The businesses need us
We don't realize we are creating a depression outside our doors.
02/24/2010 10:00 PM
Walking through the neighborhood recently with one of my pals, the conversation turned to one of our most recurring topics: How come there arenít more businesses in the neighborhoods that are thriving? We seem to have the density now, right?
Well, yes, I had to admit. I also put in that the only businesses that seem to be really thriving in the neighborhood are the home jewelry sales businesses. My dressers are covered with three different kinds of boxes, the gold ones, the black ones and the blue and white ones. I canít say ďnoĒ to neighbors who are hosting parties where they sell baubles of all kinds, which are pretty nice.
Problem is, if you patronize one you have to patronize them all, so you donít lose friends, and pretty soon you end up with a dresser full of earrings, necklaces and bracelets Ė not to mention a brooch or two Ė and you realize you wonít live long enough to wear it all. Unless you wear the pieces while showering, Googling and going through the movie offerings on ďOn Demand.Ē
In any case, after getting a feeling in the pit of my stomach about all the boxes on the dresser, I finally had an answer to my friendís query. Itís because no one has to stay in our neighborhood to do anything or get anything done, I told her.
And itís true. We South Loopers brag about the great transportation, our central location that is near everywhere, the ease of taking your car and driving it onto expressways that go in every direction, being able to walk quickly to the Loop, jumping on the El, hopping on buses, walking to the West Loop, Taylor Street, Pilsen and Chinatown.
Personally, I havenít noticed any less service on the CTA, and that, too, is probably a bad sign for the restaurants and retail in the South Loop. Nothing keeps us from leaving and venturing out to try new eateries and stores. Or going back again and again to the biggies on State Street and Michigan Avenue. In the meantime, we donít realize we are creating a depression outside our doors.
Yes, we have a cleaner on every corner, and they seem to be doing well. Restaurants like Hackneyís and Flacoís Tacos seem to be thriving (but they are owned by third-generation restaurateurs who know exactly how to play the game). And our own Starbucks seems OK Ė although they close too early, but I suppose they do in every neighborhood.
But a lot of the restaurants, boutiques, specialty stores and galleries appear to have a shelf life that is way too short in the South Loop. And I daresay itís because we donít build up loyalty for these places.
We donít get a chance to. We simply donít have to. And thatís because in the South Loop you can go anywhere and patronize anyone with great ease. We donít have to huddle in restaurants like Opera and Gioco when we can go to the companyís other outposts Ė like Marche, Cafť 33 and Carnivale Ė with great assurance that we will get there safely and get home early.
Itís not so easy to get out of other neighborhoods on a regular basis. Residents elsewhere are often bound to going places nearby. Those places end up doing well with the locals.
Itís a big deal to come downtown if you live way north or south. Where to park is a trial and a tribulation. But we donít have to worry about that. We can walk or take an occasional cab ride, if necessary. If you take a bus from the outskirts of Chicago, you have to worry about a long ride home.
And yes, it seems like the same difference if we travel there. But parking isnít usually at a premium on the outskirts, and for some reason itís a lot easier on the nerves taking public transportation back into the heart of the city after a long night out rather than vice versa.
Iím sounding provincial, I know. Or perhaps anti-provincial, depending on how you look at this dilemma, which boils down to how to keep the South Loopers at home at night and on weekends on their own turf patronizing their own restaurants and their own mom-and-pop places and their own funky foxholes.
While we can hope that enough people from other neighborhoods come here to take up the slack, the only insurance we have of keeping the businesses here is to go there ourselves.
Without getting bored. Or responding to the call of the wild from other zip codes in the Chicagoland area.