Mitchell: Investing in retail strips is one way to fight crime

SHARE Mitchell: Investing in retail strips is one way to fight crime

The Quarry Event Center | Leslie Adkins / Sun-Times

Follow @MaryMitchellCSTIt is  hard to believe, but 75th Street, between Jeffery and Yates, was jumping in the ’80s.

Today, when you drive through the area, you might see two or three stragglers.

Outside of fast-food joints, there are more vacant storefronts than there are retail establishments.

The residents living in this part of the city take the desolation in stride.

On Saturday mornings, they get in their cars or catch a bus to Hyde Park or the South Loop to enjoy the ambience that makes those other neighborhoods so attractive.

So you can imagine how excited they were when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he wants to turn some of the city’s blighted retail corridors into “Retail Thrive Zones.”

The City Hall plan is to use $16 million from local tax-increment-financing districts to create jobs and provide shopping choices that would bring more pedestrian and automobile traffic.

The neighborhoods that would benefit from the mayor’s plan include Austin, Back of the Yards, Bronzeville, Chatham, Englewood, South Shore, West Humboldt Park and West Pullman.


Follow @MaryMitchellCSTSuzanne Armstrong, who owns The Quarry Event Center at 2423 E. 75th St., is ecstatic.

“What is needed most on 75th and places like that is a lot of activity being drawn to the area,” Armstrong says. “Our next step is to get the restaurant open. That is what the community wants — a full-service, sit-down restaurant serving healthy food.”

Though the 75th Street retail corridor is just a short distance from the lakefront, there are none of the artsy shops or unique eateries you’d expect to find.

The Quarry Event Center, which opened 2-1/2 years ago, is the exception. The biggest portion of the business is space that’s rented out for business meetings, parties, receptions and celebrations.

The $250,000 grants will be made available to new and existing retail businesses and can be used to rehabilitate commercial buildings.

“First of fall, we need so much infrastructure, maintenance and repairs,” Armstrong says. “A small business has trouble doing that and paying the rest of the bills.

“It is almost like somebody living pay check to pay check. I had to have Roto-Rooter yesterday, and I had to defer the roof repair. I really needed Roto-Rooter and the roof repair at the same time.

“It’s the little things,” Armstrong said, “the cosmetic touches that are attractive to the customers and clients, that always get deferred to the end of the line.”

If you don’t know where The Quarry Event Center is, you could easily miss it. Finding a thriving business on 75th is so unexpected.

Unfortunately, the lack of a flourishing retail district has coincided with an increase in killings in South Shore. Instead of shoppers, the area has attracted shooters.

A booming retail district might help discourage a lot of the criminal activity, such as drug-dealing, that leads to someone using a gun.

Armstrong hopes the new grants will be used to support diverse businesses.

“What I would hope to see is a careful consideration of what kind of activities does the community most need and support those,” Armstrong says.

She describes her own establishment as a beacon of light — literally and figuratively.

“We really need a light outside the door — seriously,” she says. She got a sign thanks to the Special Service Area she’s in, “and people say you can’t see it. We definitely could use a real light to go along with our spiritual light.”

The mayor’s plan is a small step.

But it could have a huge impact on neighborhoods under siege by gun violence. And that gives me hope.

Tweets by @MaryMitchellCSTRELATED STORY: Emanuel puts $16M from TIF to wake up dormant retail strips

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