SOUTH SHORE — Last month, a Chicago entrepreneur opened a mall on the South Side dedicated to giving black business owners a place to call their own.
Harold Davis, who is also president of Chicago nonprofit Mission Accomplished Corp., said his 79th Street Indoor Mall is open to everyone — but he's trying to fill an obvious void in the primarily African-American community.
"There are not a lot of black-owned businesses left in the black community, and I want to help change that," Davis said. "One barrier for a lot of potential black businesses is office space. They simply cannot afford it and end up working from home or not developing their business."
Already, the mall has attracted an array of businesses selling everything from clothing and jewelry to soap and snacks. It is located in a two-story building at 1706 E. 79th St., across the street from the shuttered New Regal Theater, and boasts 6,000 square feet and free Wi-Fi for tenants.
Davis, a 47-year-old North Lawndale resident who also owns a construction company, said he's also developing a banquet hall, which he hopes to have completed by the end of the year.
Aside from providing businesses with a place to sell their goods, the mall offers free reading and computer classes every Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.
Sheila Harris, 27, a South Shore resident, said she plans to attend a reading class Saturday.
"They got some nice things in here. I found out about the reading classes Sunday when I was in here shopping for Mother's Day," Harris said. "Everyone is cool with me, and I could use a little help."
The indoor mall also serves as a payment center for electric, gas and phone bills.
"No more going to the currency exchange to pay bills. We can accept payments here. Cash or credit cards are accepted," said Kamla Ronan, part-owner and manager of the indoor mall. "Our goal is to become a one-stop place for all your basic needs."
For now, Ronan said there are six vendors renting space, but she expects that to increase.
"As people learn about us and the business opportunities available here, then more vendors are sure to come walking through our doors," Ronan said.
Velencia Lindsey, 25, said she takes two buses and the train from her West Pullman home five days a week to the indoor mall, where she works as an administrative assistant.
"If I could work seven days a week I would because I love working here. I like helping people and talking, so for me this job is perfect," Lindsey said.
Lindsey helped customer Grayland Orr pick out a Mother's Day card.
"Now I come here every day. Not necessarily to buy something, but to stop by and say what's up. They good people in here," Orr, a 24-year-old South Chicago resident, said.
Davis said he has four other investors prepared to join him in his next business venture as he attempts to attract more black businesses to black neighborhoods.
"I grew up in the Altgeld Gardens public housing development, so I am familiar with the economic plight on the South Side and the challenges many black communities still face today," Davis said. "Black businesses and black people need to know that there's a place available to them ready to cater to their specific needs."
The 79th Street Indoor Mall is open from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Saturdays 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.