Left: Rí Rá Arts, which offers pickup options out of Markland Hubbard Gourmet Provisions, 1739 W. 99th St. Right: Ohana Ice & Treats, 1800 W. 103rd St. Both businesses are listed on the new UrbanMain online marketplace. Credit: Chicago UrbanMain Market

SOUTH SHORE — A virtual marketplace is helping small shops in six South Side neighborhoods make online sales and receive technical support as they navigate the pandemic.

The Chicago UrbanMain Market is part of a national advocacy program for commercial districts in under-resourced communities and local business associations. So far, eight businesses are listed on the site:

Curbside pickup is available for the businesses, while organizers are still searching for an inexpensive, local courier to offer delivery options, UrbanMain Program Director Dionne Baux said.

The marketplace will be open through at least February and site statistics will be monitored “to determine if we can continue and if this is something to be expanded,” Baux said.

The site is “a test run” to see if it benefits the six pilot communities, with an eye on expanding to more South and West side commercial corridors if it’s successful, she said.

It’s operated by Bachalaash, a Chicago-based online sales platform that’s partnered with the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, My Block, My Hood, My City and the Old Town School of Folk Music, among others.

Beyond the businesses themselves, the Chicago UrbanMain Market serves to “increase the visibility and presence” of neighborhood economic development groups, Baux said.

The four partners are the the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, the 51st Street Business Association in Washington Park, the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association and the Endeleo Institute in Washington Heights. A link to donate to each organization is listed on the marketplace.

“A lot of businesses don’t know that they have these business-serving entities they can go to to get assistance,” Baux said.

The website is open to all small businesses in South Shore, Beverly, Morgan Park, Washington Park, Bronzeville and Washington Heights, regardless of their membership in local business associations.

Businesses in the six target communities may request a spot on the Chicago UrbanMain Market by contacting their local association. Bachalaash and UrbanMain staffers will then work with business owners to upload products and professional pictures to the site.

“We’re trying to encourage membership … but we don’t restrict participation,” said Caroline Connors, executive director of the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association. “We’re trying to do whatever we can to help our businesses get through this.”

In South Shore, the online marketplace marks “the beginning phase” of a partnership with UrbanMain to “rebrand 71st Street,” said Tonya Trice, South Shore Chamber executive director.

While the chamber’s main goal is to attract brick-and-mortar businesses to the neighborhood, the marketplace is “a good alternative” for businesses that may not be able to operate in person due to the pandemic, Trice said.

In addition, “every community has a subset of business owners that operate from home, and they all deserve support and resources,” she said.

The platform will help draw traffic to “interesting, unique businesses that people just aren’t aware of” by bringing residents throughout the city to the participating communities, Connors said.

“Our city is a city of neighborhoods, and we’d love for our local residents to shop as locally as possible,” she said. “But I think we all need to work together to promote not only our own neighborhoods and retail corridors, but those of our neighbors across the city.”

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