startups from furniture makers to distillers to small manufacturers have settled there.

20140714-linkstrip3Read my stories in Crain’s Chicago Business:

— Manifold furniture designers on the challenges of retrofitting a concrete box
— A safe space for businesses that make noise at 3 a.m.
— How a machine-friendly group engages hardware entrepreneurs in co-working
— Nick Greens’ farm springs up in Back of the Yards

Photos by Stephen J. Serio