Chicago/Wicker Park

Travel Guide North America USA Midwestern United States Illinois Chicago Chicago/Wicker Park

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Introduction

Wicker Park is the vanguard of music, nightlife, and fashion in Chicago. This article also includes the sly, enjoyable Ukrainian Village, immediately south, and pieces of the greater West Town area.

Among the most pointless topics of debate in Chicago life is whether Wicker Park has changed, is full of yuppies now, isn't what it used to be, etc. The answers are simple: yes, maybe, and who cares? Just like the Velvet Underground would have been playing stadiums if everybody who claimed to have seen them in 1967 actually did, if everybody who claims to have been there when Wicker Park was cool actually was there, it would be a city roughly the size of Cleveland. Wicker Park is uniquely well-served by transportation among West Side neighborhoods, with the CTA's Blue Line elevated train and the major arteries of North, Milwaukee, and Damen all converging upon the center of the area.

Wicker Park was founded by the Wicker brothers in the 1870s, and it became part of the row of prosperous immigrant neighborhoods on the West Side of Chicago — the German and Polish beer barons of Wicker Park were neighbored by the farmers of Bucktown, the Ukrainians in their titular Village, the Greeks and Italians of the Near West Side, and the Czechs of Pilsen. The brewery fortunes left two legacies that survive today: gorgeous, European-style mansions and apartment buildings, and a truly world-class set of dive bars. By 1900, Wicker Park had become Chicago's Polish Downtown. The city's oldest and most prominent Polish settlement, Polish Downtown was the political, cultural, and social capital of not only Poles in Chicago but for Polish Americans throughout North America. The area around Polonia Triangle at the intersection of Division, Ashland and Milwaukee Avenue played host to almost every major Polish organization in the United States.

After the economic decline of the West Side, Puerto Ricans became the majority population in Wicker Park. With them came the other two elements that would turn the neighborhood's commercial fortunes around: low rents in those great buildings, and an art scene that became known for exciting new work. Artists and musicians from outside the area moved in, finding cheap studios in places like the Flatiron Arts Building and good venues to exhibit and perform like the Double Door and the excellent Empty Bottle. Among many others, the Smashing Pumpkins were formed in the area, and Liz Phair's album Exile in Guyville re-cast the Rolling Stones' Main Street in Wicker Park; on the visual arts side, the long-running Around the Coyote festival continues as an annual gathering of the neighborhood's artistic highlights. (Years later, the John Cusack film High Fidelity attempted to capture Wicker Park in all of its elitist, obnoxious, trend-setting glory, and was generally well received. However, when MTV's The Real World arrived in 2001, it sparked off a memorable neighborhood-wide fit.)

Of course, all vinyl pants must split in the end, and by the mid-90s, real estate prices were on the rise, and bar stools were colonized by conversations about who had been priced out (the Puerto Rican artists, for one) and where the next hot scene would be (opinions vary). Demand for housing in proximity to Wicker Park turned its neighbors Bucktown and Ukrainian Village into hot residential properties, and the boundaries between neighborhoods have become less meaningful with time. There are still a few Ukrainians in what's affectionately known as The Uke, but there are only a few places where their paths cross with the condo conversion kids: aside from the sidewalks in front of the astonishing churches in the area and in line at the terrific old bakeries, all style becomes equal at the historic Division Street Bath House.

Today, a few national chains have settled in among the independent fashion boutiques in Wicker Park, but it still raises a righteous middle finger to the glossy shopping on the Magnificent Mile, still offers the best places to get a cheap beer, and still has residents who, per capita, care more about quality music and restaurants than anywhere else in the city.

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Sights and Activities

While the art scene has largely moved on from Wicker Park, many of the galleries in the Flatiron Arts Building have First Friday open hours (6PM-9PM).

Flatiron Arts Building, 1579 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-312-335-3000. This triangular behemoth was built in 1913 by the great Holabird & Roche, one of their few major products outside the Loop. The first floor is all retail, but the second and third floors have small art studios and galleries. Aside from the First Friday open hours (above), a few studios and galleries also have Saturday and Sunday afternoon hours.
Holy Trinity Cathedral, 1121 N Leavitt St (70 Division bus), ☏ +1-773-486-6064. Open for visits Sa 11AM-4PM. Orthodox church in Ukrainian Village, designed by Louis Sullivan in 1903. It was funded in part by Czar Nicholas II; today, it thrives as a neighborhood parish.
The Polish Museum of America, 984 N Milwaukee Ave (Division Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-384-3352. F-W 11AM-4PM. Library and exhibitions on Polish heritage, both in Chicago and in Poland. It is home to the largest collection of memorabilia relating to Ignace Paderewski, and the museum is purportedly haunted by the once famous pianist. $5 adults, $4 children.
The Society for Arts, 1112 N Milwaukee Ave (Division Blue Line), ☏ +1-312-486-9612. This building was designed as a bank by Whitney & Williams when it was built in 1920. The society houses non-profit art galleries which focus on promoting cultural communication between Europe and the United States. The society also hosts film festivals exploring European cinema, art exhibitions, and concerts.
St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, 2238 W Rice St (66 Chicago bus), ☏ +1-773-276-4537. No shortage of magnificent Ukrainian churches in this part of town — this soaring example was built in 1913 on the model of St Sophia's in Kiev. The eye-catching thirteen onion domes stand for Christ and the 12 apostles. The one weekly English-language mass is at 11:30AM on Sundays.
Sts Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, 2247 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago or 49 Western bus), ☏ +1-312-455-0178. This huge, golden-domed, Ukrainian Catholic church has been a local landmark since its construction in 1973. The church was built during a brief neighborhood schism over a move to use the Gregorian instead of the Julian calendar. How to upstage a church modeled after Kiev's St Sophia's? Build one modeled after Istanbul's Hagia Sophia! It is well worth a visit to marvel at the magnificent interior and iconostasis. Even if you come by when it's closed, you can appreciate at the mosaic over the entrance depicting the baptism of the Ukrainians by the parish's namesake saints. Most masses in Ukrainian.
Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago or 49 Western bus), ☏ +1-773-227-5522. W-Su noon-4PM. This is a superb, lovingly curated collection of abstract and minimalist art by major Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American artists. The three permanent galleries represent not only Ukrainian heritage, but also one of Chicago's best and most underrated experiences for art lovers of any ethnicity. Free.
Ukrainian National Museum, 2249 W Superior St (66 Chicago or 49 Western bus), ☏ +1-312-421-8020. M-W by appointment, Th-Su 11AM-4PM. Almost certainly the best collection of Ukrainian ethnographic exhibits (musical instruments, traditional costumes, folk art, etc.) in the United States. Historical exhibits cover issues such as the famines under Stalin and the fallout after the Chernobyl meltdown. The museum also hosts an impressive library and archives for researchers, as well as occasional Ukrainian-related art exhibitions. Free, suggested donation $5.

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Events and Festivals

Holidays

  • New Year’s Eve - The US celebrates the outgoing of the old year and incoming of the New Year quite dramatically. Every state boasts its own parties to ring in the New Year, but none is more extravagant than New York’s Time Square, which sees people overflowing into the neighboring restaurants, bars, parks, beaches, and neighborhoods.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15. The holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The earliest Monday for this holiday is January 15 and the latest is January 21. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.
  • St Patrick’s Day - March 17 celebrates the US’s large Irish population. Many cities around the country boast boisterous parades and Irish-themed parties, especially New York and Chicago, where the river is dyed green. Be wary of the drunkenness that dominates as this is definitely a party-day.
  • Memorial Day - Memorial Day is an important holiday throughout the United States, but not for crazy festivities. Parades commemorating wartime heroes are often held and the day is also the ‘unofficial’ start of summer. Most visitors follow the crowds to parks and beaches, which are capped off with informal BBQs.
  • Independence Day - Also known as the Fourth of July, Independence Day celebrates the US’s break from the British during the 18th century. Barbecues, street parties, beach trips, and weekend getaways are commonplace to appreciate freedom.
  • Labor Day is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday. Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor.
  • Halloween - Halloween is a fun holiday on October 31 for all generations to dress up in costumes and relive their youth. Children walk around the neighborhood trick-or-treating for candy, while adults attend parties. Other seasonal events include haunted houses, pumpkin farms and carving, and corn mazes.
  • Thanksgiving - On the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving is held in almost every home in the US. Tourists will have a hard time finding anything to do as the country essentially shuts down in observation. A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie commemorating the original Pilgrim’s feast at Plymouth Rock.
  • Christmas - On December 25, Christians celebrate Christmas as the pinnacle of their calendar by attending church and opening gifts from Santa Claus. Almost everything shuts down to promote family togetherness. The northern regions hope to experience a “white Christmas,” with trees and festive lights blanketed by snow.

Sport

  • Super Bowl Sunday - the world’s most watched sporting event and one of the highest grossing TV days of the year, Superbowl Sunday is a spectacular extravaganza. Held the first Sunday in February, the Superbowl is the final playoff game between the NFL’s top two teams. The venue rotates every year around America, yet the local parties seem to remain. Pubs, bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy the Superbowl or locals throw their own parties with different variations of betting.
  • The World Series is the annual championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) in North America, contested since 1903 between the American League (AL) champion team and the National League (NL) champion team. The winner of the World Series championship is determined through a best-of-seven playoff, and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner's Trophy. As the series is played during the fall season in North America, it is sometimes referred to as the Fall Classic.

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Getting There

By Train

The O'Hare branch of the CTA Blue Line has stops in West Town (Chicago, Grand), Ukrainian Village (Division) and Wicker Park (Damen). The Damen stop is particularly useful, as it's right at the epicenter of Wicker Park and the border of Bucktown, and a short walk south to Ukrainian Village and the nightlife on Division.

If you're going further afield in Ukrainian Village than Division — say, to the Empty Bottle (see Drink) — get to know the relevant bus routes, as the CTA trains don't run particularly close.

By Car

I-90/94, that shining exemplar of Chicago gridlock, runs close to Ukrainian Village — exit at Division and head straight west, or make a right off Division on Milwaukee to reach Wicker Park.

This isn't one of the worst parts of the city for parking, but it can still be a challenge, and there are no public lots or garages in the area. Be patient and circle the side streets. Many upscale restaurants offer valet parking for $10 or so. Permit-only parking is in place on many side streets, so check street signs. Damen in particular has some oddball no-parking hours.

By Bus

9 Ashland is an all-nighter that runs within walking distance of the shops and bars in Wicker Park (on Milwaukee) and the nightlife on Division.
49 Western runs down Western Avenue for nearly the full length of the city, passing through the western edge of Ukrainian Village. It's an all-night route.
50 Damen runs through the heart of Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village, but lacks night-owl service.
56 Milwaukee is the king of the West Side, running through the center of Wicker Park and along the eastern fringe of Ukrainian Village.
65 Grand runs from downtown to West Town, connecting with the Grand Blue Line stop, and the southern fringe of Ukrainian Village.
66 Chicago runs from the Near North through West Town (connecting with the Chicago Blue Line stop) and Ukrainian Village, and onward to Austin. It's also an all-night route.
70 Division is vital for the nightlife on Division, connecting to the Blue Line at the Division Blue Line stop.

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Eat

The twin low-price culinary delights around here are the bakeries of Wicker Park and the delis of Ukrainian Village, many of which have been in business for several decades. The Uke also has some great Ukrainian grocers, particularly on Iowa Street. Additionally, as Wicker Park is a bar destination, there is no shortage of cheaper eats, cafes, and chain restaurants.

Alliance Bakery & Café, 1736 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-278-0366. M-Sa 6AM-9PM, Su 7AM-9PM. Just a look at the whirls of frosting and gingerbread fortresses in the window tends to bring a smile. The tarts, cupcakes, and coffee back that up. Alliance has been here for more than 80 years. There's a pleasant, inviting cafe next door with free WiFi. $3-7.
Chopper's, 1659 N Ashland Ave (9 Ashland bus), ☏ +1-773-227-7800. M-Sa 10AM-10PM, Su 10AM-9PM. A great hot dog and burger place with what may be the best milkshakes in Chicago. $3-7.
Harold's Chicken Shack #36, 1361 N Milwaukee Ave (Division Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-252-2424. M-F 11AM-10PM, Sa noon-10PM, Su noon-9PM. Westward the course of the fried chicken empire makes its way, to Wicker Park. Some say this outpost makes compromises for the upscale surroundings — wheat bread, moist towelettes, a general lack of bulletproof glass — but even if they do, it's still the best cheap fried chicken you'll find here or anywhere north. $3-6.
Kasia's Deli, 2101 W Chicago Ave (66 Chicago bus), ☏ +1-773-486-7500. M-F 9AM-7PM, Sa 9AM-6PM, Su 10AM-2PM. Some call these the best pierogies in Chicago — high praise, indeed. The cabbage rolls are also highly recommended. If you like what you eat but live out of state, take comfort: Kasia's will deliver the good stuff anywhere in the USA. $3-8.
Letizia's Natural Bakery, 2144 W Division St (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-342-1011. 6AM-11PM daily. Breakfast sandwiches, espresso and baked goods with good, healthy cooking. If you enjoy Letizia's, come back later for Enoteca, the wine bar under the same management next door. $4-12.
La Pasadita, 1132, 1140 N Ashland Ave (Division Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-278-0384. 9AM-3AM daily. Gradual expansion over the past thirty years has led to the curious appearance of two (there used to be three!) identically named establishments within the same half-block of Ashland. Both are family-owned and make tasty Mexican tacos and burritos, with slight variations in the menus. The newest location at 1132 N Ashland is somewhat Americanized compared to the other two. $3-6.
Penny's Noodle Shop, 1542 N Damen Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-394-0100. Su Tu-Th 11AM-10PM, F Sa 11AM-10:30PM, M closed. Excellent Southeast Asian dishes and cheap for such large portions. $6-8.
Podhalanka, 1549 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-486-6655. Real Polish food at the old Polish triangle of Ashland, Milwaukee, and Division. Podlanka has one of the best cabbage soups in town; pierogies, potato pancakes, and many other delights await. Locals, from construction workers and students to nuns fill the place. The prices are great. $5-10.
Sultan's Market, 2057 W North Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-235-3072. M-Sa 10AM-10PM, Su 10AM-9PM. Few restaurants smell as good as Sultan's Market, and the prices are absurdly low for the amount of satisfaction you'll get. Cheese and egg pitas make a nice complement to any falafel sandwich, and they also do a fine shawerma. Cash only, ATM in the back. $3.50-8.
Native Foods Café, 1484 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-489-8480. 11AM-10PM daily. Originally from California, it is an entirely vegan 'fast food' restaurant that also offers vegan desserts, organic drinks and a small craft beer offering. They usually have a daily burger special. $5-12.
The Wormhole, 1462 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-661-2468. 7AM-9PM daily. With a prop DeLorean in the front window, this quirky 80s themed coffee shop offers up local baked goods and fresh coffee. Ample seating, if you get there at the right time. Offers WiFi. $3-12.
Bite, 1039 N Western Ave (49 Western bus), ☏ +1-773-395-2483. 9AM-2AM daily. The food is all right (and vegan-friendly), but Bite is right next door to the Empty Bottle, perfect for a pre-show meal. (There will be lines, but they're never as bad as they look.) Alcohol can be brought over from the Empty Bottle's bar. $9-14.
Dimo's Pizzeria, 1615 N Damen Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-525-4580. 11AM-late daily. A thin crust pizza joint, best known for their unusual pairings of pizza ingredients and 'pizza brunch', with no shortage of vegan friendly options for all. $3-25.
Sushi X, 1615 N Damen Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-312-491-9232. M-F 11AM-2PM, 5PM-10PM. An easy-to-miss restaurant, the dark, modern atmosphere is accented with projected anime, house music, and great sushi. Usually has a special for the 'roll of the month'. $5-45.
Bongo Room, 1470 N Milwaukee Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-489-0690. M-F 8AM-2:30PM, Sa-Su 9AM-2PM. Great breakfast, with two stars: the design-your-own omelets and the big, delicious praline banana pancakes. Show up early: the line has been known to run down Milwaukee on weekends.
Coalfire Pizza, 1321 W Grand Ave (65 Grand bus), ☏ +1-312-226-2625. Su Tu-Th noon-10PM, F Sa noon-11PM, M closed. In the pizza wars between Chicago-style, Brooklyn, Naples, and gourmet-trendy, Chicago of course wins. But the pizza wars are truly a fraud, overlooking pizza (more precisely, apizza) from the humbler city of New Haven, which may indeed may be the best of them all. Chicago's new coal-fired pizza oven serves some of the best apizza outside New Haven, and while it may seem irreverent to eat pizza from Connecticut while in Chicago, you'd honestly be hard pressed to do better. Pizzas $13-18.
The Handlebar, 2311 W North Ave (On a bike, preferably), ☏ +1-773-384-9546. 10AM-1AM daily. A vegetarian friendly restaurant and beer garden in Wicker Park, and the headquarters of Chicago's bicycle culture. $9-12.
Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, 1927 W North Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-772-4422. M-Th 11:30AM-1:30AM, F 11:30AM-2AM, Sa 11AM-3AM, Su 11AM-1AM. Thin-crust pizza and micro-brews. Live music most Fridays, karaoke on Thursdays at 9PM, and a recent sensation — live band karaoke on Saturdays at 11PM. The kitchen usually isn't open past 11:30PM or so, though.
The Smoke Daddy BBQ, 1804 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-772-6656. Su-W 11:30AM-11PM, Th-Sa 11:30AM-1AM. Jazz, swing, bluegrass and BBQ on Division. Smoke Daddy has live music seven nights a week, with big sandwiches and huge rib platters. They offer a BBQ Veggie sandwich if you're trying to coerce a vegetarian friend to come along. $12-24.
Big Star, 1531 N Damen Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-235-4039. Su-F 11:30AM-2AM, Sa 11:30AM-3AM. Old auto repair garage converted into one of the most popular Mexican (gourmet style) street food spots in the city. One of the best places in the city for people watching, the bar/restaurant can be unbelievably crowded and it might be better just to grab a few tacos to go from the carryout window and watch all the hipsters/yuppies running around the Damen stop about while waiting for your food. $10-20.
Mirai, 2020 W Division St (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-862-8500. M-W 5PM-10:30PM, Th-Sa 5PM-11:30PM. Future style and fresh sushi in formidable amounts, with a second-floor sake lounge. If price is no concern, Mirai is the place to revel in pure atmosphere (and raw food). $30-60.

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Drink

Other parts of the city have their charms, but when it comes to drinking in Chicago, there's no contest: this is the place. And while there are plenty of places left for those-in-the-know, Division Street may have taken over from the more touristed (and generally obnoxious) Rush Street in the Near North for sheer numbers in nightlife.

In Ukrainian Village, watch for "Zimne Piwo", Ukrainian for "cold beer." Plenty of apparently nameless bars make themselves known with those words under an old style sign.

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Sleep

House of Two Urns Bed and Breakfast, 1239 N Greenview Ave (Division Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-235-1408. Offers full breakfast, free parking, and charming rooms. Most have private en-suite bathrooms; all guests have access to free WiFi, kitchens, laundry and wonderful deck/garden areas. Rooms from $99-179.
Ruby Room, 1743-45 W Division St (Division Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-235-2323. A handful of B&B-style rooms above a rejuvenation spa in an 1896 building, with amenities geared toward relaxation — lush, comfortable decor, but no television or telephones. But it's right in the midst of the lively Wicker Park scene, so you won't miss them...much. Two-night minimum stay on weekends. Rooms from $155.
Urban Holiday Lofts, 2014 W Wabansia Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-312-532-6949. Hostel located above Olivia's Market. Free wireless internet and computer terminals, complimentary breakfast, kitcken, and laundry facilities available. Dorms from $20, private rooms from $55, en-suite private rooms from $75.
Wicker Park Inn, 1329 N Wicker Park Ave (Damen Blue Line), ☏ +1-773-486-2743. B&B with five beautiful rooms on-site and three apartments across the street for nightly rentals. Friendly staff can help you get the lay of the neighborhood. Rooms from $129.

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Keep Connected

Internet

There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.

Post

The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.

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This is version 3. Last edited at 9:50 on Sep 24, 19 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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