On April 9, the Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) announced that its flagship Brown Elephant resale shop will be moving to a new location at 3020 N. Lincoln Ave. in July of this year.
For more than two decades, the Brown Elephant shop, currently on Halsted at Waveland across from the Center on Halsted, has been an outlet for gently used vintage clothing, furniture, electronics, and other items in the Lakeview community. HBHC established the Brown Elephant in the 1980s to support a full continuum of affordable health-related programs and services for low-income LGBTQ people and allies, the agency said in a release.
A resale store and Studio for Change, a family counseling center that relocated to Sheffield Avenue, previously occupied the new site. HBHC President/CEO David Ernesto Munar told Windy City Times that the organization has signed a long term lease there.
He said that the end of a multi-year lease at the 3651 N. Halsted St. location (which originally opened in 1989) spurred the move. "The end of a lease is a time to evaluate a return on investment and look at options," Munar said. "And we're delighted that we found an excellent option at 3020 N. Lincoln. It will accommodate parking for our moving trucks and will be an excellent, affordable home for the Brown Elephant. We'll make sure that the business will continue to grow so that we're maximizing profit for LGBTQ health."
Munar acknowledged that the Halsted location has become an institution in the neighborhood but, in the end, the decision came down to dollars and cents, functionality and safety concerns. "We're sorry to close it in some ways," he said. "It's our responsibilitynear the end of a leaseto consider all of our options.
"Cost is a factor and the condition of the building is always a factor both to create the kind of image we're trying to project to our customers and also for the safety of our employees. We had to think about all of our options. In Lakeview, particularly, there were competitive options."
Regarding the safety of Brown Elephant employees, Munar clarified that the condition of the current buildingrather than the neighborhoodwas of greater concern. "The space that we're in on Halsted was never set up as a retail space," he said. "It was an old garage and we had to make that space adequate for the retail operation. But we don't have any public restrooms. The space for staff in the back of the counter is like a tent city. We have make shift bathrooms and there's just a huge beam holding up the roof."
Munar said that the new space has fully accessible restrooms, water fountains and an elevator to reach second-floor areas, and has already been remodeled for a modern retail operation, meaning the added benefit of very little build-out for HBHC. "It's going to be safer for customers as well as our own staff," he said. "It's a gorgeous, homey environmenta space that's already set up like a gallery and really suitable for the display of art work."
He added that the new location will offer HBHC added flexibility for programs such as on-site HIV and STD screening as well as behavioral health and group services.
The Brown Elephant will occupy its Halsted location through the end of its lease in June. Munar said that he anticipates no staffing changes and that the HBHC intends to make the most of both its remaining time and the furniture that is on sale there. "We're going to be using the space to host some community meetings," he said. "Inviting patients and community members to help us think through some of the health issues that the LGBTQ community and our allies are facing. They will be informal brainstorming discussions with our clinicians, our case managers, social service providers and Broadway Youth Center (BYC) staff. It's a way of saying goodbye to the space. We're going to take our flip charts and pull up the furniture and listen."
Munar stated that listening is a fundamental part of a HBHC commitment to discover new initiatives and means to serve the community. The organization performs community needs assessments every five years and the brainstorming sessions at the Brown Elephant will form a part of such an assessment. "We want to open it up and see what the issues are that people are concerned about and what are new ways that we can think about serving the health needs of our community partners," he said. "We're happy to answer questions and we're going to be organizing around the health needs of all the LGBTQ sub populations and the youth out there. We want to hear from the community as to what are some of the particular health topics or initiatives that we should be thinking about moving forward."
Munar said that he expects details on the dates of the discussions will be released next week.