Chicago entrepreneur helped turn warehouse district into a thriving area

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CHICAGO — A man credited with helping revive the abandoned warehouse district of the Clybourn Corridor started with $5,000, some picture frames and a lot of determination.

Jay Goltz started selling picture frames when he was in college. At 22 he took the little money he had and sunk it into a business he didn’t even know could work; but it did. And 40 years later, Goltz is still framing, but he’s also into furniture, art and real estate.

He’s made a career as a small business entrepreneur, and says despite what critics might tell you, retail is not dead.

"In the ‘70s, if you said an 'entrepreneur' it was like another word for a hustler," Goltz said.

When it was time to break away from his father’s five-and-dime on Armitage in Lincoln Park, Goltz went a little further west to build his own startup in a place he could afford with a plan to revolutionize framing.

"It was $200 a month rent, and I would tell people, 'I am opening a frame business on Clybourn,' and they would say, 'Clybourn?'" Goltz recalls.

Today, real estate along Clybourn Avenue is closer to $40 a square foot, a far cry from the $2 a square foot he was paying in the ‘70s.

"The crime wasn’t bad because there wasn’t anything to steal. There was no one here," Goltz said. "I can’t say I was a visionary, the rent was cheap and it was on the edge of Lincoln Park.”

It all changed in the ‘80s, as new neighbors moved into the area.

"The building across the street that was Gold Eagle Chemical Company sells out and they put condos in. And everybody is laughing themselves silly, 'can you believe someone is putting condos on Clybourn?' And it worked," Goltz said.

After grocery stores and Crate and Barrel planted roots, the picture framer found himself on the cusp of a real estate boom. Old rail cars were forced out so gasoline-fueled cars could move in. The city paved the way to welcome bikes on the busy thoroughfare, and even made room for horse drawn carriages.

Now 62 years old, Goltz still embraces his role as an entrepreneur. The Goltz Group now has 110 workers, who average over 10 years at the company. He's held on to the "old" ways of doing business: always respect the customer, adapt with the times and make sure when you run a successful retail business that the math always works. His motto, however, in the end: "It’s not the income that matters, it’s the outcome," Goltz said.

A strip of Clybourn is now called Honorary Jay Goltz Way, the city’s gesture of gratitude for claiming and re-shaping what was a largely forgotten stretch of the street.

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