Meet the new face of the 26th Street business corridor, Mexican parade date announced

Jennifer Aguilar, who was born and raised in La Villita, takes the helm of the local chamber of commerce, which not only advocates for businesses but runs the Mexican Independence Day parade.

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Jennifer Aguilar is the new executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce. This year’s parade will take place on Sept. 16 for the first time.


The monumental arch in Little Village was the backdrop to Jennifer Aguilar’s childhood — she grew up a block away.

As a little girl, she got her parents’ permission to run a makeshift candy store out of their second-floor apartment. After school, Mexican kids would show up to her living room, with coins in hand, to browse the latest additions of Mexican imported candy, trendy American sweets and homemade treats before they went off to play.

Almost three decades later, Aguilar is now tasked with promoting dozens of family-owned businesses on 26th Street — one of the city’s most prominent commercial districts — as the new executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce.

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“That spirit of entrepreneurship that Little Village has, and that it thrives with, is something that is contagious,” she told La Voz.

On Tuesday, chamber staff, small businesses, elected officials and community members celebrated Aguilar’s appointment at an event at Osito’s Tap, 2553 S. Ridgeway.

“It’s the most prominent example that we have as residents of how our parents and other people from our community came to this country without anything and opened their small businesses, similar to me, out of their houses or on a street corner or out of a little cart,” she said. “And eventually, it led them to open brick-and-mortar shops.”

The chamber had gone without an executive director since last summer, when previous director Ivette Treviño stepped down. Before joining the chamber in that capacity, Aguilar had been a board member since 2017 and became board secretary in 2019. She left the board in order to be considered for the position.

Attending the celebration Tuesday night was a group of Discount Mall vendors who gave Aguilar a rebozo as a token of appreciation.

Despite being a new hire, Aguilar attempted to help displaced Little Village Discount Mall vendors find an alternative location in the neighborhood, which the city offered to help subsidize. She identified the empty CVS on Pulaski Road and visited the site with city officials and vendors.

Vendors were pleased with the space and parking availability, she said, but some had concerns that the building would not be big enough to fit everyone or that it was only a temporary fix. They were in talks with the site owner to iron out the details.

But the clock was ticking: Vendors were ordered by the new Discount Mall owner, John Novak, to vacate the commercial center by March 26. Under that strict timeline, Aguilar admitted, their plans to move the collective into the old CVS fell apart.


Jennifer Aguilar (right) sits at a table of Discount Mall vendors.


The vendors are currently considering a site in Gage Park with the help of their alderperson, though Aguilar said she plans to keep working with any vendors who relocate within the Little Village community or who decide to come back to the neighborhood.

Mexican Independence Day parade date announced

The chamber is also responsible for organizing what’s considered the largest annual Mexican Independence Day parade in the Midwest; facilitating workshops and opportunities for local business owners; and leveraging funds from the Special Service Area tax for use on designated commercial streets (for example, installing planters and trash cans).

Until recently, the chamber would provide occasional maintenance to the “Bienvenidos a Little Village” arch at 26th and Albany. Since gaining landmark status last year, the arch is now under the purview of the city and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

This year’s parade will take place on actual Mexican Independence Day — Sept. 16 — for the first time. Normally, it has been scheduled one or two weeks early, on a Sunday, but Aguilar’s team was proactive this year to lock in the date with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Among Aguilar’s bigger challenges is to help mitigate the rising commercial rents on 26th Street, as national chains seek to move into the area. One of her goals is to nurture second- and third-generation business owners to expand their online-first stores, and she hopes the chamber can provide support for street vendors who have been victims of armed robberies.

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