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CAPITAL CULTURE: Mr. Obama's Chicago neighborhood

By Deanna Bellandi
Associated Press Writer / September 22, 2009

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CHICAGO—A jogger has to alter his route because of security barricades. But a local barber shop is enjoying a tourism boom. And neighborhood residents have gained a reason to brag to friends -- all thanks to President Barack Obama.

Although Obama and the first family have spent little time in Chicago since packing their bags for the White House in January, their presence is still felt around their old South Side neighborhood.

It's most noticeable near their $1.6 million, red brick mansion, which sits just off a busy street, partially blocked from view by trees.

Even when the president isn't in town, concrete and metal barricades block the entrance to his side street, interrupting pedestrian traffic on one side of a main thoroughfare.

That sends jogger Troy Palmer to the other side of the street when he's running his usual route. But Palmer isn't bothered.

"I voted for him. I wanted him to be president. What more can I expect?" said the 48-year-old Web designer.

Palmer says it's worse when Obama is in town. Then, authorities completely block off the main artery for a couple of blocks in each direction.

But the president and his family have rarely spent time at the Chicago home since settling in at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington.

They spent a long weekend in Chicago in February, and Obama also stopped by the house in July when he was in town on a fundraising trip.

Soon after he got elected, Obama talked about wanting to make regular visits home to his urban vacation White House.

"My Kennebunkport is on the South Side of Chicago," Obama told the Chicago Tribune last year. "Our friends are here. Our family is here. We are going to try to come back here as often as possible ... at least once every six weeks or couple months."

That hasn't happened, but the first family is still keeping up with their Chicago friends.

Some have since moved to Washington with them, including White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and White House social secretary Desiree Rogers. Other friends sometimes travel with the first family, including Dr. Eric Whitaker, who played golf with Obama while on vacation on Martha's Vineyard last month.

When they do come home to Chicago, the Obamas could have new neighbors because the 17-room house next door is for sale. The home wasn't listed with a price tag because the owners wanted to see what the "Obama factor" would bring. Homes in the area generally sell for between $1 million and $2.5 million.

The new owners will have to deal with the hassles that come with living next to a presidential residence. That means giving Obama's security detail the names of friends and other guests who want to visit them and having people check in before they're allowed down the street, which is always barricaded, said homeowner Bill Grimshaw.

"When he's here, the street turns into a madhouse. There are like 30 to 40 guys. Cars all over the place. Red alert kind of circumstances. Everybody is tense. Everybody's head is on a swivel," Grimshaw said.

The Secret Service won't talk about security procedures around Obama's house but says allowances are made for neighbors.

"We do certainly make accommodations for them so their lives are impacted as little as they possibly can be," spokesman Malcolm Wiley said.

Besides tourists who come by to try to catch a glimpse of Obama's home, one of Obama's old neighborhood haunts is popular too.

Although he no longer stops in for weekly haircuts at his favorite Hyde Park Hair Salon, the tourists who do can get the "Obama Cut" for $21 and see the autographed barber chair where he would get clipped.

"Real good for business, no complaints at all," said owner Ishmael Alamin. "Thank you, Mr. Obama."

The president's barber chair is now enshrined in a glass case at the shop. Obama-autographed photographs and magazine covers hang on the walls.

Obama made regular stops there when he was home during the campaign. The traveling press corps waited outside.

His barber, who goes by only the name Zariff, has traveled to Washington to cut the president's hair, Alamin said.

Still, Alamin misses Obama stopping in for a trim.

"It'd be good to see him, but I know he's the president now. His life is not his own," he said.

During the campaign when Obama was home, he would also regularly visit a gym in a friend's nearby lakefront apartment building. That's something Marcus Perkins, a construction worker who lives in the building, likes to brag about even though he doesn't pay the extra rent money to use the gym where Obama worked out.

Perkins, 25, understands the demands of the new president and suspects Obama will visit the South Side more often in his later years in office.

"Maybe in his last years, but his first couple years in he's got a big hole to dig us out of," Perkins said.

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Associated Press video journalist Mark Carlson contributed to this report.