Over 50 Chicago businesses taking part in 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 businesses after Black Friday this weekend.

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

“You don’t have to go down 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. It’s a holiday candle this year, provided to the participating businesses by the development group.

The group founded the event 10 years ago to help spark traffic on the commercial corridors of 63rd Street between Cicero and Bell avenues and 59th Street between Homan and Oakley avenues.

Decades ago, business along these strips were thriving, Watt said. But they’ve seen a decline in recent decades and still suffer from the pandemic downturn. 

Today, there are considerably fewer active business licenses in the area than elsewhere in the city. For example, 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, according to city data.

Monique Michelle Harris owns a spa and beauty salon at 2438 W. 63rd St. in Chicago Lawn. She estimates that only about 20% of the businesses 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 participate in the event for the first time.

“Before COVID, I would have to be on Rollerblades to get to all the customers coming through the door,” she said.

The West Side native hopes the event reminds people of what’s already available to them.

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

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

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

Online sales help, but she hopes to see more folks come through the door.

“We’re hanging in there,” she said.

A complete list of participating businesses can be found on the group’s website. 

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.