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Amid Deportation Fears, Sales Down 40 Percent At Little Village Restaurant

By Stephanie Lulay | April 4, 2017 11:55am
 Mi Tierra prep cook Cruz Guzman prepares for the Little Village restaurant's dinner crowd Monday. Amid deportation fears, sales at the restaurant are down as much as 40 percent.
Mi Tierra prep cook Cruz Guzman prepares for the Little Village restaurant's dinner crowd Monday. Amid deportation fears, sales at the restaurant are down as much as 40 percent.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay

LITTLE VILLAGE — The owner of Little Village's largest restaurant says business has dropped as much as 40 percent at Mi Tierra Restaurant, a cornerstone of the neighborhood for more than 30 years. 

The drastic sales decline at some Little Village businesses comes as customers fear deportation, and the lack of sales is having a trickle-down affect all over the city, said Jaime di Paulo, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce. At Mi Tierra, a massive 500-seat restaurant at 2528 S. Kedzie Ave., sales are down 30 to 40 percent compared to average sales figures for the season, said owner Ezequiel Fuentes. 

Fuentes, whose family owns a chain of restaurants in Chicago and Champaign and employs 800 people, said sales have plummeted since President Donald Trump announced a crackdown on undocumented immigrants. When he asks longtime customers why they aren't coming in, some say they fear being picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, or they are saving money in case they are forced to start a new life in Mexico, the restaurateur said. 

Fears in the neighborhood are fueled by rumors of ICE raids on social media and come after an ICE agent shot a 53-year-old man in Belmont Cragin. 

"People are scared," said Fuentes, who lives near Midway Airport.

At Mi Tierra, Fuentes employs 100 people. While he's been forced to cut hours by nearly half, he is trying to avoid laying off employees during the slump. 

"Everybody has to pay bills," he said. "We support our own people here." 

Mi Tierra owner Ezequiel Funetes bought the restaurant in 2016. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Mi Tierra isn't the only Little Village business reporting losses. At Tecnicentro Automotriz, an auto shop at 3017 W. 26th St., sales are also down 40 percent, di Paolo said. 

The trend not only affects Chicago's Latino neighborhoods, but the entire city of Chicago, di Paolo said. Little Village's 26th Street is the second highest-grossing shopping district in the city after the Mag Mile on Michigan Avenue. 

"It has a trickle down effect," di Paolo said. "I've seen some shops closed. Those shops had an employee that is now unemployed, and is drawing money from the unemployment office, I'd imagine. Those shop owners are not paying taxes. Little Village is too important to the economy of Chicago." 

U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Chicago) met with Little Village business owners Monday in an effort help them recover from the "Trump slump," as the congressman calls it. 

"From anecdotal information that is very widespread, and it seems to me to be conclusive, the city of Chicago is being hurt," Gutiérrez said. "People believe if they come out to shop, they can be picked up by immigration agents when they come outside." 

RELATED: 'They Might Take My Mom Away': Deportation Anxiety Hitting CPS Kids Hard

In an effort to combat the sales slump, Little Village business owners are working on a shop local initiative that they hope to announce soon and are working with politicians to strengthen Chicago's status as sanctuary city. 

"We want to encourage people to shop local," di Paolo said. 

Fuentes bought the 22,000-square-foot Mi Tierra Restaurant and two adjacent restaurants for $2.7 million in 2016. 

The 22,000-square-foot Mi Tierra restaurant at 2528 S. Kedzie Ave. has been a cornerstone of the Little Village neighborhood for more than 30 years. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]