Modern Living: At Home in a Store

Old customers returning to a North Side Chicago shoe-repair shop for new heels or a shine are confronted by a discreetly blackened window and an avocado green door—firmly latched. The new tenant, Artist Ron Rolfe, is not interested in their patronage. All he wants is the privacy of home in his converted storefront.

Like 500 or so other Chicagoans, Rolfe has rejected the steep rents and monotonous layouts of high-rise apartments and opted instead for storefront living near downtown business districts.

His neighbors, many of them also artists, are living in what were once taverns, pizza parlors, barbershops and grocery stores—and liking...

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