Store reopens in heart of Hyde Park


Henry Benton

After a flood of support from members of the Hyde Park community, Kilwins reopened their doors in late July.

Louis Auxenfans, News Editor

Light aromas of warm chocolate and roasted nuts fill the air, beckoning customers to buy a pecan snapper or caramel krispy treat. Bags of taffy, caramels and chocolates line the wooden shelves, dozens of ice cream flavors fill the dipping cases, and freshly dipped caramel apples cool by the window sill. The new wooden floors, touches of copper kitchenware and relaxing R&B music make the store a comforting place to buy and eat sweets.

It’s a sharp change from the scene almost a year ago when a magazine of bullets shattered windows and left dozens of glass shards on the floor. When lunch-time gunfire in Harper Square last November damaged the Kilwins at 5226 S. Harper Ave., the future of the 15-year-old store was left in doubt, but the personal connection between the store and its loyal community of Hyde Park customers meant the store would always stay. 

While the violent incident damaged Kilwins, which fortunately happened during closed hours and left no one injured, owner Jackie Jackson was still shaken up by the event. She closed the store for several months.  

“At first, I was a little afraid and very apprehensive, so when I took some time out and closed the store, I got some therapy,” Ms. Jackson said. “And part of the therapy session really helped me cope with not living in fear. And this incident is not just something isolated in Hyde Park — it’s happening all over the world, not just in Chicago, but everywhere.” 

While the store was closed after the November shooting, Ms. Jackson, owner of other Kilwins stores in the Loop and Navy Pier, never thought of her Kilwins franchise leaving Hyde Park. 

“We’ve been at that location for 10 years, so we’ve seen little babies grow up, we’ve seen people get married, we know our customers by name,” Ms. Jackson said. “When they come in, we pretty much know what they’ve got ordered or what their needs are, so it’s more like a family. The customers are not transactional customers. These customers are relational.”

 Shawnte Clark, newly hired manager of the Hyde Park store, can attest to Kilwins’ personal community connection after coming to the store since “day one.” 

“I’ve been in the neighborhood for 17 years now, and so I love this store, I love the product,” Ms. Clark said. “I grew up on their premium chocolate and ice cream, and so when I came here I was so impressed with it — it’s the best I’ve ever had.” 

Customer Velma Brown echoed that statement. 

I’ve been in the neighborhood for 17 years now, and so I love this store, I love the product. I grew up on their premium chocolate and ice cream, and so when I came here I was so impressed with it — it’s the best I’ve ever had.

— Shawnte Clark

“They have the best of everything. They have the best ice cream, the best candy,” Ms. Brown said. “It’s a huge shop and it’s just different.” 

An outpouring of letters, calls and emails Ms. Jackson received from the community encouraged her to reopen her Hyde Park store, and since the store had been at the same location for 10 years and was getting dated, Ms. Jackson wanted to reopen with a clean slate. 

“We decided to totally renovate the store to make it a beautiful environment, so that when customers come in, we can serve them enjoyment and just forget about what happened,” Ms. Jackson said. 

Supply chain issues meant the store could not reopen by its original April 1 deadline, but in late July, Kilwins reopened with new floors, lighting, wallpaper, cabinetry and an enlarged kitchen to welcome guests.” 

 Looking forward, Ms. Jackson is encouraging Hyde Parkers to come to its grand store reopening on Sunday, Oct. 30 from 3-6 p.m. and redesigning its outdoor space into an outdoor event patio to accommodate up to 200 people for family reunions and ice cream socials. 

The Hyde Park store holds a special place in Ms. Jackson’s heart. 

“Part of Hyde Park is part of my soul,” she said. “Though we have other locations, Hyde Park is more of a community store, and the customers have been very loyal, and so that’s pretty much where our hearts are at.”