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Little Village Businesses Left Out of Buy Local Loop

By Chloe Riley | November 28, 2012 1:41pm

LITTLE VILLAGE — Buy Local Week officially kicked off Friday, but along 26th Street in Little Village, one of the busiest stretches of local businesses in the city, there was little evidence the promotion was under way. 

Few shoppers on the street, which was recently dubbed Chicago’s “second Magnificent Mile” by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said they knew about the push this week to encourage shoppers to spend their holiday shopping dollars at ma and pa businesses.

Even some of the workers and owners of businesses highlighted in the event, which was sponsored in part by the city, said they were unaware of the event. Many never received materials to promote it, including some of the businesses featured on the event's website for the event, dubbed Unwrap Chicago.

“What are we involved in?” asked Jesus Davila of Foto Davila. 

Davila’s photography shop on 26th Street was promoted on Unwrap Chicago’s site, but Davila said no one had come with posters or promotional materials for the event.

And some business owners, like Emi Guitierrez of Emi and Sons Jewelry, said they had seen little evidence the effort, which continues until Monday, Dec. 3, had boosted business on the stretch that brings in the second highest tax revenues in the city outside of the Magnificant Mile.

Such an effort could work, he said, "but it would have to be developed more."

He said he never received any promotional materials from the chamber.

Several other Little Village stores featured on Unwrap Chicago’s website — including two bakeries and a piñata shop — had no posters or advertising in the window and employees did not know about the event.

M. Hair Design owner Miguel Martinez, who was interviewed for Unwrap Chicago's blog about shopping local, said Tuesday he had not received a poster for his window. 

He said his salon had several walk-ins Tuesday, but he wasn’t sure whether they were connected to the shop local week.

Suzanne Keers, co-founder and executive director of Local First Chicago, said while her organization provides a website and attempts to get press coverage, it is ultimately up to the local chambers of commerce to get the word out about the event.

“It’s a process. It’s a lot of work to do the feet on the street part of it,” she said.

Keers said more than 3,600 posters were distributed citywide. She said at least 25 of those posters went to the Little Village Chamber of Commerce.

Nilda Esparza, the executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, admits her organization dropped the ball on promoting the event. She said her office is currently "understaffed and overwhelmed" and did not have the canvassers to properly reach out to the businesses in the neighborhood and provide them with Unwrap Chicago's promotional materials.

She said the chamber has promoted the event on Facebook, but several other community projects have taken time away from the Buy Local week.

"We have a phenomenal problem" promoting all 600 businesses in the neighborhood, she said.

Both Keers and Esparza agreed that social media is key to spreading the word about local events.

But, "part of the problem is a lot of the businesses don't even have Facebook," Esparza said. "A lot of the activity we're posting they don't even see."

Few shoppers were out Tuesday afternoon on 26th Street.

Stephanie Abeja, a 19-year-old nursing assistant, was window-shopping with her husband and daughter on Tuesday. She said she hadn’t heard of Buy Local Week, but was checking out the holiday deals.

“We live on the next block and have never come into this shop,” she said of Gloria’s, a clothing store on 26th Street. “It’s not bad, it’s cheap. We want nice things for cheap prices.”