AVONDALE — Hoping to fill a void in Avondale, neighbors are rallying to create a chamber of commerce to help support its local businesses.
A group of neighbors who are also members of the Avondale Neighborhood Association want to create an Avondale-specific chamber of commerce to help keep the neighborhood’s small business community strong.
The chamber is needed now more than ever as the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate small businesses across Chicago, the neighbors said.
“It’s important for businesses to have a place they can go to to get resources, for business development, especially small businesses that are struggling right now,” said Zoby Soto, longtime Avondale neighbor and member of the neighborhood association.
Jesse Ortega, who owns Ortega Family Agency at 3238 N. Elston Ave., is one of the driving forces behind the effort. He was spurred to action after some Avondale business owners didn’t know about the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, commonly referred to as the PPP loan. It’s the kind of information chambers of commerce regularly push out.
“It made me sad, quite honestly, that this wasn’t set up prior. Resources could’ve poured out quicker and more efficiently to our businesses,” said Ortega, who also serves as vice president of the neighborhood association.
Neighbors have been talking about creating an Avondale chamber of commerce for a little more than a year. Initially, the group planned to host the first meeting in March, but the pandemic delayed things.
Now the group is picking up where they left off. A virtual community meeting is set for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday. Those who are interested in attending must RVSP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
All neighbors are welcome — not just business owners.
“You don’t have to be a business to be involved, you just have to be passionate about businesses,” Ortega said.
The meeting is the first step in a long process. To create a chamber of commerce, the group must submit an application with the city. The group must also form a board and then build up a membership base of business owners so it can pay chamber employees.
The group has explored merging with the already-established Logan Square Chamber of Commerce, but so far the presiding opinion is Avondale should have its own chamber of commerce, Ortega said.
About 20 businesses in Avondale are near the Logan Square border and are part of that neighborhood’s commerce group. But Ortega said they polled those business owners and a majority supported launching a group specific to Avondale.
“We need a strong advocate for businesses in Avondale and I really believe a chamber is the answer,” he said.
Other organizations have tried to unite Avondale’s business community but their efforts haven’t stuck.
At one point, Ald. Ariel Reboyras’ 30th Ward office launched the Greater Avondale Chamber of Commerce, but it fell out of use and is now inactive, Ortega said. The organization didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
Another organization, called KEBIC after the Kedzie, Elston and Belmont industrial corridor, functioned sort of like a chamber, but eventually disappeared, Ortega said.
With this new effort, neighbors hope to create an organization that’s around for years to come.
Soto, who has lived in Avondale for nearly 30 years, runs a micro business with her sister called Sofrito Sisters. The two make sofrito, an aromatic sauce with Latin American and Caribbean roots, out of their home and sell it online.
Soto said she wants Avondale chamber of commerce to be a place where both established brick-and-mortars and entrepreneurs can go for resources.
“Avondale is changing quite a bit and I think it’s important we organize, that we have a voice in what’s going on and a chamber can bring that to small businesses,” she said.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.