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Adeshina Emmanuel

Looking for Economic Revival in Chatham

Looking for Economic Revival in Chatham


This summer, Nedra Fears moved from Atlanta to Chicago’s South Side at a time when affluent blacks are more likely to do the opposite. Sixty-year-old Fears is living at her mom’s house in Chatham and looking for a home to buy in the historic black community, whose fortunes have declined in the past several decades.

The serene street lined with bungalows and tidy lawns where Fears grew up alludes to Chatham’s reputation since the 1950s as a bastion of black middle-class excellence. Black-owned mom-and-pop shops dominated nearby South Cottage Grove Avenue and West 79th Street. But economic decline set in about a decade after the area’s 1970s heyday, and today those business corridors are marred by empty storefronts and fading facades. These retail strips are critical to a revitalization effort Fears has returned to lead.

Nedra Fears at home. (Photo by Vidura Jang Bahadur)

Nedra Fears at home. (Photo by Vidura Jang Bahadur)

“We need to be the change we want to see, but how do you do that?” said Fears, executive director of the Greater Chatham Initiative, a collaboration between elected officials, the private sector, and community residents meant to reverse Chatham’s economic decline. “How do you self-invest and make that change happen, and how do you galvanize others to make that change?”

The Greater Chatham Initiative (GCI), when it rolls out this fall, will aim to revive the old heart of Chicago’s black middle class by focusing on wooing more businesses to Chatham and nearby communities, bolstering existing establishments and improving retail strips, Fears said. Part of the problem is excess retail capacity—vacancy rates commonly top out at twenty to thirty percent—and Fears said some of the buildings could become co-working spaces or be rezoned for apartments. A GCI collaboration with the Chatham Business Association, the office of 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer, and other community development groups will look to rebrand the 79th St. retail corridor from Cottage Grove to King Drive, Fears said.

But even now, before the revitalization effort kicks in, business still operate each day on Cottage Grove and 79th. Their experience shows there is opportunity in the neighborhood—despite years of neglect and stigma—as well as major hurdles that the community and Fears’s GCI programs must confront before bringing about a true renaissance.


On a sweltering summer afternoon in a South Side martial arts gym, a tween dutifully strikes a punching bag with his wooden staff. Watching from the sideline is Steven Kinison, a cheerful but stern personal trainer with a clean-shaven head and mustache who co-owns Combatzone, on 82nd and Cottage Grove.

The Edgewater resident admits the loitering and news of shootings on Cottage Grove gave him pause two years ago when he and his business partner opened the gym. But Kinison says he saw more businesses than he anticipated in the area, and that there was a lack of businesses like his focused on fitness. He knew he’d have an edge.

“I was kind of skeptical at first but now I can see it,” Kinison said, touting the gym’s 200 members as proof he made the right call. “I have faith that we will continue to grow.”

Businesses like Combatzone, local favorites like the famous Dat Donut, and community staples like the sixty-year-old, family-owned Tailorite Cleaners are all bright spots on Cottage Grove. On the 79th Street corridor, Captain’s Hard Time restaurant and Mather LifeWays café are other popular destinations. But this diverse variety of establishments is an outlier on the two retail strips.

Of the 208 licensed businesses between both the Cottage and 79th commercial stretches, six types of businesses account for more than half, according to a City Bureau analysis of city data.  About one in five businesses either do or sell hair and haircare products, including barber shops and beauty supply stores. Nearly twenty stores are fashion apparel retailers, and fourteen are fast food joints. These three categories encompass the goods and services people tend to buy locally, rather than look outside the community for, according to Lauren Nolan, an economic development planner at the Voorhees Center for Neighborhood & Community Improvement.

Business owners said public safety is one of the biggest challenges to economic growth on the corridors, and that creating an environment where shoppers, including local professionals, feel comfortable walking the stretch would help their bottom lines. This summer, Kinison said he saw how a visible police presence discourages bad behavior on the street, even if that hasn’t been a panacea.

Some business owners, including Dat Donut co-owner Darryl Townson, said that addressing unemployment in the area could make a difference by deterring people from using crime to support themselves.

Fears said she wants to focus on reintegrating people whose criminal records make finding work tough. To that end, GCI is partnering with the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership to open a new workforce center, at a location to be announced by the end of the year. CCWP will spearhead running and staffing the new center, which will have more than a dozen staff, a computer lab, classes in digital and financial literacy, and space for other organizations focused on workforce development; CEO Karin Norington-Reaves said her agency’s responsibility “is to make sure we have access to a wide array of services so we meet people exactly where they are.”

Earlier this year the Walmart Foundation gave CCWP, one of the biggest workforce agencies in the country, a $10.9 million grant to offer free education and employment services for retail workers looking to advance their careers within the industry in Chicago and ten other sites around the country. Norington-Reaves said that there are also plans for a satellite location in Chatham targeting locals with similar efforts.

Fears also said that she is working with Skills for Chicagoland’s Future to link more Chatham-area residents to corporate employers over the next two years. She is currently identifying “high-impact, high-growth business owners” in sectors like transportation, logistics and distribution, food processing and packaging, and fabricated metals, to connect them with partners NextStreet and Case “so they can take their firms to the next level, employ more residents, and create more wealth.”

Nedra Fears. Photo by Vidura Jang Bahadur

Nedra Fears. Photo by Vidura Jang Bahadur

Other business owners said that the city should spend money-improving infrastructure to make the area more attractive to potential businesses, something Mayor Rahm Emanuel named as a goal of a $4.7 million streetscape project underway from 77th to 83rd Streets on Cottage Grove.

Chatham does boast a Target, Nike Factory Store, Payless, Walgreens, and Garrett’s Popcorn that are clustered on the southern end of the Cottage Grove retail strip near 85th and 87th Streets. Businesses like McDonald’s and Family Dollar have footprints in the area. Yet the backbone of Chatham’s local economy is small business, and the neighborhood has a proud history of black-owned establishments. However, the latter sentiment conflicts with the current reality, where many shopkeepers are immigrants from countries like Jordan, Korea, and Pakistan.

Fears said she welcomes any business owner who invests in the community, provides quality services, and is a good steward of their space. She suggested that increasing black business ownership is one way to combat people’s discomfort.

“What we need to be able to do,” she said, “is make people believe that they can start their own businesses, and support them.”

Listen to City Bureau reporters Adeshina Emmanuel and Latricia Polk discuss the changes Chatham is going through on Vocalo’s Barbershop Show:

But black-owned businesses face serious challenges, not least among them the structural obstacles and racial discrimination that have made it difficult for black entrepreneurs acquire sufficient startup capital or credit to open, grow, and sustain businesses. Despite Chicago’s long history of institutional racism, which Fears acknowledged, she and the GCI report still lean toward more race-neutral explanations of Chatham’s woes. She points to deindustrialization, the difficulty posed by living far away from jobs, and how many Chatham residents didn’t update their skills and education to ride the wave into the “new economy.”

Diversifying the types of stores in the area remains a challenge. Businesses of similar type and quality tend to cluster, in what urban development researcher Molly Gallagher calls the “snowball effect” of retail. This makes it difficult to both quickly change the mix of small businesses or attract businesses to serve as catalysts for change, she said.

For that catalyst, Fears said “you typically need to have a big anchor institution, and that anchor institution drives that development, [or] you have someone with outside influence and capital who decides to put money in an area.”

At the neighborhood level, experts prescribe several solutions, including individuals banding together to establish business cooperatives to reap tax benefits, utilizing public funding opportunities, and cutting costs by pooling funds to cover overhead expenses like rent and product costs.

Some of these options already exist. The city’s microlending program helps business owners overcome capital hurdles; tax increment finance districts offer business improvement grants to help entrepreneurs renovate their spaces; and credit unions and community banks are key alternatives to big lenders, but not everybody has access to or education about these options.

Photo by Vidura Jang Bahadur

Photo by Vidura Jang Bahadur


In addition to her plans to bring in new businesses, Fears says the initiative will include training and connecting residents to jobs to boost their social mobility, thawing a frozen housing market, and rehabbing distressed apartment buildings. Details are still scarce for these initiatives, but business development can be a vehicle for driving broader improvements, she said.

Gallagher agrees, adding that changing the tone of an area has to be a holistic effort. The test will come when the plans begin rolling out this fall, when Chatham residents will hopefully begin to see the effects of the ambitious project.

Among other factors, Fears touts the mayor’s commitment as one reason why the GCI has the potential to succeed where other revitalization efforts have fallen short.

“We have accomplished great things with far fewer resources than we have now,” Fears said. “We can do this. And I think people need a vehicle in order to get it done. This is the vehicle. And I’m not doing it alone. This is a collective effort.”

This article was published in collaboration with the South Side Weekly.

Immigrant-owned Stores Face Tension in Wary Chatham

Immigrant-owned Stores Face Tension in Wary Chatham


CHATHAM — The once-thriving 79th Street retail corridor in Chatham is dotted with vacant storefronts, but of the shopkeepers who remain, some feel more welcome than others.

Immigrant business owners are common on Chatham’s main strip. Though the shopkeepers bring economic activity and jobs to the area, black customers and black-owned businesses complain the newcomers are taking money out of the community. The racial tension is fueled by economic gaps, cultural differences and language barriers, among other issues, residents said.

“They come to our neighborhoods and take advantage of a business opportunity,” said Michael Muhammad, a 39-year-old African-American who owns the Uniform Store, a small storefront at 79th Street and Eberhart Avenue.

“They come to a place [where] they know the fabric of the economic cloth is dead. They know we are not producing the way we should. They are unified and benefit from our disunity,” he said of immigrant store owners.

In June, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced the Greater Chatham Initiative, a public-private partnership to rebuild the business corridor and surrounding neighborhoods. The leader of that initiative, Chatham-raised Nedra Fears, acknowledged the tension, and said that bringing more black-owned businesses to the area could alleviate the problem.

“Criticism can be valid, but if you want to see change collectively, what are you doing to make that change?” she said. “What do we need to do to be able to make people believe that they can start their own businesses?”

Fears said the initiative will include programs that train and support entrepreneurs. Self-employment can “be a ladder for wealth,” she said, adding that there also should be programs for ex-cons.

Misconceptions abound

Interviews with shoppers and on the business strip reveal some deep-seated misconceptions.

For instance, some residents believe that immigrant business owners get tax breaks and have used them to buy up  commercial property, which prevents African-Americans from buying or renting in their own community.

“Black owners very rarely get business in our own communities,” said Randy Davis, who co-owns DGI Inc Help Center at 7910 S. Cottage Grove Ave. The business helps consumers expunge criminal records, repair their credit and deal with bankruptcy.

Chatham resident Raymond Noble, 41, said, "When you come over from foreign countries, you are able to get a lot of different amenities that the average person here cannot get in terms of loans.” 

But Omar Hamdan, a business owner from Jerusalem, refuted Noble's claim.

“People think because I’m from the Middle East, the government gives me [my merchandise] for free," he said. "They think I don’t pay taxes, and [so] I showed them the tax bills.”

Hamdan added, “I work hard. I pay $2,000 a month in rent for business here.”

Hamdan, 50, opened his first small business in Chatham in 1994. He now owns three small business along the strip, a dollar store and two cellular phone stores.

“It was a good opportunity. Because it was a good business, I don’t care which area [I opened my shop],” Hamdan said.

The father of five lives in southwest suburban Burbank and came to the U.S. in 1992. He says he was advised to open his business in a black community.

“I knew the history of black people. In our religion [Islam], we respect all humans,” said Hamdan.

Immigrant business owners in predominantly black communities are not uncommon, says C.N. Le, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“Most of it is due to the fact that, quite simply, rents are lower in neighborhoods that are predominantly black,” he said. “Because of the legacy of racism, much of the black population has been segregated into low-income, disadvantaged areas. It just so happens that the rent and property prices for these areas are lower compared to other areas, so it basically comes down to a financial decision.”

Studies show immigrant business is helpful

Whites used to own businesses in these predominantly black areas but began selling them to new immigrants such as Asians and Muslims in the 1980s, Le said. Scholars call this process “racial/ethnic succession,” because many of the white business owners move up the supply chain and become wholesalers who sell to the new immigrant business owners. In essence, these new Asian and Muslim business owners became a "buffer zone" that insulates whites from their former black customers, he said.

Some studies have found that immigrant business owners can help revitalize struggling neighborhoods by bringing commerce and much-needed investments to storefronts on depressed commercial strips. But research, news stories and years of documented clashes also reveal serious tensions between African-Americans and the immigrant business owners who find untapped opportunity in black neighborhoods.

A storefront on 79th Street in Chatham. (Maria Cardona/City Bureau)

A storefront on 79th Street in Chatham. (Maria Cardona/City Bureau)

Some Chatham residents feel that immigrant owners profile them.

“Everybody looks at you like you’re a gangbanger. They always look at the negative point of view of our race instead of looking at what we are doing positive,” said 25-year-old Erik Bentley, a Chatham resident.

The cultural differences and language barriers can also foster distrust and dislike.

For the last seven years, Don Williams has worked at Top Collection, a clothing store east of the 79th Street business strip. His Pakistani boss, known as “Pops,” speaks very little English, and Williams assists him with translations when interacting with black customers.

“I understand both of them, so I try to relay the message of what they are trying to say to each other,” said Williams.

Hiring local black residents as employees can ease the tension. Hamdan said he has two employees, but that his businesses can’t support more — an issue that Fears hopes the initiative can fix by bringing more economic activity to the area.

“I welcome people who want to do business in our community, because collectively we will thrive,” Fears said. “We want people to be good stewards: I don’t care who you are. If you invest in the community, we want you to step it up, we want you to do a high-quality investment, we want you to maintain your property, we want you to have high-quality goods and services, we want you to be a good neighbor.”

Either way, the process will require more understanding and empathy on both sides, Le said: “The business owners have been trying to become more involved and integrated into the communities that they serve,” and customers have to try to be more understanding of the cultural differences and not immediately conclude that some unpleasant interaction is because the business owner is racist.

“We're here because we’re after the American dream, and when you get here and start working, you realize the American dream is possible,” said Faye Ellis, an immigrant from Colombia, who owns Grab 'N Go.

Before Ellis opened her business at 7906 S. Cottage Grove Ave., the storefront sat abandoned for two years.

“I don’t think it’s fair to resent us, because a lot of us come here with nothing,” Ellis said.

This report was published in collaboration with DNAinfo Chicago. Additional reporting by Adeshina Emmanuel.

6 People We Met In Chatham Tell Us How The Historic Neighborhood Is Changing

6 People We Met In Chatham Tell Us How The Historic Neighborhood Is Changing


Neat lawns and tidy bungalows line quiet residential streets in Chatham, a South Side neighborhood that, in some areas, still looks the part of a black middle class utopia.

Chatham represents the old bastion of black economic mobility in Chicago, where working class folk, political movers and shakers, business people and other professionals have formed the foundation of the tight-knit community since the 1950s. Yet the signs of decline are impossible to ignore, especially on once-thriving business corridors like Cottage Grove and 79th Street that are rife with empty storefronts and the types of businesses you’d expect to see in troubled urban communities: liquor stores, dollar stores, fast food joints, hair salons and payday lenders.

But if Chatham is anything, it is resilient. Despite its ailing local economy and high crime rate, despite the scores of residents and businesses that fled the neighborhood in recent years, the community still has a way of keeping people there—even luring new residents and entrepreneurs who see opportunity where others only see neglect. Though Chatham experiences more crime than some Chicago neighborhoods, it is not one of the city's most-violent communities. Between July 19 and Aug. 18, Chatham saw reports of at least 61 violent crimes, including 2 homicides, and just over 220 property and quality-of-life crimes such as thefts and property damages, according to a Tribune analysis of the city's data portal, making Chatham the 13th-most violent community in Chicago, tied with Chicago Lawn, in the past month.

City Bureau visited Chatham this month to talk to area business owners about the challenges and triumphs of doing business in Chatham, the forces driving change in the community, what Chatham needs to thrive and more. The first part of City Bureau’s Chatham series can be found at Chicago Magazine.

Darryl Townson, illustration by Daniel Rowell/Chicagoist

Darryl Townson, illustration by Daniel Rowell/Chicagoist

Darryl Townson
Co-owner of Dat Donut and Uncle John’s Barbecue // 63 years old

On a blistering Thursday afternoon early in July, a slow but steady trickle of customers flock to Dat Donut, 8251 N. Cottage Grove, eyeing the glazed confections behind the counter— including the famous “Dat,” a frosted behemoth bigger than a baby’s head. It’s a diverse slice of the South Side: regal middle-aged women in business suits and heels, testy young parents pushing strollers and marshaling children along, unhurried elders sporting fanny packs and visors, dreadlocked young men whose pants hang just below the butt, burly bus drivers making a pit stop before continuing their route.

Co-owner Darryl Townson has spent most of the day sequestered in his office, cutting checks for his employees at the famous doughnut shop, which he owns with his wife Andrea, along with a rib joint in the same building.

Dat Donut opened about 22 years ago in the building that once housed the popular Leon’s Barbecue. Townson started working for Leon’s founder, Leon Finney Sr., when he was in high school. In 1994 Townson opened Dat Donut in the same space. Finney died in 2008, and Leon’s shuttered two years after that. But in 2010 Townson bought the building and later opened his own rib joint to compliment the doughnut shop.

“Chatham is what I know,” says Townson, who’s worked in Chatham since he was 15. “Chatham is one of your middle-class neighborhoods within the city of Chicago on the South Side that [had] people [with] very close-knit families, people took care of their homes, people tried to stay stable in business based on the economy that was here.”

But Townson says he noticed a change in the area during the 1990s as newcomers moved in after public housing projects like the Robert Taylor Homes were demolished and many of their residents dispersed around the city. The shift brought “a little bit of everything,” he notes, but some of it was bad, namely gang affiliations and crime.

“We do have an influx of young people that don’t seem to be going to school, don’t seem like they are looking for employment,” Townson says. “You do have the seniors that have stayed, but everybody now is getting… pretty scared to go out and do anything in the daytime because of what's going on in the streets.”

But that doesn’t mean Townson wants to take his business elsewhere.

“I have no reason to look anyplace else,” Townson said. “We definitely have the support of the community business-wise, and we don’t just serve the Chatham area, people come from all over for Dat Donut...I’m not looking to leave.”

Michael Muhammad, illustration by Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

Michael Muhammad, illustration by Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

 Michael Muhammad
Co-owner of the Uniform Store // 39 years old

Michael Muhammad is one of four owners of the Uniform store, a small store at the corner of 79th street and Eberhart Avenue. He says he has witnessed scores of Chatham small businesses fail in the past five years.

“It is a revolving door for a lot of businesses, because small business owners start off with a lot of hope," he says, but don't succeed due to a lack of support. “Many young women have been opening up boutiques. But once their boutique opens, they do not have a lot of people walking into their stores.”

In comparison, he says, “When Family Dollar opened, they had a lot of people standing outside waiting on them to open, and the same thing with Food-4-Less and many other commercial businesses. But for us small black businesses or independent businesses, we have to work for our customers.”

Muhammad wants black people to come together and pool resources to take advantage of business opportunities in the area, something he says “our Mexican, Vietnamese, and our Arab brothers and sisters” do when they start businesses.

“They leave their communities and come to a place that they know the fabric of the economic cloth is dead, they know we are not producing the way we should,” Muhammad says. “They’re unified and they benefit from our disunity. They come to our neighborhoods and take advantage of a business opportunity. We have to unify, that’s the only way.”

Artemus Gaye, illustration by Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

Artemus Gaye, illustration by Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

Artemus Gaye
President and founder of The Prince Ibrahima and Isabella Freedom Foundation // 40 years old

About five years ago, Liberian native Artemus Gaye moved from an apartment in Rogers Park on the Far North Side to Chatham.

“I came here on the South Side mainly because of space,” says Gaye, who runs a shipping business out of his home. “I thought, ‘Educated black folks, why should they go to the suburbs?’ ... Could I find an area within the South Side that I can be comfortable and build as a community?”

Gaye lives in a five-room bungalow with his parents and daughter just west of Cottage Grove, on a quiet block where signs at each corner command passersby to keep their voices down. For security he keeps a pair of pit bulls in his backyard, which also houses a chicken coop that provides his family with a daily serving of fresh eggs.

Gaye, a scholar who holds a Ph.D. in Christian ethics from Loyola University Chicago, is a descendant of a West African prince named Abdul Rahman Ibrahima who endured 40 years of slavery in the U.S. before he was freed. Gaye’s home-based shipping business, named after the prince and his wife Isabella, caters to West Africans in Chicago who want to send things—“food, medicine, clothes, cars, anything”—back home.

Gaye has seen Chatham residents forced to leave their childhood homes when they can’t afford to maintain the houses their parents bought. Gaye, on the other hand, says he wants to hang around to make the community a better place. He’s looking to work on neighborhood projects with community groups and churches. Among those ideas: transforming a vacant lot on King Drive given to him by the city into a multi-purpose space for indoor soccer, dance classes and gardening.

“Until there's ownership from the grassroots, we won't have a better sense of security,” Gaye says. “The security here is not just about policing, but about the economic and the social; it's for our cultural and spiritual benefit.”

Gaye says he has tried to encourage fellow Africans living on the North Side to see Chatham as an opportunity to establish an African immigrant community by buying property, homes and businesses in the area. He’s encountered resistance.

“Africans for the most part have this fear of the city—of the South Side,” Gaye says. “I'm trying to break that, that's why I'm encouraging them! We're all concentrated in the Rogers Park area, for the most part, and Uptown. So you have a large Nigerian population, Ghanaian population, there. And then we have most people who tend to get very successful move to the suburbs.”

Gaye is resolute that Africans should be congregating in Chicago’s black middle-class neighborhoods.

“This is historic, to be in this kind of area,” Gaye says. “To be educated and invest time in our community—we can do that.”

Ebony Mosley, illustration by Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

Ebony Mosley, illustration by Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

Ebony Mosley
Owner of The World Is Your's Childcare & Learning Center // 38 years old

The facade of Ebony Mosley’s daycare is a flash of color, a broad yellow awning with a red picket fence and several cheery painted cartoon animals. Mosley has operated the center at 8026 S. Cottage Grove Ave. for the last decade, teaching and tending kids ages two to twelve from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Mosley attends the nearby New Life Covenant Church on 78th Street, but lives in the suburbs and has no plans to move to Chatham. She notes families moving into the neighborhood and quickly deciding to leave, and hopes to see new programs to counteract a dearth of job opportunities for Chatham’s teenagers.

“We need activities,” she says. “There's too much hanging out on 79th, that's why there's always something happening. They need more youth programs or youth centers, somewhere that these children can go to keep them from being outside getting hurt.”

She adds, “If more businesses were opening, there'd be better opportunities for them to find employment and help them stay off the streets.”

Mosley has an intimate window into others’ family lives, a responsibility she takes seriously. Because life can be rough for kids at home, she says, “I make sure they feel like they have somewhere to go or some kind of safe environment that they can come to.”

“There's a lot that I've seen in the last ten years that I've been here,” Mosley says. “Different things with children and their families, parents, mothers, boyfriends, husbands. Domestic violence, all sorts of different things. I'm always here to listen to them, be an ear, comb some of the kids' hair, I cut the boys' [hair], I buy them coats and clothes and hats and gloves, scarves, shoes—whatever I can do to help them, I just do it.

Stephen Kinison, illustration via Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

Stephen Kinison, illustration via Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

Stephen Kinison
Co-owner of CombatZone Fitness // 40 years old

Stephen Kinison is a personal trainer who lives in Edgewater and owns a martial arts studio in Chatham, right across the street from Dat Donut. He says the studio at has 200 members from 5-year-olds to people in their early 70s.

“We have an actual interaction and a relationship, and get a chance to see the children and the adults develop long term,” Kinison says, describing his relationship with the Chatham community. “You know, building a family and not just a consumer...I feel like I’m interacting and not just selling something; I’m giving something back.

He says he was aware of stigma the area faces, but given that there are businesses on Cottage Grove, he figured somebody was making money and maybe he could, too.

“I was kind of skeptical at first but now I can see it,” Kinison says. “It’s good people here and they love to see this [business]...You don’t have to go outside your community to find what you’re looking for. I have faith that we will continue to grow, and that’s pretty good for an area like this.

In an area rife with liquor stores, unhealthy food and crime, Kinison says a business like his is much-needed in Chatham.

“I feel like to be successful in martial art you have to have that balanced [way] of thinking right, eating right,” Kinison says.

Kinison says struggling property values and concerns over crime have convinced many homeowners that they should cash out “while they can and...move somewhere they feel is on the uprise.”

“I think this area is right on the fence,” Kinison says. “With a little bit more of community support it can be that middle-class area.”

Kinison emphasized that the fact that he's a black business owner matters to people in the area.

"I think it does, I think the neighborhood appreciated [that,]” Kinison says. “I got a lot of positive support from parents, children, and other business owners. I feel like they are surprised to see it.”

Anthony Hamdan, illustration by Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

Anthony Hamdan, illustration by Dan Rowell/Chicagoist

Anthony Hamdan
Co-owner of ABC Cellular // 46 years old

Anthony Hamdan commutes from suburban Burbank to manage one of his brother Omar’s three stores, a dollar store and two cell phone stores in Chatham. He’s been working in neighborhood for 16 years. Hamdan manages ABC Cellular, at 804 E. 79th St., and he says Chatham is a good community that lacks safety.

“We hear it from customers: they stole my phone, and they stuck me up with a gun,” Hamdan says. “A lot of them come in because they got their phones stolen and you hear that almost every day.”

He remembers a time when there used to be more police in the area, but says their presence has decreased. “They used to walk [around] a lot and come in here, but lately they cut them down,” says Hamdan.

Hamdan’s store has not experienced any crime in Chatham, but he says that a few years ago his brother Omar’s dollar store’s air conditioner compressor was stolen and the same happened to the restaurant next door. “They took the whole compressor,” he says.

Hamdan says he’s not involved in local politics in Chatham, but two weeks ago his brother went to the community police meeting. As for his personal safety, he says he feels safe walking around in the community because he has been working in Chatham since 2000: “I’ve been here for a long time. I know everybody, almost.”

This piece was produced in collaboration with Chicagoist
About the illustrator: Daniel Rowell is a writer and illustrator based in Chicago. You can follow him @danieljrowell.