PILSEN — Kiam Junio stopped in front of Bow Truss Coffee Roasters on 18th Street in Pilsen around midnight Friday after handwritten signs on the store's windows caught his attention.
"Fresh Roasted Gentrification Served Here!" the signs said. "Wake up and smellllll the gentrification."
"It was surprising," Junio, 30, said. "But I'm glad that people are starting to stand up, and make their voices heard about the changes happening in Pilsen.
"I'm seeing a lot of people and businesses who can't keep up with the rising cost. It's heartbreaking," said Junio, whose photo was first posted on Eater Chicago.
Saw this last night while walking home, right after I heard that my neighborhood grocery/taqueria/community gathering space (a Mexican American family owned small business) is shutting down because their site got bought out. Gentrification kills culture. #extrememakeoverPILSEN
A photo posted by Kiam Marcelo Junio (@iamkiam) on
Will Anderson, director of retail management of Bow Truss, said the signs were posted sometime after the shop closed Thursday evening.
"It's shocking because the response to the coffee shop in Pilsen has been overwhelmingly positive since it opened four or five months ago," Anderson said. "We have faithful regulars who come in, and are actually the ones who took down the signs when they noticed them."
According to Erin Delaney, 25, a Pilsen resident who works at the coffee shop, employees learned about the signs from customers who removed them early Friday.
"It was shocking because we really make an effort to connect to our customers and the community," Delaney said.
"Everyone that works here lives in Pilsen, and we really care about the community, and we would like to be the best community member possible," Delaney said.
The boutique coffee shop opened in Pilsen in August, and has two other locations in River North and Lakeview. Residents said it was a welcome addition to the neighborhood, but last week's incident points to issues that have been percolating in Pilsen for years.
A haven for Eastern European immigrants in the early 20th century, Pilsen became a destination for Mexican immigrants in the middle of the century. While its Latino culture remains steadfast, with numerous murals covering walls in the neighborhood, the demographics are changing. While the Hispanic population remains the majority, the neighborhood saw an 18 percent drop in Hispanics between 2000 and 2010, according to census data.
The signs point to frustrations stemming from the neighborhood's changes, residents said.
"It's unfortunate that this happened to the shop but it's bigger than that," said Rosilla Lopez, 19, a lifelong resident of Pilsen. "People and small business can't afford their rent and they are being pushed out."
Ruben Moreno, 53, agreed, stating that increased rent and higher taxes are displacing a lot of Latino families.
"It's unfortunate because people are leaving; they can't afford it anymore," Moreno said.
Nelson Soza, the executive director of the Pilsen Alliance, said that although the organization "does not endorse harassment of any kind, ... we understand the frustration of the community.
"We haven't seen anything like this yet. It's unfortunate that this has happened but it's a clear indication that a dialog [about the changes in the neighborhood] needs to happen," Soza said.
People are frustrated about changes in the neighborhood and feel they aren't being included in the decision-making, he said.
"I have at least three people, Mexican working-class people, who come in every week saying the need help with rent because their rent has been raised," Soza said.
"Pilsen is a social fabric, and people are seeing this material fabric being ripped apart by these changes," Soza said.
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