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With Summer Fest Canceled, South Shore SSA Floats Ideas To Prop Up Businesses Hard Hit By Coronavirus

Ideas for $123,000 in available funds include a delivery service, a website promoting businesses and paying restaurants to feed first responders.

Businesses along 71st Street in South Shore.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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SOUTH SHORE — After canceling the 2020 South Shore Summer Fest last week, the Special Service Area #42 met Wednesday to discuss ways they could use fest funds to prop up struggling businesses instead.

Canceling the summer fest alone freed up $80,000, SSA commissioners said. On a Zoom call, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), SSA commissioners and local business owners presented plans to use a total of $123,000 in available funds to help businesses hard hit by coronavirus. No vote was taken.

Proposals included:

  • SSA chair Jared Lewis’ proposal: create a website supporting “non-essential” South Shore businesses, similar to the citywide Shop in Place site. Estimated budget: $4,670.
  • SSA commissioner Amena Karim’s proposal: pay grocers, restaurants and pharmacies to develop delivery services for South Shore’s “most vulnerable population,” with a focus on low-income seniors. Estimated budget: $120,000, with requests to community banks for matching funds.
  • The South Shore Chamber of Commerce’s proposal: to create $5,000 grants for at least 10 local businesses within the SSA’s boundaries for at least two years. Estimated budget: $50,000
  • Ald. Hairston’s proposal: to contract local restaurants to prepare meals for first responders for 30 to 60 days. Estimated budget: $30,000.

Ra’oof Saleem of Full Video Production Services, 2226 E. 71st St., said he could create a social media marketing campaign promoting area businesses for $7,500. SSA commissioner Greg Smith proposed giving $100 grocery gift cards to employees of the 91 non-essential businesses in the neighborhood.

SSA #42 serves 71st Street from Kimbark Avenue to South Shore Drive; Stony Island Avenue from 67th Street to 73rd Street on the east side; and Stony Island from 67th Street to 79th Street on the west side.

The SSA has $123,379 available for the stimulus plan, but commissioners don’t have to use it all at once, Lewis said.

“If there’s no proposal that meets our criteria in terms of an ability to have an impact or monitor [funds], we may decide not to allocate,” he said.

“We don’t know how long” the shelter in place order will last, and the amount the SSA receives from property taxes in 2021 may be less than in previous years, Hairston said, recommending commissioners “keep that in mind” as they make a decision.

Eli Williamson, who serves on South Shore Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, encouraged commissioners not to “split hairs” and delay assistance, as the pandemic has “taken a shotgun” to businesses’ balance sheets.

“I haven’t talked to a single businessperson in South Shore who’s talking about anything besides, ‘How do I get capital to come out on the other side [of the pandemic] at least limping,’” he said.

The next meeting will be held at 11:30 a.m. April 15 on Zoom. A vote to select a proposal may be on the agenda, but that is subject to change.

Before next week’s meeting, commissioners will explore ways to keep its contracted vendors busy during the downturn, such as having its security contractor enforce social distancing.

Numerous commissioners noted essential businesses, particularly currency exchanges and smaller businesses, have had crowding problems.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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