SOUTH SHORE — A new, state-backed small business development center is providing technical assistance, training and educational resources to South Shore businesses and startups.
The center, which operates out of the South Shore Chamber, is one of seven the state of Illinois recently opened as part of an $11.5 million initiative to help small businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic and late May-early June looting.
Some coronavirus relief programs, including a Special Service Area #42-backed grant and assistance applying for funding through the University of Chicago, were already in place at the chamber, said Director Erick Soderberg.
But having the new center means South Shore businesses will have a dedicated channel for help with grant applications, financial planning and more.
“Though we weren’t ‘official’ official [until July 14], we’ve been putting in work to help members of the South Shore business community,” Soderberg said.
The center will help businesses apply for state-level funding, like future rounds of the $540 million Business Interruption Grants program.
South Shore’s Black-owned businesses are “staples” of the community and need centralized resources to navigate what pandemic assistance is available to them, said Rep. Kam Buckner (D-26th).
“South Shore has been hit especially hard,” Buckner said in a statement. The center “will be critical toward helping our small businesses stay afloat … as we continue to progress toward reopening completely.”
Helping Majani Restaurant, 7167 S. Exchange Ave., with a planned expansion is among the center’s early priorities, Soderberg said.
Other entrepreneurs have reached out with business plans for neighborhood restaurants and service shops since the center was announced, he said.
Tonya Trice, South Shore Chamber executive director, was influential in bringing the center to South Shore, Soderberg said. He partnered with Trice and the South Shore Chamber on projects like the Artisan Collective and a series of housing seminars before being tapped to lead the small business center.
“Having this center in South Shore will not only help to stabilize the current businesses within the community, but it will also help to reduce the significant vacancy rate along our corridors,” Trice said at a July 1 press conference announcing the center.
Trice has called attention to the high rates of empty storefronts along 71st Street for years.
Nearly 60 percent of the 75th Street commercial corridor is vacant, as are nearly half of the storefronts on 79th Street, according to the South Shore Corridor Study approved by the city’s plan commission in May.
Staffers will explore all options for strengthening South Shore’s business districts, potentially through long-term plans for the neighborhood in the mold of the South Shore Corridor Study, Soderberg said.
“It’s a daunting task to start a business even when there is no pandemic,” he said. “Hopefully we can give entrepreneurs not just the confidence, but the resources to start and expand and build on their businesses during this pandemic.”
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