Sharnele Amos, owner of Soilful Pots, talks to a customer during a holiday pop-up market in Bronzeville on Small Business Saturday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
After another tough year for businesses due to the pandemic, small entrepreneurs put out all the stops as the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive.
Neighborhood groups across the city put the spotlight on small businesses Saturday, enticing shoppers with deals, live music, refreshments and more after another brutal year for retail due to COVID-19.
“The small businesses are what make Chicago, Chicago,” said Angelica Moore, owner of Detoxxed Body in Bridgeport. “We’re a city of neighborhoods, we’re a city of small businesses.”
Moore was among the entrepreneurs who set up shop for Small Business Saturday in Bronzeville, where a pop-up market for up-and-coming operations was launched next to a village of shipping containers that now serve as storefronts.
The annual “buy local” holiday was also recognized up north, where Rogers Park Business Alliance district manager Carolina Juarez offered fresh crepes to passersby in hopes of getting them to visit some of the 17 shops participating in the neighborhood’s “Love Rogers Park” promotion.
“It’s a time to really come out and just support the small businesses in the community who were completely devastated in the past year and a half. That’s why we’ve kind of gone all out this year,” Juarez said.
Carolina Juarez, the Rogers Park Business Alliance’s business district manager, gives a goodie bag to a customer outside the new 400 Theater in the Rogers Park neighborhood.
Audrey Ney, a manager at Common Cup (1501 W. Morse Ave.) said the coffee shop was closed from March to September due to the pandemic, and seeing residents returning to the local spot has been uplifting.
“I think it’s a testament to the safe space this has been for people for so long,” the 26-year-old said.
In Illinois, small businesses were hit hard by pandemic restrictions and financial losses, with more than a third of small businesses shuttered after the first year of the pandemic, according to the conservative Illinois Policy Institute.
Cassandra Westober, the owner of Homegrown Wrappings (1505 W. Morse Ave.) said the diversity of businesses still standing in Rogers Park shows the neighborhood’s resilience and toughness.
“Never have I lived in another neighborhood where I walk around and I feel like, ‘Woah, am I in heaven?'” Westober said. “The diversity of this neighborhood, the friendliness, it’s just so good. I think that translates really clearly to the small businesses that hold up the community.”
In Bronzeville, operators sold their wares from repurposed shipping containers at “Boxville,” a lot run by the Urban Juncture Foundation at 330 E. 51st St.
People walk around Boxville in Bronzeville on Small Business Saturday.
“One of the best things about Small Business Saturday is the hope it provides,” said Janeen Mays, a marketing consultant at Urban Juncture. “People really feel proud of what they do and what they create and what they offer.”
One of the shipping containers houses Southside Grinds, which found its permanent home in Boxville in September. Before that, the company was a pop-up shop that catered parties and events.
“You see the good come out of the community, so that’s pretty dope,” said Will Hale, an employee at Southside Grinds.
William Hale, an employee at Southside Grinds, poses in the store in Boxville.
Inside the Black Wall Street Journey Gallery, other small businesses displayed their products on tables while a live band performed in the center of the storefront. From plants to plant holders, aromatherapy to skin care, the pop-up hosted a variety of products from an array of vendors.
Sharnele Amos, who owns Soilful Pots, and Karen Fair, who owns Grown Sumthin, both started their businesses in the throes of the pandemic and said they were grateful for the support from the community for their budding businesses.
“Business has grown through COVID. Everyone wants to be a plant mommy or a plant daddy,” Fair said. “I’ve always been a crazy plant lady, so my inbox went crazy during that time.”
With many of the businesses in Boxville or at the pop-up starting only in the last few years, Mays said she saw the pandemic as an opportunity for people to go after their small business dreams.
“A lot of people who wanted to do something on their own, whether it was in need of losing their job or wanting to fulfill their passion, were actually able to get that out of their heads and have it come to life,” Mays said.
Boxville shops are open Wednesday through Saturday. Its next-door holiday pop-up market will be open again Nov. 27, Dec. 4 and Dec. 11.