Movie Night on Devon — Another Silverstein/SSA Failure

Crowd attends Devon Movie Night. It ebbed and flowed during the event, but at no time were there more than two dozen people. Don’t they look comfortable?

Movie Night on Devon, another noisemaker in a parking lot sponsored by the alderman and the Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), attracted a crowd of two dozen people on a windy and chilly October Thursday night. Most were kids, many unattended by adults, and most were far more interested in the free popcorn than the movie. Many left before the movie ended because it was so cold and the popcorn machine shut down.

Who can blame them? What kind of organization seeks to build goodwill and increase business by inviting people to sit on asphalt on a 57-degree October night to watch an old movie?

What insensitive louts would consider placing this screen and loudspeakers alongside other people’s homes? The Devon SSA #43 and the alderman, of course.

The SSA’s characteristic lack of attention to detail was evident throughout the evening. The event, scheduled on a school night, was barely underway when the screen-loudspeaker combination blew a fuse. Near the end of the movie, the popcorn machine overheated and blew another one. Kids who had gorged on thirst-inducing popcorn were disappointed to learn that the SSA had not provided any water. There were no trash cans for the empty popcorn bags or the plastic wrappers from the giveaway plastic sunglasses, so the lot soon resembled the rest of Devon–littered with bags and food garbage. A couple of SSA big shots showed up to check on attendance.

A sharper view of the proximity to housing. The alderman wouldn’t dream of doing this where she lives, nor would the SSA members. But the impact of these events on the quality of life for residents here before the parking lot was built has never concerned them.

To his credit, Robert Taylor of Republic Bank had the excessive volume turned down, but it had to be loud to be heard over Devon’s traffic. It was a courtesy to neighbors who were largely unaware of the event because the SSA chose not to notify them, as required by law, and placed its advertising only in select businesses east of California Avenue. Oh, the alderman did announce it in her newsletter the week before, but she apparently didn’t have time to tend to the legal details or common courtesy, either. She and the SSA never do. You’d hear them screaming if something like this were scheduled outside their own residences, though.

The Shree Ganesh Temple celebrated a Hindu holiday in the parking lot, complete with loudspeaers that blasted for five hours. It also shut down Devon so dancers could march from the temple to the parking lot.

Devon shut down on Sunday, September 23, to allow 150 Hindu celebrants to march to thr parking lot from the temple. The temple’s owners have admitted that the temple exists primarily to increase business for Devon’s Indian merchants. They have voiced no concerns over its impact on non-Hindu residents.

This was a bad idea right from the start. The SSA and the alderman are determined to turn the failed parking lot into a neighborhood entertainment center. In the past six weeks, it’s been home to an India Day celebration, a political protest, a Hindu holiday celebration, and now this movie night. The lot is zoned only for parking and lacks a license for religious or entertainment events, but the SSA and the alderman don’t care. The Silverstein-selected SSA members (technically appointed by the Mayor) ignore the laws because Silverstein  encourages it. It’s paid off for her. There’s no Asian candidate for alderman this time around. There were two in 2015, and they garnered one-third of the vote.

There is no evidence that any of these loudspeaker-fueled occasions have increased business, and Devon east of California is littered with vacant stores–just like Devon west of California. The lot between Campbell and Maplewood, site of a fire during Berny Stone’s last term, is still vacant nine years later, overrun with weeds, used as a garbage dump by passers-by, and cursed with a sagging fence. A good alderman would take the owner to court on a sell-or-build lawsuit, but not Silverstein. You’d think the SSA could ask the lot’s owner to open his lot for such events. It’s right in the heart of what the SSA publicizes as Little India, and would be perfect for movie events, since there’s no nearby housing. But if your intent is to drive longtime residents out of the area, you want to stage your parties in a parking lot alongside an alley in a display of arrogance and contempt that would not be tolerated north of Devon.

It’s so hard to protest without loudspeakers. Look at this monstrosity on wheels! Naturally, this group appeared during the dinner hour.

I’ve noted before that Silverstein’s annual ward movie night, held in the north part of the ward, takes place during the summer in Chippewa Park. Why not hold Devon Movie Night in Berny Stone Park? Or is that too far from the SSA members’ businesses?

Every parking-lot event produced by Silverstein and the SSA has failed. They make a lot of noise, but they don’t build good will or business. Remember the Devon Community Market? The Family Fun Fest? What were they thinking?

I’m not opposed to movie nights. But they belong in parks. In August.




Another Jackass Idea

The jackasses who run SSA #43 have come up with yet another crackpot idea to build business in Little India. They have invited shoppers on Devon to bring blankets and lawn chairs and enjoy an evening on the asphalt watching a movie at the Republic Bank parking lot. Yes, you heard that right.

The idea is so stupid it defies logical analysis. On a Thursday night, a school night, from 8 to 10 p.m., the SSA will be showing an animated film in the parking lot. Who would want to sit on a blanket on wet asphalt to watch a movie? What kind of parents think this is a good opportunity to entertain children who have to go to school in the morning? Who wants to carry enough chairs for an entire family?

The SSA, as usual, has not bothered to inform or involve neighbors living 10 feet away from what the SSA–with Ald. Silverstein’s full cooperation–has made its private entertainment venue. I learned about this event only because I saw the poster taped to one of the store windows on Devon. I’m sure the alderman will promote it in her newsletter today, mainly because she doesn’t care what an imposition it is on residents living directly next door. As long as it doesn’t disturb her, she’s fine with it.

It’s worth noting that when there’s a movie on the north end of the ward, where the alderman lives, it’s held in a park, not a parking lot. But that end of the ward votes for her. Our precinct never has.

If there are any plans for parking, crowd control, noise abatement, or clean up, the SSA has not shared them with the people living alongside this parking lot. Given the way other events have been handled, spilled popcorn, soda, candy, and other food debris will simply be left overnight. Residents will just have to cope with the scores of rats attracted by all the goodies.

Who will handle the drunks? Will there be yet another taxpayer-funded police detail assigned to cover this private event?

Has the SSA applied for a special events permit? If so, it has failed to comply with any of the requirements imposed on it by the city. Nearby residents are supposed to get a 30-day notice that such an event is scheduled so they can object if they choose to. The SSA is also supposed to furnish detailed plans for parking, crowd and noise control, and clean up. It never does, because it does not communicate with residents.

It’s the time of year when the 2019 contract for the SSA is being negotiated. I think keeping this independent taxing body in operation should be an issue in the aldermanic campaign. This SSA has demonstrated time and time again that it has no respect for community residents or for the laws governing community events.

The SSA lacks any sense of courtesy or responsibility toward residents. Its members are arrogant, selfish, and downright mean when it comes to what they want, and they have consistently ignored the rights of nearby residents on both sides of Devon.

Ald. Silverstein attends the SSA meetings; in fact, they are held in her office. She and the Rogers Park Business Alliance, the SSA administrator, are fully aware of and complicit in this arrogant behavior. But it is she who sets the tone, she who fails to ensure that the laws she is sworn to uphold are followed.

It’s another reason to vote her out of office.

We need an alderman who understands that building a business district doesn’t start with a jackass idea.

Why Aren’t Parking Laws Enforced on Devon?

Ald. Brendan Reilly wants to increase fines for downtown double-parking to $300 per offense. We should do the same thing for such illegal parking on Devon.

Traffic is routinely blocked up and down Devon as drivers park or wait at bus stops and ntersections. Even worse, many drivers think it’s acceptable to  stop and load groceries in the middle of the street. This is particularly true between Talman and Rockwell, a block with two of the major grocery stores and a corner sweet shop.

This practice is dangerous for bus passengers, who typically have to board and exit the bus in the middle of the street. Passengers using walkers, canes, or wheelchairs are the most inconvenienced . I was on a bus  whose driver had to ask the driver of an illegally parked vehicle–busy reading his newspaper–to move so a passenger in a wheelchair could board. It’s also dangerous to be trapped on the street between traffic and parked or standing vehicles, especially if you use a walker, cane, or wheelchair.

And what about pedestrians, who typically have to dodge cars zooming out from behind the offending vehicles? Drivers often turn down the side streets and blast through residential alleys to try to make up the time they’ve lost in these unnecessary roadblocks.

There’s no reason for supply trucks to be making deliveries through a store’s front door. All the stores have loading docks accessible from the alley. A new grocery opened just east of Washtenaw a few months ago. It’s located just east of the bus stop, and it’s become routine for 18-wheelers to park in the bus lane while delivering products to the store. The loading dock in the back has never been used.

Where are the police? And where is the alderman?

The failure to ensure that parking laws are observed on Devon should be an issue in the aldermanic campaign.


Devon’s “Branding Campaign”

The alderman’s newsletter today asks for comments from the community on a branding campaign that it’s hoped will bring business to Devon Avenue. A project of the Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), the Rogers Park Business Alliance, which administers the SSA, and the alderman, you can go to a meeting or take the online survey to give your opinion. I used the online survey. I don’t know that the community’s opinions will matter much, if at all.

It’s clear that lots of time, money, and effort have gone into the branding concept and its expression. But I believe a branding campaign is the wrong approach at this point. Shabby stores, so-so merchandise, vacancies and boarded-up buildings, too many grocery stores and cell phone stores, the absence of true diversity and real choices–these need to be remedied before we start promoting Devon as an international marketplace. The relentless campaigns of the past few years branding Devon as Little India have deprived the merchants east of Western and west of California of recognition and thus real opportunities to build their businesses; they have no representation on the SSA, and the proposed branding campaign doesn’t recognize them either.

I think the first priority is building a business district worth a marketing campaign.

This will be a problem given the alderman’s lack of interest in economic development and the fact that the SSA is run by and for the benefit of Indian business owners. I’ve been tracking the businesses on Devon since 2014, and in that time have found that buildings and storefronts remain vacant for months–even years–before yet another sari shop, cell phone store, or grocery opens. When I check the building ownership for these properties, I find that they are Indian-owned. It’s no accident that only Indian businesses are permitted to rent storefronts on that stretch of Devon.

Devon used to be known all over the City and suburbs for its magnificent retailing. The neighborhood had everything–dress shops, toy shops, restaurants, men’s clothing stores, shoe stores, kids clothing shops, a hobby shop, linen, barber, and beauty shops, Crawford’s Department Store, a stock brokerage, bakeries and cigar stores, among other retailing offerings. In 1974, when Patel Bros. opened its first grocery store on Devon, it was welcomed to the mix. But as Indo-Americans bought the properties along Devon, , only Indian businesses were permitted to rent the storefronts. Do the Indian owners discriminate against non-Indian tenants? Yes, they do. It’s clear, and it’s illegal. I’ve tracked it for too long to believe otherwise. And I’ve talked with at least one non-Indian prospective business owner who wasn’t able to rent.

Maybe the RPBA, the SSA, and the alderman can work on that.

Here’s another hint:

An international marketplace sells quality goods from around the world. Diversity is in the merchandise, not in the merchants.

Devon includes store owners from around the world, but their businesses–which could thrive and become successful–are doomed to failure because they do not get the support and assistance they need. Many  are woefully under-capitalized and need access to funding as well as basic marketing, merchandise display, advertising, and retailing skills.  Devon is not a road in some dusty village where a single store sells everything from milk to suitcases. It’s a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago, and middle class people do not patronize stores with dusty bags of rice in the windows, or sun-faded boxes. If the alderman, the RPBA, or the SSA really want to build a business district rather than promote Little India, they would contact the SBA, the City’s business development office, and the State of Illinois for assistance in creating such training and making such resources available to merchants in the entire SSA area  (Leavitt to Kedzie on Devon, Arthur to Granville on Western).

Creating a “branding campaign” for the current dreary array of vacancies and shabby little shops selling so-so merchandise is a mistake. Mislead people once and you won’t get a second chance.

Build a business district that’s truly remarkable and it will sell itself.

West Ridge #3 in Rat Complaints in Chicago

According to today’s DNA Info, West Ridge ranks third in rat complaints in the City of Chicago. Of the 46,879 resident complaints about rats in 2016, 1,529 came from West Ridge. The 2017 City total is already 1,500 complaints higher than 2016.

The article notes that the areas with the greatest number of complaints also have the highest-density population, the greatest number of restaurants, and the largest amount of trash. Construction also plays a role. To be fair, West Ridge includes parts of the 40th and 48th Wards as well as the 50th.

But doesn’t Devon Avenue immediately come to mind?





Does Devon Need a Hindu Temple?

The owner of Shree Ganesh Hindu temple at 2545 Devon Avenue has applied for a special use permit that would officially make the storefront temple a religious institution and allow it to operate on Devon Avenue regardless of its impact on the neighborhood. The temple and the alderman took care not to alert neighboring residents and will present  the community with another done deal after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) rules in the temple’s favor. This is a foregone conclusion–the alderman backs the plan, yet another example of the way democracy works in Chicago, the ZBA, and the 50th Ward.

Building a Hindu Temple on Devon is a very bad idea and should not simply sail through the approval process without community input.

Understand, I am not opposed to the Hindu temple itself. But Devon is the wrong location for it, it will create severe traffic and parking problems, and the hundreds of tourists who are expected to drive here daily for photo ops will worsen the already heavy air and noise pollution that hang over Devon like clouds some days. It will also drive traffic into residential areas already overburdened by drivers who park haphazardly and shoppers who throw garbage everywhere. Why not build it on Western, which has ample vacant lots for a temple and parking? On a lot that would showcase the 40-foot high rooftop addition and make it easier to photograph without halting traffic?

Oh, wait. When plans were first announced for the temple in late 2016, the daughter of the temple’s owner suggested that only about 150 people would be  expected on a daily basis, about 50 of them living within walking distance. However, she did state clearly that the temple is intended to attract hundreds of tourists to Devon’s Indian shopping area, thus making the temple less about religion than about commerce. Although the family claims that a Hindu temple is needed to bring the community together–this was actually said with a straight face by the temple’s lawyer–its purpose is clearly to draw customers to its owner’s four other businesses.

Despite claims by the temple’s owner that Hindis are increasingly moving to West Ridge, in fact, according to the 2010 U.S. Religious Census, the Chicago Metropolitan area (defined as Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin) claims only 6,000 Hindu adherents out of a total population of more than 9.4 million people. According to The Pew Research Center’s 2008 Religious Landscape Study, only about 1,300 Hindu live in Illinois, or less than 1% of the population. Less than .7% of the U.S. population identifies as Hindu.

What the temple’s owner hears is not a great clamor crying out for community, but merely the ka-ching of his own cash registers.

I might add that the temple used the Republic Bank parking lot, not zoned for religious observances or public performances, to celebrate the end of yet another unannounced (at least to residents) festival held over Labor Day that required setting up four loudspeakers blasting dance music into the homes of residents living just ten feet away.  The affair had the alderman’s full support. The current festival that began on September 21 is scheduled to end on September 30, Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish high holy days. I wonder if Hindu celebrants will set up loudspeakers again to celebrate the triumph of good over evil while others are observing their holy day in quiet prayer and contemplation. Maybe the temple’s business angle gives it immunity from legal obligations and niceties like consideration for others.

You’d think that an additional couple of hundred more cars per day clogging one of the most congested streets in the City would be cause for concern. You’d hope that air quality for residents, including children attending schools located within a block of Devon, would be a priority. You’d assume that ample parking for the vehicles of hundreds of camera-laden tourists would be part of the planning process.  You’d want to know if they’ll be arriving in sedans or RVs. You’d think the impact on nearby residential streets and alleys would be studied. You’d think the community would be invited to consider the problems inherent in placing a temple smack in the middle of a commercial strip surrounded by thousands of dwellings, schools, and senior citizens.

Ha!. This is the 50th Ward.

No traffic, parking, or environmental impact studies are planned. Neither are any community meetings.

You see, Debra Silverstein doesn’t care if the temple has a negative environmental or quality of life impact on the community. She’s never cared much for the southeast end of the ward, and my guess is that it will be ceded to another alderman with the coming ward remap. The formula is simple: election 2019; census 2020; ward redistricting 2021.  She isn’t interested in economic development, either, and the Indian merchants and property owners along Devon run the show, such as it is. Why not build a temple? Let Joe Moore or Harry Osterman or Pat O’Connor deal with the consequences. It won’t be Silverstein’s problem any more.

But the way she went about it should be remembered by every voter in 2019. It’s time for the voters of the 50th Ward to stand up against Silverstein’s secret deals, her unilateral decisions benefiting special interests at the community’s expense, her disregard for residents’ quality of life, her lack of transparency and penchant for secrecy, and her lack of interest in economic development.

Devon Avenue doesn’t need a Hindu temple.

But West Ridge needs an alderman with a vision, a plan, and a talent for leadership.








Dulhan’s Does It Right

Thanks to Dulhan’s for celebrating America’s Independence Day! It was the only store between California and Western that recognized our country’s birthday.

Dulhan’s displays the American flag on Devon.

It bothers me every year that the merchants on Devon do not recognize or celebrate July 4, yet barely six weeks later the street is festooned with Indian and Pakistani flags and posters celebrating each country’s independence day. America has welcomed its immigrant residents and their businesses, yet there’s no reciprocity. Is it really too much to ask merchants doing business on Devon Avenue to show their gratitude for the opportunities America has given them by acknowledging America’s birthday?

Dulhan’s is to be congratulated for the time and thought given to the store’s patriotic display. The area (southwest corner of Devon and Talman) really looked lovely,

and the flag display added to the beauty of the seating area outside the store.

These were the only American flags to be found on Devon.

For those who haven’t tried Indian clothing, I recommend Dulhan’s. A few years ago my husband, who had suffered a stroke that left him blind and confined to a wheelchair, wanted some comfortable cotton clothing for summer. We purchased two outfits at Dulhan’s that were beautifully made, with intricate embroidery on the tunics. We laughed at the huge pants on one set, but their drawstring waist somehow made the pants just right. And the colors didn’t fade. The staff could not have been kinder or more patient with us.

Frankly, I don’t feel welcome in most of the stores east of California (with good reason, as some are now displaying window signs advising that they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, no reason for such refusal specified). One merchant, reacting to my stopping to window-shop, picked up his cell phone, opened his door, and snarled “What do you want?” Such behaviors don’t encourage the wider community to support the merchants.

But I can confidently recommend Dulhan’s, not only for its merchandise and its friendly staff, but also because I like people who are proud to be Americans, no matter what their ethnic background. And I believe in supporting local businesses that recognize and celebrate the birth of our nation.




Hindi Temple on Devon: A Secret Deal, A Bad Location

Local news media reported over the weekend that Ald. Debra Silverstein and “the community” had approved construction of a Hindu temple on Devon Avenue.

It was a lie.

Silverstein has clearly been taking lessons in arrogance from her mentor the Mayor, issuing major announcements as the weekend starts so that whatever she’s up to becomes old news by Monday morning, thus lessening pushback from a ward used to being told what it wants by Silverstein and the special interests she pacifies and controls to keep herself in power.

Displaying the lack of honesty and integrity that are the hallmark of her second term in office, Silverstein hoodwinked the press with yet another of her secret pacts, appearing before the cameras to announce yet another done deal before the community knew anything about it or had the time to clarify and verify the “facts” presented by the alderman and her supporters. The so-called “community meeting” was devoid of community input except from those who would profit from the temple, absent any concern for its impact on nearby residents, and already set for approval by a complacent Zoning Board of Appeals whose members understand that their job is to rubber-stamp whatever the powerful want.

And the players here are powerful.

There’s the alderman, a woman whose sole goal is to keep herself in power. Every action she takes reveals her basic contempt for the democratic process and the constituents she is supposed to represent. As noted last week, she was present at another “community meeting” that no one knew about, and that meeting assessed certain property owners an extra 1.5% in taxes to support the businesses of the same people backing the Hindu temple.  Her energies are devoted to ensuring outcomes that benefit special interests. The deceits employed in support of the temple proposal included inviting to the “community meeting” only people whose support was already guaranteed, and pretending that the dozen alleged community members present at the “community” meeting represent  our neighborhood of 73,000 souls, most of whom had no idea  that such a venture had been proposed. But that’s Silverstein:  The decision’s been made, the ZBA has its marching orders. Too bad for the community.

Then there are the business interests behind this project. The primary reason for building this temple is commercial rather than spiritual. The Ganesh Temple of Chicago, located at 2545 West Devon in the one-story building that used to house the Republic National Bank, is owned by the Shewakramani family, which owns several businesses on Devon, including Regal Jewels and Sari Sapne, as well as several buildings along the street. One Shewakramani family member said of the temple that it was expected to help struggling businesses on Devon by drawing tourists and outsiders who’ll want to see the beautiful building. Exactly. It’s meant to be a tourist attraction.

Other families with multiple businesses on the street also stand to profit from the temple’s presence.

Rushing this project (building is set to start in Spring) without real community input and impact studies is insulting to residents, who have been entirely shut out of the process. Again. What exactly are the alderman and the temple’s proponents afraid of? Is it that impact studies would reveal what a bad idea a temple is in this location? And it is a bad idea: it would increase traffic, fail to provide adequate parking, remove yet another commercial building from the property tax rolls, and impose serious environmental damage on both residential and commercial buildings in the area.  It won’t do much for the quality of life of nearby residents, either. The temple’s owners don’t care about any of that. Neither does Silverstein. There will be no discussion.

There’s also the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), whose current five-member Board is appointed by the Mayor and owes allegiance to political sponsors with a vested interest in keeping the City’s power structure happy and intact. Silverstein is one of Emanuel’s most reliable votes, so the ZBA will approve this temple because she wants it. There will be no impact studies because uncomfortable questions might be raised and it’s not the ZBA’s purpose to consider zoning changes in the context of anything except what Silverstein wants. The ZBA is there to help Debra win the 2019 election, and the temple is but one step in her campaign.

Just for fun, let’s consider the temple’s impact on parking and traffic. It doesn’t make a difference what we think, anyway, since the alderman and the Shewakramani family have already made their deal.

The temple’s proponents claim that only about 150 people per day (1,050 per week) will use the temple, although they did not offer specific on how they know this. They estimate that one-third of worshippers will walk to the temple, while the remaining 100 users will share a dozen parking spaces behind the temple and 30 reserved spaces in the Rockwell Street parking garage. Temple proponents did not say how many of the 12 spaces would be reserved for temple staff. Let’s assume that seven of the spaces behind the building will be for worshippers, plus the 30 spaces at the Rockwell garage. That still leaves 63 vehicles per day (or 441 per week) without parking. Where will they go? Their drivers won’t pay for parking, that’s for sure, so they’ll park on residential streets or in crosswalks or bus stops, as they do now. Silverstein and the temple owners don’t care. And if lots of tourists come? Good for business. Never mind the residents. Imagine another 100 vehicles per day on Devon.

The impact on traffic will also be ignored. The streetscape has so narrowed Devon that traffic jams are worse than ever, sending vehicles into the east-west alleys, especially during rush hours. Because of the indifference Indian shoppers display toward neighborhood residents and bus riders, it is common for traffic to be held up because shoppers are parked in bus stops and bus passengers—including those in wheelchairs and the elderly struggling with canes and walkers– must board and exit buses in the middle of the street. Shoppers also double-park to load their vehicles and don’t care who’s inconvenienced or how long the street is blocked. The last thing residents living close to Devon need is for an additional 100 vehicles to be clogging the streets and alleys looking for free parking.

Unlike the community at large, the attorney for the temple was invited to the announcement and said of West Ridge, “This is one of the great neighborhoods in Chicago in that it is probably one of the most multi-cultural neighborhoods that we have in the city, and we want to make sure everyone in the community is represented.”

You’d think she and her clients would know that the sham of a meeting they held as well as the exclusionary retailing they practice pretty much exclude “everyone.”  Oops! Of course they know. They don’t care any more than the alderman does.

As most residents are aware, but outsiders to the community are not, Devon used to be the main business artery of a thriving, multiethnic community, but the retailing takeover from Western to California by Indian merchants has left 80% of the neighborhood with no reason to shop there. Except for its many small groceries and large supermarkets, Devon offers only Indian goods for Indian customers (and tourists) and has caused the neighborhood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in retail sales annually as residents buy clothing, shoes, toys, household, and other items in other neighborhoods.

The temple is merely the latest in a series of gimmicks designed to bring business to Devon Avenue. As a business draw, it, too, will fail. The business model is not sustainable. There simply aren’t enough Indian customers in the area–Indians are barely 20% of the ward–to support the overabundance of Indian businesses, and tourists have too many other choices –beautiful modern malls and suburban shopping areas—to come to Devon. Years ago, it was the place to shop for everything Indian, but that was before the Internet, before the Indian community began to disperse to the suburbs, and before other Indian shopping areas were developed. Market saturation has killed the available market.

It’s pointless to try to explain to the Indian business owners that what would revitalize Devon is a variety of stores and restaurants reflecting the neighborhood’s many ethnicities, which, taken together, vastly outnumber the Indian population. They don’t want to hear it. They want the eight blocks from Western west to California exclusively for themselves and are prepared to turn the neighborhood into a freak show if it will bring in tourists. Look—a woman in a burka! Over there—an African woman in a turban! That man’s wearing a sarong! There’ s a sign for camel milk –I gotta get a picture!

I saw lots of people take pictures in front of the camel milk sign, but I never saw any one of those people actually shopping. Unless you’re in the market for suitcases, saris, cell phones, or cucumbers, there’s nothing to buy.  Tourists may look at the gold jewelry and high-end bridal finery, but it’s too ethno-specific for the wider market. They may photograph it, but they don’t buy it.

One family member who acted as spokesperson for the temple said that ”… something [is] missing in this community that really needs to bring people together.” Well, yes. People who shop together get to know one another, become friends, and build community. Their money remains in and flows throughout the neighborhood in what’s known as the “multiplier.” What that means is that some of the money spent on goods and services is paid to business employees who spend some of their income on lunches, goods, and services from other neighborhood stores, thus creating profits and jobs in the community. It’s a simple economic truth: the longer a dollar stays in the neighborhood, the more economic good it does.

But the Indian way of doing business drains the community’s wealth. There’s the fact that more than 50% of all businesses on Devon have fewer than 2 employees, and most of those have only one; there’s the fact that many of these family businesses do not put spouses, sons and daughters, or cousins on the payroll when they watch the store for a few hours a few times a week, thus costing the City, State, and Federal governments payroll and income taxes. Some businesses appear to be little more than tax dodges, rarely open for business, apparently meant to offset income from other jobs and investments. Many businesses are unlicensed. Few are profitable, turnover is high, and business failure rampant.

Indian businesses were welcomed as part of the neighborhood when the first Indian store opened more than forty years ago, but Indian business interests did not want merely to be represented in the mix of ethnicities that is West Ridge. They wanted the whole street and drove out all non-Indian businesses from Western to California. Further, Indian business interests now own most of the buildings in that area. I’ve always found it interesting that storefronts and buildings remain vacant for months—even years—until Indian businesses move in. If some other ethnic group owned all the properties in a given area, and no Indian business ever opened, you can bet the issue of ethnic bias or preference or outright discrimination would be raised. Why isn’t that the case here? The situation is ripe for investigation.

There are plenty of reasons not to rush this temple project. Business development cannot proceed in isolation from residential concerns. An alderman sensitive to her constituents would understand this. Not Silverstein. She understands power and how to use it to benefit other powerful people.

At the private announcement, Silverstein boasted about her “pride” in Devon’s “diversity.” That’s the same word employed by the Shewakramani family and its lawyer.

Ah, diversity. That’s why all of Devon—not to mention the entire neighborhood—has come to be known as Little India.

Try this: tell someone you’re from West Ridge. After they ask, “New Jersey?” tell them you mean West Rogers Park. Count how many people ask some variation of “Isn’t that Little India?”

So what does it all mean?

Powerful business interests will be permitted to remove a commercial building from the property tax rolls and replace it with a tourist attraction masquerading as a religious institution. This will force residents to pay more when the next property tax increase rolls around. And it’s coming sooner than many think: Rahm’s been busy on secret projects, too.

No other site will be considered for the temple because its purpose is to attract customers to Devon’s businesses.

The alderman orchestrated a fraudulent “community meeting” to legitimize a deal reached in secrecy with special interests. She’s done this before. She’s good at spin and knows how to get her message to the media before the whole picture emerges and the other side can be heard.

So far, she’s shut the community out of discussions on the new library and held a sham community meeting at which generic “renderings” of possible rooms were presented and every question was answered with “that’s still on the table” or some variant thereof. Despite her promises that the community will have input, the RFP for the new building was released at close of business on December 9. All proposals are due by 11 a.m. December 23. Silverstein hasn’t announced that yet. Don’t wait for her to do so. It’s a secret.

There’s lots of interest in the old library site, but the alderman has nothing to say yet. It’s a City building, and could be used for a long-awaited cultural arts center for West Ridge. You can bet plans are already being formulated by Silverstein and the right power interests. You can expect that those interests will not include input from the community at large.

The bogus park with no playground. The library-senior citizen complex on the fast-track for completion in 18 months, right in time for municipal elections. The gift of a Hindi temple, consequences be damned.

A little something for everybody.

The 2019 aldermanic campaign has begun.

FunFest in Need of Volunteers

I hear that FunFest, sponsored by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, the Silversteins, SSA #43, and a few businesses and community organizations, needs volunteers who can help support the event, scheduled for the Republic Bank parking lot on August 28.

This is the same crowd that made such a mess of the Devon Community Market. They never learn from their mistakes. The neighborhood has never shown any support for non-events like this, so organizers have combined it with a sidewalk sale. If you need suitcases, phone cards, hookahs, cheap trinkets, or fruits and vegetables, this sale’s for you. If you’re looking for the “international shopping” the promoters are claiming, go somewhere else. Buying cucumbers and lottery tickets from vendors from different cultures does not quality as international shopping, but getting the powers-that-be to understand this is impossible.

There’s no better example of the poor thinking and lack of imagination of this event’s organizers than in the decision to once again use the Republic Bank parking lot as an illegal entertainment venue. Let’s set aside for a moment the blatant disregard for nearby residents or the arrogance on display in ignoring both the law and common decency. After all, the Silversteins’ co-sponsorship makes the law what they say it is; the fact that they and their neighbors wouldn’t tolerate this disrespect for a second just adds insult to injury.

Instead, let’s look at this from a practical standpoint: using this lot for entertainment prevents it from being used for parking. This is so typical of the way this group thinks–plan an event to attract hundreds of shoppers, then close the second-largest parking facility in the area so it can be used for face-painting. The sheer stupidity of it is mind-boggling.

If you’d like to volunteer, please contact the Chamber. It needs all the help it can get.