LITTLE VILLAGE — The bustling 2-mile stretch of West 26th Street in Little Village — from California Avenue to Kostner Avenue — is home to almost 250 businesses.
The area brings in so much tax revenue for the city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has dubbed the stretch the "second Magnificent Mile."
But some shop owners and residents claim local gangbangers are making it too dangerous to do business in the 26th Street corridor, and they are calling on police for a stronger presence in the area.
Gabriel Guzman said he has owned Giovanni's Liquors, 4237 West 26th Street, for 35 years, and he said he is struggling with local troublemakers robbing from him and hassling his customers.
"It's getting out of hand," Guzman said. "I get frustrated that anyone can come in grab a bottle and run...because we have no support from the police."
Particularly, Guzman pointed to one day near the end of September when he said two local teens robbed one of his customers, punched another in the face and assaulted Guzman when he confronted them about it. The whole episode was caught on the store's video surveillance camera.
Police said they are aware of the incident and investigating.
Guzman said police told him they knew who did it and would be filing charges, but Guzman said the encounter is similar to the crime he has been seeing more and more in the past two years in the 26th Street corridor.
"It's definitely not safe," Guzman said. "We need more patrols up and down the street and more police cameras, too."
But not everyone agrees that crime is getting worse on the city's second Mag Mile. In fact, some say the stretch is getting safer.
Julio Martinez, who owns La Justicia restaurant on 26th Street, opened his doors in 1994. Martinez said back then, things were bad.
"In the beginning, there was a lot of gang activity, and now there isn't," Martinez said. "Before you used to see gang members running on the street with bats, with knives; you don't see that anymore."
Martinez said gang members used to hang outside of his restaurant at the corner of 26th Street and Springfield Avenue, but he said police have done a good job cleaning up the corners.
Martinez said in the past three or four years, safety has not been a concern at all for him in running his business.
The stretch of West 26th Street falls in the Ogden Police District, which officials said has seen a 17-percent drop in overall crime so far this year over last year, according to Adam Collins, a police spokesman.
Murders have declined by 31 percent so far in 2013, shootings by 14 percent and aggravated batteries by 9 percent in the Ogden district, Collins said, while acknowledging "there's more work to be done."
Mike Rodriguez, the executive director of Enlace, a neighborhood community and development group, said what is happening to Guzman is unfortunate but said he's not sure if it echoes what it happening to every store owner on 26th Street.
"It makes my heart hurt ... for that to be happening in my neighborhood," Rodriguez said. "Do I think that happens all along 26th street? No, I do not.
"Does it happen too much? Yes, it does," Rodriguez continued. "Is it an epidemic? I couldn't tell you that, but I will tell you that adding more cops isn't going to solve any of these issues."
Rodriguez said he would like to see a more "comprehensive approach" to addressing crime in Little Village than just adding more police. Instead, he said he wants increased comprehensive services to target youth displaying "at-risk behavior" before they end up committing crimes.
More than crime, business owners like Martinez and Jaime di Paulo, who heads the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, said they want to see the city promote the area more.
After hearing about Guzman's problems, di Paulo said he would like to see more police foot patrols in the area and other efforts, like a community watch plan or a closer relationship between businesses and police, to prevent crime.
"Obviously there's crime here, but there's crime in other areas," di Paulo said. "I walk the corridor all the time, and I feel pretty safe during the day."
Di Paulo said for the amount of sales tax the stretch of 26th Street contributes to the city budget, "it'd be nice" to have more money reinvested into the area.
"The city needs to put more money, more resources into our corridor, being the second Mag Mile that the mayor always talks about," di Paulo said.
Guzman also compares the 26th Street corridor with the ritzy stretch of Michigan Avenue, but when he does, he says he wants to see the same kind of police presence in his area that the he sees on the original Magnificent Mile.
When asked what he thinks about police saying crime is actually down in his area, Guzman said he believes a lot of the crime goes unreported because local residents are afraid of retaliation.
"Nobody wants to talk about it," Guzman said. "A lot of things happen and they go unreported. And I don't know why people want to stay quiet."
Guzman said after he told neighboring business owners about his customers getting robbed, they told him they had experienced the same type of things but had not reported it.
"Unless people like me come out and tell the story of what's going on, all of this is just gonna be swept under the rug," he said.