Economic Development Community Meeting at Northtown Library

Every year the Chicago Community Trust invites City residents to participate in discussions of topics of public interest and public policy. The program, known as “Open Table,”  organizes these citywide discuussions neighborhood by neighborhood.

This year, the West Ridge Community Organization and the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce are co – sponsoring the OpenTable program that will take place on Thursday, May 10th, at the Northtown Library, 6435 North California, from 6 to 8 p.m.  The selected topic is economic planning and development in West Ridge.

Discussions will begin with a presentation by Abraham Lentner, city planning instructor att the University of Illinois at Chicago. After his presentation, the audience will break into small discussion groups to share ideas about potential eonomic dvelopment improvements for our neighborhood. The audience will then reconvene to share each group’s ideas, concerns, and recommendations.

The event is free. If you have any questions please contact the West Ridge Community Organization or the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

Advertisements

SSA #43 Tax Levy — and a Two-Minute Meeting

SSA #43, the Special Services Area taxing district that adds an extra 1.5% property tax levy to real estate on Devon from Kedzie to Damen and on Western from Granville to Arthur, received City Council approval for its 2017 levy on November 15, 2016.

By law, there was to be a public meeting about the increase before the budget was approved, but I was unable to uncover any evidence of either the notice or the meeting so I e-mailed the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce for the meeting date and the name of the paper(s) where the notice was published. I have yet to receive a response, the Chamber no doubt busy planning its next business-building children’s event.

However, on Monday, November 28, Chamber personnel posted the “Minutes” of a purported “Community Meeting Regarding the Budget Levy Increase” allegedly held on October 27.  According to these “Minutes,” “Meeting was called to order at 6:10 p.m. No community members attended and no questions were presented. Meeting was adjourned at 6:12 p.m.”  The alderman is listed as present.

Interestingly, the Minutes of the SSA’s October 27 regular meeting were also posted on November 28. That meeting was also “called to order at 6:10 p.m.” but not adjourned until 6:56 p.m. So it appear that the two meetings were held simultaneously. I’m sure this will be corrected. The devil is always in the details.

Still no word on where the legally-required notices for the legally-required meeting  were published. This sure seems like  yet another example of the contempt the powers-that-be have for neighborhood residents and the concept of transparency in government.

The meeting was also attended by Mike Parella, who was otherwise unidentified and whose presence was unexplained.There is a Project Coordinator with the City’s Department of Planning & Development by the same name. Maybe he was there to witness the neighborhood’s indifference to the alderman’s way of doing business. Maybe the lack of community presence was taken as confidence in her vision.  Or maybe the dismal state of the neighborhood’s main shopping district has been noticed by City honchos who are finally helping the alderman with her six-years-in-the-making-and-yet-to-be-released “spirited economic development plan.” Let’s hope so. Residents have been unable to connect with her on the issue.

The SSA’s budget is stated in the ordinance (SO2016-7364), which can be found by searching the City Clerk’s Web site. It’s a lengthy document, and contains two separate applications and budgets, one for the Chamber and the other for the new “sole service provider,” the Rogers Park Business Alliance. The ordinance was amended to make the Business Alliance rather than the Chamber the service provider.

Note how the monies are budgeted.

Most of it (more than $270,000) goes to “Public Way Aesthetics,” the primary job apparently being cleaning-up after the litterers, spitters, and food-tossers who shop on Devon and don’t care about dirtying the neighborhood.

Rice Computer Services is to be paid $4,000 for repair and maintenance of the Big Belly trashcans.

“Customer attraction” is budgeted at $54,000; less than half that sum ($25,000) is earmarked for “Safety Programs,” and only $12,000 will be invested in business development. Mixed-up priorities?

“Sustainability and Public Places” gets $8,000. Perhaps that will result in an investment in signage, such as “No Spitting” or “No Parking in Bus Lanes” or “Parking in Crosswalks Prohibited.”  Perhaps the presence of uniformed police or Revenue Department personnel writing tickets would also be effective deterrents.

No 50th Ward businesses landed service contracts. Instead, two of the six subcontractors listed by the Business Alliance are from outside Chicago, and one is in Maryland. Three are from other neighborhoods. Why hire a $16,000 accountant from Skokie when there are many accountants in the Ward? No local businesses can make street banners (to be provided by a company in Blue Island at a cost of $10,000) or provide landscaping and holiday decorations ($25,000 to a business in Rockville, Maryland)?

Of course, there has to be a consultant, paid $30,000; at least the business is in the City, as is the $20,000 snow shoveler and the $4,000 auditor; the latter is located in Edgewater.

All fees are estimated.

Stealth taxes. Secret, two-minute meetings. Services from vendors outside the Ward.

The Silverstein way.

 

FunFest FlimFlam

FunFest was a wild success for children but a total bust as a business booster for Devon businesses. It showcases once again the absence of leadership in the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce as well as its desperation. It plans events like this in an effort to make itself a presence in the community while failing completely in its mission of business development. The Chamber’s inability to secure participation from any storekeepers on Devon turned the heavily-publicized event into a children’s party.

FunFest organizers publicized the event as having “two miles of sidewalk sales” plus free children’s activities and live music for adults. The press release further invited fest-goers to visit our “300 restaurants and 25 bakeries” as an added inducement. How pathetic: we lack middle-class shopping so we invite folks to visit our bakeries. Remember—this is the Chamber of Commerce speaking.  Such wildly preposterous claims are just part of the Chamber’s plague of image and effectiveness problems. [Familiar with the Chamber’s exaggerations, I checked its figures, which, predictably, were three times higher than the actual numbers.] 

The fest was attended by a couple hundred children, who had a great time with games, face painting, and other activities. The music was way too loud, as usual, and played at a level guaranteed to damage the hearing of kids who stayed too long or got too close. But the fest was held in the poor part of the ward, and the Chamber–to the extent it considered the effect of the decibel level on children at all, which is doubtful–knows that poor people, in this case almost all immigrants from countries with worse educational systems than our own, don’t know about these things. Then, too, the elevated speakers were directed at housing, not at participants, and nobody’s thinking about the kids’ hearing at this kind of event.  What’s a little hearing loss if it means a new account for the bank? Priorities, please.

As far as boosting business, the Chamber failed utterly. No stores participated in the sidewalk sales event. Not one. I traveled both sides of Devon for over an hour and found empty sidewalks. This was to be expected, since the Chamber’s repeated attempts to get merchants to participate in the Devon Community Market also went nowhere. Merchants tell me that there’s nothing the Chamber can do for them. They’re right. It’s completely irrelevant, its activities, such as they are, nothing more than blundering attempts to get noticed. The Chamber supposedly exists as business development experts, not as party planners. You’d never know it.

Successful chambers of commerce, such as those in neighboring wards, work with development-minded aldermen to support the community through business recruitment and development. By encouraging economic progress that creates jobs for residents and strengthens residents’ ties to local commerce, chambers of commerce help build the loyalty that turns neighbors into repeat customers who keep businesses profitable. So there’s already one problem: our alderman has zero interest in business development, thus our rudderless Chamber lacks vision or direction. Strike one.

Call the Chamber and ask how many businesses there are in the ward. I’ll save you the trouble: They don’t know. Oh, they can tell you how many business licenses there are—that’s an easy look-up–but that’s not the same thing.  Ask them what kinds of businesses have set up shop here. They don’t know that, either. How many of a given type of store are here? Duh.  Is there a West Ridge business directory? Yes—but only of the approximately 200 businesses that belong to the Chamber. Two hundred—in a ward with over 1,500 businesses.  Does the Chamber have an active business recruitment program?  How does the Chamber sell the neighborhood to prospective businesses? What is the Chamber doing to alleviate the parking problem?  Would the Chamber’s time be better directed to attracting and retaining commerce than hiring face-painters? Strike two.

As regular readers know, the parking lot at Republic Bank lacks both PPA and PVA licenses. Both live and canned music were blasted at yesterday’s event in violation of City law. I asked Barbara Singal, the Chamber’s Executive Director, if she had a permit for the music She showed me two sheets of paper, one clearly labeled “Application for Permit” and the other purportedly a letter from the alderman in support of the event. Singal claimed “the commissioner” had signed the permit. When I attempted t get out my glasses to read the documents myself, she took them out of my hands and replaced them in her tote bag. I suspect they’re bogus but asked her to email the documents to me; we’ll see if she does.

In the meantime, tell me how you’d feel if this were blasted in your direction for several hours on an otherwise lovely late summer afternoon.

Where Singal and Robert Taylor, the bank’s manager and this year’s Chamber president, live, this kind of children’s event is held in the local park so it won’t disturb residents enjoying their yards on one of the last summer Sundays. Aren’t my neighbors and I entitled to the same consideration? Do you think Silverstein would write a letter in support of such an event where she lives? When children behave this way, we call it bullying and tell them why it’s wrong. When aldermen and those who derive their power from aldermen do it, it’s still bullying and it’s still wrong. They must be held accountable for it. Strike three.

Silverstein is a city official sworn to uphold the law. If a permit was obtained, strings were pulled to get it. It’s also possible that Singal and Taylor were bluffing; this may be why the papers were snatched away before I could read them. The blasting yesterday—the 27th musical performance in the lot—is just the latest in a pattern of abusive behavior for which the bank, the Chamber, Singal, Taylor, and the alderman must be held accountable.

It appears that it will take legal action to get the parties involved to behave lawfully. Abuse should never be tolerated, especially when it comes from people with access to political power that they think confers immunity from responsibility for their actions

Fore more information on loud music and hearing damage in children, click here.

 

SSA #43: Taxation Without Representation

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of SSA #43. Maybe you’ve read about an upcoming SSA meeting in the alderman’s weekly newsletter? Maybe you’ve read about major decisions taken by its Board that determine not only Devon’s cleanliness, snow removal policies, noise level, and decorations, but also how much property owners within the SSA district will have to pony up in extra real estate taxes to pay for these services?  No?

You should know about it, because SSA #43 taxes property owners within its boundaries (Kedzie to Damen on Devon, Arthur to Granville on Western) to support its initiatives. It’s one of those anonymous, quasi-governmental bodies with taxing authority that has its hands in residents’ pockets and hides in plain sight.

[Scroll down until you get to the part about how much it costs each property in the district to pay for the SSA. Keep in mind that these are the 2013 figures.]

SSA #43 is the Special Services Area for Devon Avenue, created by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and the Devon merchants to boost business on Devon Avenue without having to actually address the basic problem, i.e., exclusionary retailing, or make any substantive changes that would require economic planning involving the entire West Ridge community. It’s worth noting that one of the objectives mentioned in the financial statements (Note 1) is to establish competitive commercial districts; how this can be accomplished when merchants refuse to serve most of the immediate market is not addressed.

The SSA is run by the Chamber of Commerce and the SSA Board to benefit businesses within its district, although some receive no help at all while others control the Board and the money and use it primarily to benefit merchants between Western and Washtenaw. You know—the merchants who don’t want local residents in their stores unless those residents are the right ethnicity. This used to be called discrimination, but it’s not politically correct to say that in relation to minorities. Let’s call it exclusionary retailing: by stocking merchandise that supports the culture of only one ethnic group in our diverse community, shoppers from other ethnic groups are not only excluded but also actively helped to self-select out of local stores. Because 80% of the neighborhood is not the target market, merchants must rely on shoppers from other areas and tourists to make money. And those shoppers now have better places to go.

The merchants may not want our business, but they do want our money.  What the SSA describes as “a small assessment” is largely unknown to the residents who pay it. As if that’s not bad enough, SSA #43 overlaps with a TIF district. When SSA and TIF areas overlap, an increase in taxes for one results in an increase for the other. You do remember reading that on your tax bill, or hearing about it from the alderman, right? If not, you might want to check out a 2012 report by the City’s Inspector General,

In theory, the SSA’s Board represents both business and property owners. In fact, it doesn’t. In addition to its tasks of removing snow (except on Tuesdays, when there’s no point since the stores aren’t open and who cares about pedestrians anyway?) and cleaning up the mountains of garbage left by shoppers, the SSA also helps plan and fund so-called “community” events, such as the upcoming FunFest and the Devon Community Market. These events always fail because (1) the larger community doesn’t shop on Devon and therefore doesn’t care about business-building efforts; (2) there’s no parking; and (3) the planning group lacks imagination except when it comes to reporting fantasy figures for attendance.

This year the SSA planned to spend tax dollars on street banners celebrating Indian and Pakistani Independence Days. No money was spent on banners to celebrate American Independence Day, which joins Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Easter, Purim, Labor Day, Halloween, Hanukkah, and Christmas as holidays no longer recognized or celebrated by store owners on Devon. The SSA does celebrate Hindu holidays and created an all-night Eid shopping event–wihout warning nearby residents, many kept awake by the cars, music, fireworks, screaming children, and boisterous adults celebrating the end of Ramadan. It took a 3:00 a.m. thunderstorm to get them to go home.

There was an attempt to renew the SSA for another 15 years–until 2028–but it failed to pass the City Council in May 2015. [Note that the link to the Council ordinance specifies that certain “private information has been redacted from public viewing.”] The tax increase requested by the SSA (from .40 to 1.5%) was in addition to all other property taxes levied, so I suspect the failure to pass was related to the whopping property tax increase about to be levied, but the SSA did not let the issue die.

On further checking, I found that the Council approved the money grab in December 2015 with the signing of agreements which are, not surprisingly, no longer available on the City’s Web site. Both the 2015 and 2016 agreements have vanished, although the Web site assures me that City staffers have been notified and will search for the missing documents. Imagine: public documents relating to a secretive property tax hike suddenly gone from public view. And I mean suddenly— they disappeared the day after I accessed them.

The SSA currently has three vacancies, according to the April 2016 minutes. While I strongly encourage community members to apply for appointment, be warned that the alderman makes the choices, though members are technically mayoral appointees. It’s a given that she–and they–won’t want anybody who speaks for residents or thinks independently.

The next meeting of SSA #43 is on Thursday, September 15, at 4:00 p.m. at the alderman’s office Meetings are open to the public, but don’t be surprised if you show up and the meeting is cut short, or everything under discussion is moved to executive session.

SSA #43 is yet another instance of the powers-that-be operating in secrecy. The 2013 initiative claimed public outreach, but did anyone from the community attend? Hard to tell, especially if the 2013 creation and 2015 attempt at renewal are any gudes. In 2013, only 100 copies were published of a “Special Pamphlet” describing the district and outlining its funding and its responsibilities. That isn’t enough copies to distribute to the businesses in the SSA district, let alone the residential property owners. In 2015, notice of the SSA’s request for renewal was published not in a local paper, where residents might actually see it, but in the Chicago Sun Times classifieds, where it would be easy to miss. Of course, if you don’t know there’s an SSA that’s taxing you, you wouldn’t be looking for any such announcement, would you? It wasn’t mentioned in the alderman’s newsletter, either.

In both cases, the SSA met the letter of the law—notice was given, but not its spirit—actually informing the public.

The SSA was helped in its quest for a tax hike by an expensive consulting firm, Place Consulting. Its Community Engagement page provides a blueprint for the kind of outreach this SSA needs to do if it really wants to fully engage residents in economic development. But I doubt if that’s the SSA’s goal. Levying taxes in secrecy and ignoring the community’s needs and desires suits them better.

Didn’t America’s founders fight a war against this?

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

NIMBY – And I Don’t Care WHO Says It’s OK

Yesterday the Republic Bank on Devon held its first recycling event. Bank Manager Robert Taylor described it as “something nice for the neighborhood,” but that depends on where you live and how you spend your Sunday mornings. In my opinion, waking up to recycling trucks is not the best way to start the day, especially when the trucks are located directly alongside residential housing. It’s yet another example of the Bank’s utter disregard for its closest neighbors. The fact that Taylor is this year’s president of the Chamber of Commerce only makes it worse.

Devon Bank holds these recycling events several times a year in its parking lot on Western. It, too, has residential housing directly across the alley, but Devon Bank’s executives take care to locate the noisy trucks closer to Western than to housing, leaving plenty of room for vehicles to move in and out. Devon Bank’s courtesy toward its neighbors is not shared by Republic Bank.

When I asked Taylor why the trucks were located at the north end of the Republic lot—closest to housing—he replied, “I didn’t think it would be a problem.”  Really??When I asked if he’d stand for having these trucks alongside his home, he raised his arm and pointed to his watch. “It’s 9 ‘clock,” he said, and then added “Is there anything we can do to please you?” This was a reference to my past complaints about the number of noisy events held in what neighbors were assured was “just a parking lot” when it was built in 2012.

The Bank miscalculated when it built the lot, tearing down that part of its building that housed rent-paying tenants, like medical, accounting, and real estate offices while hoping to cash in on the street scape. Grateful shoppers show their resentment at paying for parking by cheating the Bank in every possible way, including breaking the gates so they don’t have to pay. Transforming the space into an unlicensed play lot won’t save it.

It’s been home to the Devon Community Market, with its live and canned music blasting from huge speakers, and several live concerts sponsored by the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA).  There is only one properly-licensed venue on Devon for this kind of event, but the Chamber and the other groups won’t use it. Instead, all of these events have been staged without proper permits or licensing directly across the alley from residences.

I realize that the Bank would like to increase its presence in the community as a way to increase its business. Nothing wrong with that, but using its parking lot as an entertainment center while ignoring the laws that govern such things is simply wrong. It could choose to perform other services for the community, like sponsoring kid’s sports teams. It’s not going to increase business by annoying people.

The parking lot is not zoned for performances of any kind. This presupposes, of course, that one of the alderman’s patented stealth zoning changes has not already occurred. I am still searching the City’s zoning records to be certain, and so far have not found any changes. I can say with certainty that no warning of an impending zoning change has ever been issued to nearby residents, but this reflects only the standard lack of transparency about these things in this Ward and does not relate to whether any such changes are planned or pending.

Most of my neighbors have given up trying to be heard in the councils of power that decide how we all live with this lot. Others have made accommodations—they put up with the noise without complaint in exchange for some benefit that only the powers-that-be can grant. Some even believe that it’s better not to complain to avoid the retribution that so often accompanies standing up for one’s rights. Unfortunately, when enough people choose silence in the face of abuse by the powerful, the abuse gets worse.

No person or group that sponsored any musical or “special” event in the Republic Bank parking lot in the past three years has applied for the City’s Special Events Permit. That’s because City law requires sponsoring groups to submit a written plan in advance advising the City on the sponsor’s plans for bus reroutes, garbage disposal, general clean-up, street closures, food service, and other aspects of the event. Other applications and licenses may also be needed, depending on the event’s specific activities. These groups simply act as if they have all the authority they need. Many assert that the alderman is fully aware of their event and approves of it.

Why would anybody think the alderman can approve breaking the law? Or that her knowledge of an illegal event implies consent?

I attended a January workshop held by the City’s Licensing Department to learn what licensing is required to sponsor a public entertainment event. I learned that, BEFORE applying for the DCASE application, one must first ensure that the chosen venue is appropriately licensed by the City. Furthermore, aldermen may not interfere with the licensing process, in other words, they may not intervene in favor of an applicant nor waive the licensing requirements.

This is the biggest hurdle for sponsors and organizers: musical events can be staged only at venues that hold a Public Place of Amusement (PPA) license. The Bank parking lot doesn’t have one and cannot get one because such a venue requires a distance of at least 125 feet from residential housing. The only place on Devon with a PPA license is Bombay Hall, below street level at the site of the old Hillman’s. Not surprisingly, organizers want their events at street level, in hopes of attracting crowds. If this means trampling on residents’ rights, they don’t care.

These events tend to be staged at night and on weekends, when City offices regulating noise control and licensing are closed. Complainers are referred to the alderman, who isn’t available nights or weekends, although you can leave a message and she’ll get back to you when the event is over. This presents a problem for law enforcement, which cannot shut down these illegal events because (a) complainants are accused of racism; and (b) the event organizers claim they have the alderman’s permission. Any cop who even tried to stop one of these illegal events would no doubt find himself walking a beat in Englewood within the hour.

I talked with one man supervising the concert who told me that they didn’t have to apply for any permits because “…the City takes care of everything.” Howdoes it do that when it’s not aware the event is scheduled? Well, Washtenaw Avenue was suddenly closed in mid-afternoon, after the concert started, when drivers learned that the parking lot was closed to traffic. They were permitted to enter Washtenaw at Arthur, but did not learn they couldn’t exit until informed by  a sign hastily posted at the east-west alley,  Event organizers didn’t care.

These concerts, by the way, are set up beginning at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Huge tractor-trailers block our alley while barrels of supplies roll down metal ramps, men shout instructions at one another, tents are erected, the stage constructed, food tables and audience chairs are set up, speakers tested—all of this occurring ten feet from sleeping residents. Most of my neighbors are not about to tangle with a couple dozen arrogant, physically-powerful men hauling barrels and heavy equipment around a parking lot at that hour of the morning. Isn’t physical intimidation a form of bullying?

Neither this year’s Indian Independence Day concert nor the extensively-publicized FunFest sponsored by the alderman and West Ridge Chamber of Commerce—both scheduled over the next three weeks—have applied for any special use permits from the City. Neither has met the statutory requirement of notifying nearby neighbors 30 days before the event that it has been scheduled. Using FOIA, I asked the City’s Department of Special Events and Cultural Affairs (DCASE) for copies of any and all applications for special use permits for events to be held in the Republic Bank Parking Lot. As of August 5, none have been located.

FunFest is an especially interesting case study of what’s wrong with the Chamber of Commerce and its approach to economic development. And it’s yet another event that lacks the proper permits yet enjoys the alderman’s sponsorship.

It all begins with a little-known taxing district that is the subject of tomorrow’s post.

 

Devon Community Market, Part I

This is the first installment of a four-part series examining the Devon Community Market, its creation, history, profitability, and problems, as reflected in the City’s official records, obtained using FOIA, and other sources. The City’s records are incomplete, reluctantly disclosed, and conceal more than they reveal. Some information and other records may be held by other entities, the City being only one of the Market’s several sponsors.

The official records that do exist are held by DCASE (Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events), and do not include profit and loss records, although the event is largely funded by public monies, some coming directly from the City, from the alderman, or from a state senator; some money comes from the special assessment that funds the Devon SSA.  The search for official records continues.

Creation and History

In the Spring of 2015 a meeting was held at Ald. Silverstein’s office to discuss the creation of a community market for West Ridge. According to a DNA Info article by Ben Woodard dated April 25, residents were invited to meet with representatives from the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, DCASE, and potential vendors about the market.  Like most of the neighborhood, I was unaware of the meeting, nor did I find any reference to it in a review of the alderman’s newsletters from Spring 2013.

The DCASE rep, Yesenia Mota, was described as the City’s farmers’ markets coordinator. Mota described the City as having “outgrown farmers markets” and claimed it was ” better to have a market with local businesses” and some farmers. She was quoted by Woodard as stating, “Obviously, you can’t have a Lincoln Square market here–it’s really diverse. It’s really an opportunity for all this diversity to come together.”

Why neighborhood diversity should have a negative impact on the sale of a full spectrum of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and plants was not explained.

What the City had decided, according to Mota and a press release from DCASE, was that it would sponsor four community markets in addition to its ongoing Farmers Markets, and one of those four would be in West Ridge. It fell to the alderman’s office, DCASE, and Amie Zander, then-Executive Director of the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, to recruit vendors. The 2013 market would be a trial run, scheduled for one Sunday per month from June through September, from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., in the then-new Republic Bank parking lot at Washtenaw and Devon.

The event was designed to showcase local artisans and businesses as well as live entertainment, with the soundstage set up diagonally across the southeast corner of the lot so as to maximize the volume on Devon Avenue in an attempt to attract shoppers. That the speakers were blasting directly into homes across the alley from the parking lot was not a consideration for the event’s organizers.

The first Devon Community Market had 17 vendors, 11 of them nonprofit agencies and organizations offering brochures, fact sheets, and other information (the alderman’s office was one of those represented). Apart from the entertainment stage, announced vendors included a wood worker, a jewelry artist, a face painter, and a couple of farmers. Customers were few. The three subsequent markets had a bit more variety, and neighborhood mainstay and good corporate citizen Ted’s Market came through with solid merchandise offerings from its store shelves. For at least two of the remaining three markets, Ted’s seemed to be the only vendor attracting shoppers. One vendor made a single appearance with merchandise that was apparently selected as the promised “ethnic novelties.”  A review of the photos on the Market’s Facebook page shows very few customers in attendance, and an over-reliance on close-ups of produce that was not in evidence at the market itself.

Nevertheless, Zander, appearing on Avy Meyers’ Northtown News Magazine program, said that the 2013 trial run proved that “…this is the right area for it.” She went on to note that the market was a response to resident complaints that West Ridge lacked a Farmers Market like Andersonville and other neighborhoods have, and noted that the market’s 2014 evening hours would bring people to Devon when all the businesses are open.

Zander was in attendance at the four 2013 markets and was largely responsible for vendor recruitment. That she did a poor job was evident. As for the comparison to Andersonville, that neighborhood’s 2013 market included approximately 30 vendors selling fresh produce, flowers, cheese, wine, fresh meat, honey, and bakery goods, among other vendors. It was Andersonville’s fifth market, true, but why the merchandise on sale there should be considered unappealing in a diverse neighborhood remains a puzzle.  (Interview available on the Devon Community Market Facebook Timeline, dated May 19, 2014, part of a discussion about neighborhood news.)

In her end-of-year newsletter, the alderman described the market as a place where “…business owners and vendors from our neighborhood and beyond had the chance to highlight the 50th Ward’s unique food, goods, and culture to the rest of the city. Shoppers and browsers were treated to farm stands jam-packed with fresh fruits, vegetables and produce…booths stuffed with baked goods and all the ethnic novelties that make the 50th Ward so amazing.”  It was nothing of the kind.

The 2013 Devon Community Market was an abject failure by any objective measure. That fact was not lost on the vendors, the residents, or some of the organizers. Every effort would be made to make 2014 better. Despite the unexamined contradictions in the Market’s basic concept and its resulting organizational problems, the 2014 Devon Community Market came close to being a success in many ways.

Tuesday: The Devon Community Market Retools for 2014

Debra Does Devon

You may have heard that the Chicago Sun-Times endorsed Silverstein, saying she brought unspecified  “improvements to the community, including along the key Devon Avenue commercial strip.”  The Sun-Times is just plain wrong.

I have walked Devon from McCormick to Ridge many times over the past six months and tried to inventory the businesses that actually operate on the street. The task was more difficult than it should have been because of outdated signage as well as the papered and painted windows in some buildings and storefronts that make it hard to tell if a business actually exists, regardless of signage.

I suggest we lift our eyes from the street scape and look at the retailing experience these 24 blocks on Devon Avenue offer.

  • Beauty shops                                                                           22
  • Convenience Store/Grocery/General Merchandise                 37
  • Electronics/Cell Phone stores                                                 20
  • Medical (including 4 optometrists)                                          24
  • Nonprofit/Religious Institutions                                               14
  • Restaurants (other than fast food)                                          37
  • Sari Shops                                                                              31
  • Supermarkets                                                                         10
  • Vacant Buildings                                                                      6
  • Vacant Lots                                                                              2
  • Vacant Restaurants                                                                  5
  • Vacant Stores                                                                         30

Devon Avenue was once a middle-class shopping district. Now it is home to

  • 47 stores whose primary business is selling groceries
  • 37 restaurants, plus 4 fast food operations
  • 34 storefronts occupied by medical businesses, nonprofit social services organizations, and religious institutions that generate no sales taxes (the exceptions being the 4 optometrists) and, in some cases, remove properties from the tax rolls
  • 43 vacancies (stores, restaurants, buildings, lots)

This is what happens when the alderman fails to deliver an economic plan.

This is what happens when the Chamber of Commerce refuses to work with residents to develop a shopping district that meets community demands and needs and instead relies on nonresident shoppers for business.

This is what happens when business owners refuse to accept that there simply aren’t enough customers to support such an overwhelming number of outlets selling the same damn thing.

I don’t care how many endorsements Silverstein and the mayor buy. The 50th Ward needs new leadership.

 

Snow, Constituent Services, and Business Sense

It snows in Chicago every winter. Why aren’t the businesses on Devon prepared for it? Why doesn’t the Chamber of Commerce arrange for snow removal on what is supposed to be the main shopping street in the ward?  Where’s the alderman’s office when it comes to clearing crosswalks and bus stops? Doesn’t the business community understand that shoppers can’t get down streets that aren’t shoveled? Don’t they care?

Pedestrians and shoppers can barely move on some sections of Devon Avenue, and getting across the street is virtually impossible at most intersections. Some businesses shovel, some don’t. Nobody clears crosswalks, forcing pedestrians to walk in the street until they can find an opening that allows them access to the sidewalk. Bus stops are inaccessible, forcing riders to board from the street. Most businesses don’t even salt the sidewalks, making them dangerous for pedestrians.

It’s too bad the alderman put her discretionary funds into the Devon street scape. Otherwise she’d have the money to provide a real service to her constituents and provide some much-needed income to high school or college students or the unemployed by hiring them to shovel snow from intersections and alley crosswalks, to dig out trashcans and bus stops.

These pictures were taken on Tuesday, February 3.

 

From Campbell to Maplewood, south side of Devon.

From Campbell to Maplewood, south side of Devon.

Devon, Talman to Washtenaw. Note riders waiting for bus at Washtenaw. the stop's not shoveled out and they will board bus by getting out on the street.

Devon, Talman to Washtenaw. Note riders waiting for bus at Washtenaw. The stop’s not shoveled out and they will board bus by getting out on the street.

Devon and Washtenaw. None of the crosswalks are shoveled out.

Devon and Washtenaw. None of the crosswalks are shoveled out.

Dangerous for pedestrians crossing either side of Devon.

Dangerous for pedestrians crossing either side of Devon.

Abandoned shopping cart

Abandoned shopping cart.

Closed business. Building for sale. Who's supposed to shovel?

Closed business. Building for sale. Who’s supposed to shovel?

Crosswalk, Artesian and Devon.

Crosswalk, Artesian and Devon.