Tag: local business

It’s impossible to track the many investment programs in disinvested Chicago neighborhoods

An article in the Chicago Tribune that announces Chase bank’s increase in the amount of grants it is offering in Chicago goes on to detail myriad existing grant, loan, and donation programs from public and private sources for neighborhoods that have few jobs, few resources, no privilege, and lots of quality of life problems.

But not all of the programs. There are more, but I don’t even know how many more, nor do I know all of their names. I just know that I’ve read about them before.

The article is where I learned that Benefit Chicago – a $100 million investment fund  operated by the Chicago Community Trust, MacArthur Foundation, and Calvert Foundation, but hasn’t finished raising all the money – has started giving out loans and grants to Chicago recipients, including Garfield Produce Company.

Calvert Foundation has a brokerage (I think that’s the best name for it) through which regular Chicagoans can invest $20 minimum and earn 1.0% interest on that investment after 1 year. Longer periods net higher returns.

Anyway, back to my point…

If I were a business owner in Chicago, and I wanted financial assistance to expand my business – say, buy more kitchen equipment to be able to produce more food – where would I start looking?

Is there a list somewhere? Will my alder know? Is there a group in my neighborhood that can help me track down a funder? Is this more complicated than getting a VC to fund a “Bodega killer“?

One of the things I’ve tried to do with the tens of thousands of maps on Chicago Cityscape is highlight when a business or property owner could be eligible for financial assistance based purely on their geography.

Map of areas where you, as a business or property owner, can get funding assistance from publicly-funded programs.

These geographers where government funding is available are marked with a green icon of a dollar bill that links to a Resources page I adapted from a pamphlet the city’s planning department used to produce. These include:

  • TIF (tax increment financing) districts, including whether the district participates in the Small Business Improvement Fund
  • MMRP (micro market recovery program)
  • Enterprise Zone (a state of Illinois program)
  • Industrial Growth Zone (expedited approval processes + environmental remediation money)
  • Special Service Area (SSA; business improvement district)
  • Chicago landmark and National Register of Historic Places districts
  • Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMD), although I forget what assistance is available here
  • Neighborhood Opportunity Fund zones (an interesting policy that charges developers for additional density and grants that money to small business owners on the South and West Sides)

Not every area within the above categories is in a disinvested neighborhood because not every program was designed for that. 

Green dollar bill signs on Chicago Cityscape

Once you know this, I guess you can target your research. But there’s still a lot more to do. To start: Where the heck is Chase investing? Where the heck is Benefit Chicago investing? They don’t publish maps, as far as I can tell.

Actually, thinking about this more, as I reach nearly 400 words in this blog post, I’ve got another idea: Show up at Rahm’s new Small Business Center at City Hall and ask them.

#protip: Businesses must tell their customers that a Divvy station is out front

I bet you want a Divvy station in front of your business. 

Gabe Klein, commissioner of transportation in Chicago, said on WBEZ on Monday that (paraphrased) “business owners are calling us to say ‘we’d like to buy a Divvy station to put in front of our restaurant’“.


Regarding my headline, I’m talking about telling customers on websites that, in addition to “where to park” and “which highway to take to access our location”, the website needs to give more diverse transportation directions. It should say how to get here by bike, and where the nearest Divvy station is.

When I worked at CDOT – I left before Klein arrived – I had the responsibility of increasing the number of visitors to the Chicago Bicycle Program’s website. I developed a set of strategies including making the content more searchable, adding more content, diversifying content types (like uploading photos staff took to Flickr), but also by increasing the number of inbound links. To satisfy that strategy I listed organizations where biking should be encouraged, like train stations and museums. I contacted many museums individually and asked them to include “bike here!” text on the webpage that otherwise told people to drive on I-290 and exit some place. I gave them sample text and even mentioned where the nearest city-installed bike racks were.

Several museum websites were updated as a result of this effort, but now I cannot find the evidence on Shedd, Field, or Adler websites.

Heck, forget the web. When your customers call, forget the assumption that most people drive and just start giving them directions as if they’re going to arrive in this order of transportation modes:

  1. Walking
  2. Biking
  3. Transit
  4. Scooting
  5. Running
  6. Taxi
  7. Ride sharing
  8. Pedicab
  9. Driving

Every mode requires different directions because people move about the city differently. Here’s an example: I’m giving directions to someone who’s going to drive from my house in Avondale to our friend’s house in the same neighborhood about five blocks away. I tell them, well turn here and there, and then drive through the alley to cross over this one-way street in the “wrong” direction… and “wait, those are directions on how to bike there. With all the one-way streets in my neighborhood, I honestly don’t know a good way to drive there, so ask Siri.”

This city now runs on bikes and bees

Bicycling in Chicago is as much about having cheap transportation* as a thing to build new and maintain existing social relationships. And sometimes everything can come together in such an awesome way that you build a freakin’ business on the back of a bicycle.

I also posted about this on Grid Chicago.

Such is the case with many of my friends, including Jana Kinsman and Brandon Gobel. Jana created Bike-A-Bike and got several thousands of “startup” dollars via her Kickstarter. Brandon uses his sweet Bullitt to deliver odds and ends around town. And on April 3, 2012 (and other days), Brandon got to help Jana deliver beehives. They were empty that day but they went out on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, with real, live bees in his Bullitt’s aluminum box.

Here’s a 22 photo slideshow of the April 3 trip. Brandon sent me a bunch of photos from the April 18 trip and I’ll add those to the slideshow soon. Just come back in a day and they will be on this page, and on my Flickr.

You’ll find the bees buzzing in East Garfield Park and at The “Awesome” Plant (er, just The Plant) in Back of the Yards.

* I’ve seen a lot of polls ask, “Why do you bike?” and they always have answers I don’t care about. Like, “for fun”, or “for the environment”. Yeah, right. The most significant motivator for why people do anything is how much it costs them. Bicycling is cheap, nearly free. The bus is downright expensive compared to it, and driving a car everywhere (like 60 miles round trip to work) is personal economic suicide.

Bike businesses that keep me pedaling: Lloyd Cycles (2 of 4)

Four part series of Midwest bike-related businesses that keep me and my bike rolling without hassle.

When the two seat stays became disconnected from the seat tube, I brought my bicycle to my local shop and asked for help.

I’m pretty sure at this time I had no idea what anyone could do about it, nor did I know that Owen Lloyd, the co-owner of Blue City Cycles, could fix it himself. He transported the bike to the Lloyd Cycles “shop” at Bubbly Dynamics (actually a shared space with shared equipment, 1048 W 37th Street). It was fixed by cutting off the existing seat stay cap, removing the seat stay cap still attached to the seat lug, inserting a brand new seat stay cap, and brazing this onto the seat lug.

Thank goodness it all worked out. I didn’t have to hunt down a new frame, or transfer my components onto another bike. Three days later and I was rolling on a slightly more durable bicycle.

Here’s what it looked like broken.

Here’s what it looks like fixed. A fixed fixie!

A Lloyd Cycles bike for sale at Boulevard Bikes, 2535 North Kedzie Blvd.

More in this series

  1. UV Metal Arts – Read it here
  2. Lloyd Cycles - You’re reading it!
  3. Kozie Prery – coming soon, and with a contest!
  4. Planet Bike – coming soon

New bike shopping

I know it’s winter time, and it took 2 hours, but it was worth it.

The showroom at Working Bikes Cooperative expanded after their move to 2434 S Western Avenue, giving my sister a lot of choices to peruse. She needed a new bicycle. Her current one had poorly working brakes, wheels in bad condition, and lacked features every urban bike should have: a way to protect the rider from puddles, snow and wet pavement; a way to carry stuff; an appropriate number of gears; a way to protect the rider’s pants from grease and getting them caught in the gear.

Over 50 bikes for sale right now, along with countless parts like seatposts, brakes, handlebars, fenders, and chain guards.

Working Bikes had road bikes, hybrid bikes, mountain bikes, and vintage cruiser bikes from Huffy, Schwinn, Miyata, Nishiki, Trek, and Schwinn. It’s no wonder Schwinn dominates – their bikes were made in Chicago for decades after the company started here. Bikes are still made under that name, and even though the quality may not be the same, the brand still has power and relevancy.

After walking around the showroom several times where I pointed out my preferred bikes for her (3-speed cruisers) and asking her questions, she selected, on her own, a Schwinn 3-speed cruiser that had been spray painted black. I supported the choice as it also had fenders (this helps keep the bike and the rider free of snow) and a chain guard (yay).

She talked to a staff member about test riding the bike and went off down 24th Place. She said of the ride, “I felt like I was cheating on Big Blue but it felt soo right.”

She bought a black Schwinn – not pictured. The day’s rain didn’t stop us.

I test rode the bike to ensure it was in working order. After more than twenty years, the internal gear hub still works – but I completely expected this.

I found a used Wald quick release basket and after showing my sister how easily it attached and detached, she was sold. The manager priced it on the spot at $10. When new it costs about $19. I pointed out the oddly short rear fender so my sister picked out a long blue one from a parts bin that the manager priced at $5. The blue was for flare. And finally, we found a slightly longer seatpost for $1. After tax, my sister’s new urban-appropriate bicycle came out to $119.

Our journey took two hours because it first took us longer than 30 minutes to get there as we yubered there on my Mundo. After she test rode the black one, I wanted her to test ride another Schwinn that came with an already long rear fender and had different gear ratios. I don’t remember how long it took us to get home, but we enjoyed some pan fried veggies and pasta when we arrived.

Related: Working Bikes Cooperative, which uses profits to send rebuilt bicycles to poorer countries, blended with West Town Bikes, a learning bike shop, gives you B.I.C.A.S. in Tucson, Arizona.