Over 50 Chicago companies are participating in the Southwest Side’s Small Business Saturday event

Small businesses on the Southwest Side are lighting a candle to help people find their way back to neighborhood shops after Black Friday this weekend.

Over 50 small businesses in the Clearing, West Lawn, Chicago Lawn and Gage Park neighborhoods participate in the Greater Southwest Development Corporation’s Small Business Saturday event, an annual tradition to increase foot traffic to local businesses.

“You don’t have to go to Michigan Avenue to shop, you can shop right here on the Southwest Side,” said Rodney Watt, the group’s director of development.

The tradition includes a gift for business owners to offer customers on the day. This year it is a Christmas candle that will be made available to the participating companies by the development group.

The group founded the event 10 years ago to boost traffic on the business corridors of 63rd Street between Cicero and Bell Avenues and 59th Street between Homan and Oakley Avenues.

Decades ago, business thrived along these strips, Watt said. But they have seen a decline over the past few decades and are still suffering from the pandemic downturn.

Today, there are significantly fewer active business licenses in the area than elsewhere in the city. For example, according to city data, there are 411 active business licenses in Gage Park compared to the 1,099 active licenses on the Lower West Side or the 4,346 on the Near North Side.

Monique Michelle Harris owns a spa and beauty salon at 2438 W. 63rd St. in the Chicago Lawn. She estimates that only about 20% of the stores that were on the block 10 years ago when she started are still open.

Business has been particularly slow since the pandemic, prompting her to attend the event for the first time.

“Before COVID, I had to be rollerblading to get to all the customers that came through the door,” she said.

The Westside native hopes the event will remind people of what’s already available to them.

“You don’t have to leave the neighborhood to use these services,” she said.

Nerissa Liggins, the owner of a clothing store at 2733 W. 63rd St., can at least sell goods online.

The South Side boutique native opened Queen’s Closet Plus Boutique, a store offering women’s clothing sizes 1X to 3X, in February 2020 and had barely set up the store before the pandemic hit.

Online sales are helping, but she’s hoping more people will come through the door.

“We’re going to hold on,” she said.

A full list of participating companies can be found on the group’s website.

Michael Loria is a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a nonprofit journalism program aimed at increasing the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South and West Sides. David Struett is a contributor to the Sun-Times.


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