Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday touted 26th Street as Chicago’s “second Magnificent Mile” – second only to Michigan Avenue – and said the bustling commercial strip should be marketed that way.
“Little Village – this two-mile [stretch] – creates more sales [tax] revenue for the city of Chicago than any other place outside of the [real] Magnificent Mile,” Emanuel said, during a roundtable discussion with Hispanic business leaders at Mi Tierra restaurant, 2528 S. Kedzie.
“I keep hoping – I don’t know if anybody’s listening – that we would market it as Two Magnificent Mile because people from around the region come here to do their shopping for the goods they cannot get [elsewhere]. It reminds them of their … country of origin and they can only get it here. This is the lifeblood of the city.”
The mayor added, “There is no distance when it comes to the economic vitality of the city between the One Magnificent Mile and the Two Magnificent Mile. We’re all part of one city. And we have to invest in everything that happens – whether it’s on Michigan Avenue or whether it happens here on 26th Street.”
The mayor was referring to the stretch of 26th from California to Kostner that serves as the heartbeat of Chicago’s Mexican community. It’s filled with restaurants, clothing stores, groceries and specialty shops.
Omar Duque, president and CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the mayor’s remarks underscore the purchasing power of Hispanic consumers and the contribution made by Hispanic businesses.
“I agree with the mayor. We ought to be marketing it. From a tourist perspective, there’s a lot to be gained,” said Duque, who participated in Thursday’s roundtable.
“26th Street is already a shopping destination for Mexican-Americans, many of whom have moved to the western suburbs. On weekends, they come back to Little Village to buy the products they’re used to getting or got when they lived in Mexico. If they market it that way, there’s an opportunity to increase business and tax revenue for the city.”
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22th), who represents Little Village, said he’s hoping Emanuel puts city money where his mouth is – by helping to market 26th Street differently.
“An aggressive marketing campaign could help maintain the commercial strip as the economic engine of the entire Southwest Side and increase the dollars spent by tourists and outsiders. It can do a lot to improve the commercial strip,” Munoz said.
The alderman agreed that 26th Street “continues to be the most vibrant strip in Chicago – second only to Michigan Avenue.” But he said that “tremendous fact often gets overlooked. … We’re talking to [the Department of] Planning about doing things differently with the Little Village Chamber of Commerce.”
Nilda Esparza, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, could not be reached for comment.
During Thursday’s roundtable, Hispanic business people complained about their inability to get financing to bankroll expansion and hiring to match increased sales.
And Jim Cabrera, owner of United Building Maintenance, said minority businesses still wait as long as nine months to get the city certification needed to get a leg up on city contracts.
“Our certification was and probably still is a mess,” Emanuel said, acknowledging that he’s “totally unhappy” with a certification process he’s trying to merge with Cook County.
“It know it’s what we inherited. I’m trying to fix it. I’m not gonna make up for something with a 20-year-plus legacy. … We’re early to a late problem. But we’ve got to fix it.”