Profile: Dan Sullivan '96
sold them on my dream'
Sullivan '96 looks past the crime to create a better community
recently as 2003, the Jarvis Avenue commercial district in
Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood wasn't an inviting place.
Just east of the Red Line "L" station, the litter-strewn
area was frequented by gangs and drug dealers. Neighbors rarely
considered whether the seedy storefronts and downscale businesses
would ever rebound; they just hoped to reach the "L"
without getting mugged.
others saw obstacles, Rogers Park native Dan Sullivan '96
saw opportunity. His great-grandfather built two buildings
at the corner of Jarvis and Greenview in the early 1900s,
which Sullivan's grandmother owned and managed for decades.
In 2003, after his grandmother's death, Sullivan purchased
the buildings as part of his dream to remake the area into
a dining and shopping district dubbed "Jarvis Square."
Soon, he purchased a third commercial building next door and
accepted the responsibility to lease out several more storefronts
in another building across the way.
knew that I had to re-brand Jarvis," Sullivan says, because
the street still meant trouble
to many people.
didn't let his lack of real estate experience — he previously
worked in brand management and consulting — deter his
dream. He rehabbed his 22 residential units while seeking
a commercial manager to lease out his storefronts. But the
retail options disappointed him.
were management companies that could've brought [retail chains]
in fast," Sullivan says. "But that wasn't what I
wanted. It had to be done right, so I decided to do it myself."
spent hundreds of hours meeting with more than 50 prospective
tenants. "I looked past the gangbangers and painted a
picture of what this could be," he said. "I didn't
have any experience, but I sold a story about me and my grandma
and my great-grandfather. I sold them on my dream."
prospective tenants balked at the risk, and Sullivan rejected
others that didn't fit his vision. Ultimately, he attracted
eight new businesses, including an Irish pub, a theater company,
a dog groomer, an Italian restaurant, a wine shop and even
an off-site classroom for Northwestern's Medill School of
gave them extremely flexible terms on their leases,"
Sullivan said. "I wasn't just their landlord; I saw them
results are impressive: handsome storefronts, well-kept interiors
and moderate prices have produced a steady stream of customers.
thought there might initially be some problems, but in the
long run I felt this area would thrive," said Ted Ries,
who opened Poitin Stil, an Irish pub at 1502 W. Jarvis, in
September 2005. "The other businesses draw potential
customers to the bar."
Sullivan failed to attract a key anchor tenant in any urban
renewal project: an upscale coffee shop. After rejections
from national chains and failed negotiations with smaller
players, he decided to enter the coffee business himself.
In May 2006 he opened Charmers Café at 1500 W. Jarvis
and Dagel and Beli in an adjoining storefront.
didn't know anything about selling coffee! And I made so many
mistakes," Sullivan says, adding that those initial operations
problems have been solved. Now, his two businesses collectively
handle over 250 transactions a day.
and 'the Dagel' became profitable before their two-year anniversary,
he says, crediting the loyalty of neighbors who wanted him
to succeed. "The people who came in here [at first] were
just glad that somebody was doing something positive, so they
forgave us if we got their order wrong," Sullivan said.
attributes much of his success to his Kellogg education. "My
finance classes enabled me to structure a deal that allowed
this all to be possible; without those classes I wouldn't
have even known where to start," he says. "Kellogg
taught me how to think through my options and put together
a financially solid business plan."
efforts at Jarvis Square, Sullivan won the Rogers Park Community
Council's "Citizen of the Year" in 2006.